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Trauma-Informed Libraries

What is Trauma?

This Resource Guide was developed with an understanding of trauma as presented in SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach:

Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.

Trauma-Informed: The Trauma Toolkit, Second Edition, a resource created by Canada’s Klinic Community Health Centre, offers three qualifying points that serve as a useful addition to SAMHSA’s concept of trauma:

Regardless of its source, trauma contains three common elements:

  • It was unexpected
  • The person was unprepared
  • There was nothing the person could do to stop it from happening

The criteria above can apply to a wide range of traumatic experiences. Causes of trauma may include:

  • Addiction
  • Discrimination (racism, sexism, other)
  • Natural disasters
  • Bullying
  • Domestic violence
  • Poverty
  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Homelessness
  • Sexual assault
  • Community violence
  • Loss from homicide or suicide

How Widespread is Trauma?

In a 2016 report [1], SAMHSA estimates that 40.8% percent of adults have been exposed to one or more potentially traumatic events (PTE) over the course of their lives.  A study reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry indicates a higher lifetime prevalence estimate for trauma at 68.2 percent [2].


[1] Forman-Hoffman, V. L., Bose, J., Batts, K. R., Glasheen, C., Hirsch, E., Karg, R. S., ... & Hedden, S. L. (2016). Correlates of lifetime exposure to one or more potentially traumatic events and subsequent posttraumatic stress among adults in the United States: results from the Mental Health Surveillance Study, 2008-2012. In CBHSQ data review. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). Retrieved from:

[2] Copeland, W. E., Keeler, G., Angold, A., & Costello, E. J. (2007). Traumatic Events and Posttraumatic Stress in Childhood. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64(5), 577. Retrieved from: (See Figures & Tables section.)

How Trauma Affects the Brain: The Hand Brain Model

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ACEs "are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years) such as experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect; witnessing violence in the home; and having a family member attempt or die by suicide" (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019).

  • ACEs are negative childhood experiences including physical/sexual/emotional abuse and/or neglect, one or more parent suffering from mental illness/substance abuse/domestic violence/incarceration, being hungry or un-cared for.
  • ACES scores range from 0-10. The test consists of 10 questions and 1 point is assigned to each question answered ‘yes,’ regardless how many times the event happened in one’s childhood. An ACE score of 4 or more dramatically increases the chance of disease, and social/emotional problems.
  • The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study proved the link between childhood trauma and adult illnesses including heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes, various autoimmune diseases, as well as depression, violence, being a victim of violence, and suicide.
  • An estimated 1 in 6 adults have an ACES score of more than 4, meaning many patrons of your library may have experienced significant trauma during their developing years.
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Phone: 518-438-2500