Trauma typically is defined as an event, experienced or witnessed, that overwhelms an individual’s coping capacities (Bloom & Farragher, 2011; Levine, 2008). Trauma-informed interventions address harm done to social, psychological and emotional development, identify stressors that can re-trigger trauma, and provide safe healing environments (Curran, 2013). These approaches, however, focus on individuals and families. With greater understanding of trauma as a systemic phenomenon affecting large groups and communities, interventions need to be more collective in scope (Beck, Ohmer & Warner, 2012).
Method: A content analysis of social science literature was undertaken to determine how community and trauma were addressed simultaneously. Journal article searches were conducted using the Social Services Abstract, Social Science Premium Collection and Applied Social Sciences Index databases. Search parameters were “community AND trauma;” both terms had to appear in abstracts of articles published from 2009-2019. Editorials, research or practice summaries, hearings, dissertation abstracts, teaching notes, and book reviews were excluded; the final article count was 402. Disciplines included social work, sociology, psychology/counseling, anthropology, psychiatry/medicine, behavioral health, education, and criminology. This content analysis followed guidelines for applied thematic analysis (Guest, et al., 2015).
Results: Even with the explicit inclusion of community in a review of the trauma literature, the overwhelming focus remained on clinical approaches to addressing trauma. Sources of trauma ranged from individual level abuse and assault to geographic areas experiencing natural disasters and to countries engaged in war. Community was framed in one of three ways: (1) as a population (e.g. Latino community) experiencing trauma; (2) as the arena in which individuals experienced trauma (e.g. impoverished community); or (3) as a desired end state, as in the creation of a sanctuary (e.g. healing community). Rarely was the community in toto understood as both the traumatized unit and the focus for intervention; such examples tended to be from collective actions undertaken to address genocide or widespread state-level violence and typically were from Latin American or African communities. There was a dearth of articles from community development/practice journals, perhaps signifying that research from those sources frame events such as war, mass incarceration, police brutality or poverty not as collective trauma but as systemic violence or oppression.
Conclusion: Findings indicate that the literature does not explicitly link collective trauma with broad, unified community responses. This suggests that the challenges with which disenfranchised and marginalized communities contend may not be fully understood or addressed from trauma-informed perspectives. Discussion centers on the importance of incorporating community into trauma interventions and a trauma-informed lens into community practice frameworks.