The Role of Occupational Therapy When Working with Adults Who Have Experienced Trauma

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Primary Focus: Mental health

Learning Objectives: At the end of the session participants will:

1. Define trauma-informed care.

2. Recognize the value of utilizing trauma-informed care to inform occupational therapy practice.

3. Discuss ways that an occupational therapist can integrate trauma-informed care into clinical practice.

Level of Material Presented: Introductory

Target Audience: Mixed (OTs and OTAs)


Trauma is a widespread issue that impacts millions of people in the United States each year. In a staggering statistic from the United States Department of Justice, an estimated 46 million children are exposed to violence, crime, and abuse on an annual basis (Department of Justice, 2012). According to the Center for Disease Control, on average 20 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the US (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). The effects of these events can last a lifetime for those who experienced them. The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event […] immediately after the event [...] shock and denial are typical” (American Psychological Association, 2016). Trauma comes in many forms; events like sexual or physical assault can leave people with long-term responses such as unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and physical symptoms (APA, 2016). While individuals receiving mental health services frequently have a history of trauma, they may also be receiving care in other settings and the history of trauma is unknown to the health care providers. Practitioners must know how to incorporate trauma-informed care into their practice.

The authors searched the following question: What are effective trauma-informed care interventions within the scope of occupational therapy practice that improve patient outcomes for adults who have experienced trauma? PubMed, OVID, and CINAHL databases were used; limiting findings to English language and published between 2005-2016. Inclusion criteria include adults (18-65), trauma, victims of violence and abuse (interpersonal/domestic, childhood, and/or community), and interventions that fall within the scope of occupational therapy (OT) practice. Articles were screened and 10 articles were identified. Three themes emerged from the literature showing effectiveness of various trauma-informed interventions: decreasing trauma symptoms, increasing social participation, and increasing quality of life. Interventions that were shown to be effective include forms of cognitive behavioral and processing therapies and occupation-based psychotherapy. Participants will learn ways to include trauma-informed care into their current clinical practice.


American Psychology Association. (2016). Trauma. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/trauma.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). The national intimate partner and sexual violence survey. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/index.html.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Child abuse and neglect prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childmaltreatment.

Department of Justice. (2012). Report of the attorney general’s national task force on children exposed to violence. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/defendingchildhood/cev-rpt-full.pdf.

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