Module 10: Trauma-Informed and Healthy Workplaces

Module Purpose

The purpose of this module is to:

  • Understand the impact of toxic stress and trauma on the workplace.
  • Review the concept of "parallel process" in organizations.
  • Explore elements of a trauma-informed and healthy workplace.
  • Share the Sanctuary Model and tools available to create more trauma-informed workplaces. 

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.



Building Trauma-Informed and Healthy Workplaces

Investing in the wellbeing of staff is key to having a thriving organization. We can not hope to change the lives of the people we serve, if we cannot change the environments in which the interventions take place.

A trauma-informed and healthy workplace recognizes the experiences of both clients and staff and the resulting impact on the workplace and the system. A trauma-informed response helps to support workplace goals such as increasing staff retention, improving communication, improving customer experience, and supporting innovation in ways that are scientifically grounded. 

Healthy Workplaces.png

As we work to support people (including ourselves) who are impacted by trauma, focusing on trauma- informed and healthy workplaces can guide us in creating peace and wellness in our work.

Change starts with us - and how we work together.

Sanctuary Model

The Sanctuary Model is an approach to creating a trauma-informed and healthy workplace. The model works to promote safety, healing and resilience for participants, staff, and programs/organizations.

The Sanctuary Toolkit provides a way to build capacity and practical skills that enable individuals and organizations to more effectively deal with difficult situations; build community; develop a deeper understanding of the effects of adversity and trauma; and build a common language.  

Sanctuary Model.png

The tools guide us as we promote peace and hope -- foster growth and change. The following are tools in the Sanctuary Toolkit:

  • S.E.L.F. Framework

  • Seven Commitments

  • Safety Plans

  • Community Meetings

  • Red Flag Reviews


Sanctuary Tools

S.E.L.F. Framework = Safety, Emotions, Loss and Future

The S.E.L.F. Framework is a trauma informed non-linear way of organizing conversations and approaches to solving system and organizational problems in an easy to understand way that also acknowledges complexity. Safety, Emotions, Loss and Future represent the four dynamic areas of focus for trauma recovery.


For more information, click on the link below:

Click here to download more information about the S.E.L.F. Framework.

Seven Commitments

The Seven Commitments are a set of interdependent system of values, beliefs and practices that guide the thinking, planning and action of all community members. In their totality, they describe an ideal environment to promote health and well being. The Seven Commitments apply to everyone.

  1. Nonviolence – helping to build safety skills and a commitment to higher purpose

  2. Emotional Intelligence - helping to teach emotional management skills

  3. Social Learning – helping to build cognitive skills

  4. Open Communication – helping to overcoming barriers to healthy communication, learn conflict management, reduce acting-out, enhance self-protective and self-correcting skills, teach healthy boundaries

  5. Democracy – helping to create civic skills of self-control, self-discipline, and administration of healthy authority

  6. Social Responsibility  – helping to rebuild social connection skills, establish healthy attachment relationships, establish sense of fair play and justice

  7. Growth and Change – helping to work through loss and prepare for the future

This video shares how one organization incorporates the Seven Commitments in their work:

Click to view this video from the Child & Adolescent Residential Program at Philhaven, an organization that is certified in the Sanctuary Model. The seven commitments provides guidance to leaders, staff, clients and their families.


Promoting Resiliency

Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed by anyone. Promoting resiliency helps to create a healthier workplace, improving staff retention, and fostering service excellence.


Promoting resiliency and fostering positivity can result in:

  • Increased productivity, lower turnover, and lower healthcare costs

  • More optimism and creativity

  • Improved communication and better teamwork.


Sanctuary Cafés

The Sanctuary Cafés are designed promote safety, healing and wellness for children and families as well as to support staff and agencies in their work.


Here are some principles to keep in mind to support the collective creativity and wisdom of the group as they engage in a Sanctuary Café.

  • Speak from your own experience - with your mind and heart

  • Listen to understand; be curious

  • Focus on what matters; welcome all ideas

  • Contribute your thinking

  • Allow everyone to speak without interrupting

  • Slow down so you have time to think and reflect

  • Link and connect ideas

  • Listen together for patterns, insights and deeper connections

  • Play, draw, doodle

  • Have fun!



  • How do you know when you suffering from the impact of your work?

  • What skills and practices help you stay well?

Supporting Each Other

  • How can we support each other in creating wellness throughout our organizations?

  • How might we build a culture to strengthen healthy relationships in our work and our community?

  • What skills and practices might we need?

Personal Commitments

  • Some shifts I can make in my life and my work that will contribute to my personal wellness are……

  • How I would like others to support me is....