Skip to main content

Graduate student partners with local rape crisis center to develop trauma-informed care training for healthcare providers

Reprinted with permission from Carolina Center for Public Service

By Veronica Ortega

Anole Halper, a graduate student in social work and public health (MSW/MPH ’16), knows that sexual violence traumatizes survivors and negatively impacts their health. Halper learned that lesson through volunteer work with the Orange County Rape Crisis Center. Halper also learned that often, survivors’ healthcare experiences can lead to re-traumatization.

For more than a year, Halper volunteered as a support group facilitator at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center (OCRCC), a 24-hour crisis helpline for survivors of sexual violence. It is through this work with sexual violence survivors that Halper saw the community’s need for a trauma-informed care (TIC) training program for healthcare providers. Trauma-informed care involves understanding the effects of trauma to better treat trauma survivors and results in improved healing outcomes.

“Survivors of sexual violence are more likely to have health problems down the line because of the trauma on the body and related stress,” said Halper. “Sometimes medical care can add to the survivor’s trauma and this can have long-lasting effects on survivors and their loved ones. OCRCC hears those stories and wants to help. Healthcare providers are interested, but they need someone to help understand the survivor’s point of view.”

In 2015, OCRCC helped more than 500 survivors through services such as advocacy and accompaniment, support groups, workshops and therapy referrals. The center also offers educational programs to raise awareness about sexual violence and teaches prevention skills to thousands of young adults in the community. It was the community’s need for healthcare provider trauma care training that Halper identified while volunteering with OCRCC that led Halper to apply for a Community Engagement Fellowship with the Carolina Center for Public Service. The fellowship provides skill training in how to conduct research in partnership with a community organization as well as funding to support the partnership.

Halper also leveraged her academic and research training and drew from survivor testimony and insights from experts, providers and literature offering evidence-based strategies to develop the trauma-informed care training program. As part of this research, a survivor consultant board was formed. Board participants highlighted previous negative healthcare experiences and identified areas for improvement. One board member said, “I was grateful to be able to express my frustrations on how I was treated and provide input on how my particular experiences could have been more helpful to me and not make me feel victimized, hopeless or hurt again.”

Halper said that this survivor perspective enhanced the TIC training. “An important aspect of the survivor consultant board was consulting with survivors of marginalized identities such as sexual, gender and racial minorities. We recognized how these survivors face additional barriers to quality healthcare and added the health disparities lens to the training.”

The healthcare provider’s voice was another crucial element in developing the training. To capture that perspective, Halper conducted a local healthcare provider survey. This survey, combined with feedback from the consultant board, revealed the importance of screening patients for trauma and identified triggers that can potentially remind survivors of the traumatic event.

“The TIC training aims to facilitate the survivor’s healing and help them rebuild a sense of control and empowerment,” Halper said. “It does this by ensuring providers have the right tools and knowledge when delivering treatment. The training will strengthen OCRCC’s system of mutual referrals so the center can confidently recommend providers to survivors and providers can recommend survivors to the center.”

With the TIC training in place, Halper hopes that strengthening the center’s ties with healthcare providers will foster a more sensitive and responsive trauma-informed environment in the healthcare system, resulting in a more constructive experience for survivors in the local community.