Trauma Organized Systems

Ripple effects of trauma and toxic stress

The ripple effects of trauma and toxic stress are especially prevalent in the social services system. Many people involved in systems of care and the staff who serve them have experienced trauma and often feel unsafe. This impacts people’s ability to do their work and support clients. Experiences of trauma are real and impacts staff, clients, and organizations. They experience many of the ways trauma organizes in our lives like feelings of hopelessness, hyper-arousal, challenges in communication.

Organizations providing services often begin to mirror the trauma that people are experiencing in their lives. This can often re-traumatize the same people that they are trying to help (1). Often unaware of how adaptation to chronic stress in our systems leads to dysfunctional habits and prohibits recovery of the system (2).

Chronic and disabling systems increase workplace stress affecting physical health, mental health and social service systems. Sources of workplace stress include the following:

  • Downsizing
  • Workload and job complexity
  • Role overload
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Inadequate training and career development
  • Regulation, paperwork, compliance
  • Ethical conflicts

Like individuals who experience chronic stress and trauma, organizations and systems can become trauma organized.

Trauma Organized Systems

Systems begin to mirror similar signs of trauma that clients are experiencing in what Bloom calls “parallel process” (4). This often results in re-traumatizing the people the system is trying to help.

Table: Parallel Process

Table: Parallel Process


  1. Bloom and Farragher, 2013 and Rich, et al. l Healing the Hurt, 2009, p. 20-21

  2. Bloom, S. L. (2010). Trauma-organized Systems and Parallel Process. Managing Trauma in the Workplace: Supporting Workers and Organizations. N. Tehrani. London, Routledge (pp.139-153) and from Bloom, S. L. and Farragher, B.(2010). Destroying Sanctuary: The Crisis in Human Service Delivery.