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trauma-informed design

Trauma definition
and why it is a problem

People experiencing homelessness have been subjected to trauma in their lives. Trauma is “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being” (SAMHSA, 2014).

Poverty is a strong cause of stress leading to trauma, and approximately 2.1 billion people live in extreme poverty worldwide. Crime, mental disorders, violence, and racial discrimination are contributors to trauma. This condition is often the reason that people engage in coping responses such as withdrawal, denial, emotional outbursts, or substance abuse. This situation can last many years and is difficult to overcome.

architectural and design strategies

Trauma-informed design emerged alongside the trauma-informed care movement stemming from the social work and psychology fields. This approach is grounded in an understanding of the impacts of trauma. It emphasizes the physical, psychological, and emotional safety of both survivors and providers and creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment (Hopper, Bassuk, & Olivet, 2010).

The broad goal of trauma-informed design is to support a ‘wraparound’ recovery environment that includes the built environment itself along with training, therapies and other support activities for people in need.

Principles of trauma-informed design provide actionable guidance intended to help preserve people’s dignity and personal control in the physical environment.

Trauma-informed design

Trauma and
built environment

Trauma-informed design is important because it may help lower a person’s emotional stress or tension that they are feeling and allow successfully move forward with their lives. 

Trauma-informed environments can increase levels of safety for survivors and reduce the incidence and frequency of emotional outbursts or coping behaviors. Such environments may also reduce the likelihood of re-traumatization. Through trauma-informed design’s application to architectural projects may also improve outcomes regarding mental health and substance abuse behaviors.

(SAMHSA, 2014). 


Homelessness: Supporting Dignity Through Design

View the TED talk

Trauma-informed design prioritizes human experience

Six fundamental human needs form the core considerations for designing with trauma in mind. 


Download the report at the top of this page for  implementation strategies.

trauma-informed design principles
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