Julia Vaughan Smith

What is trauma-informed coaching and why is it important?

The more I talk about trauma and coaching, and come across the myths or misunderstandings about it, the more I feel it is important to be clear about what trauma informed coaching is.

Trauma-informed coaching happens when the coach understands what trauma is, how it presents in the coaching room and how to respond. All this, within established coaching boundaries and contracts.

Trauma-informed coaching isn’t:

  • Practising as a faux-therapist or entering the therapy domain
  • Working with clients who would be better helped by a therapist
  • Working only with those with visible signs of trauma, such as post-traumatic stress or addictions.

Why is it important?   Because it enhances the impact of coaching and is a key component of CPD for experienced coaches.

Why does it do that? Trauma is widespread within the population and most of our clients will be traumatised to a greater or lesser extent. For some, it will not be affecting their life adversely at the time of coaching, for others it will be getting in the way of them making the changes they wish to bring about within their personal and career development. Most of us coaches will also be carrying trauma, for some of us that will seriously affect the impact of our coaching, for others it will affect the efficacy of our coaching with some clients, some of the time.

Trauma-informed coaches have a working understanding of trauma, not as deep as a therapist needs, but enough to define and describe what it is. They also understand the situations which produce the lasting neuro-physiological trauma response, from conception onwards. They are not limited by the 5 myths of trauma (see previous blog).

From this platform of awareness, they understand the need for safety, provided by clear contracting, the maintenance of boundaries and confidentiality. Clients need to feel safe to be able to explore their survival behaviours and personalities. Not all coaching settings allow this, and trauma-informed coaches will be sensitive to the context.

Such coaches will be able to listen out for the signs and symptoms that may be part of an internal trauma system, both in the client and in themselves.  They have creative approaches for accessing autobiographical information without any aim to be diagnosticians.  They are skilled at inviting the client to explore possible links between the ‘there and then’ and the ‘here and now’, and to reflect on what action in the present is healthy for their wellbeing. They also feel confident about when and how to raise the issue of trauma, and how it might be presenting in the client, while staying firmly in the coaching relationship and approach.

At times, traumatised clients may present in ways that cause coaches concern, for example with mental ill health or suicidal thoughts.  Trauma-informed coaches recognise they have a duty of care and take appropriate action, discussing that with their supervisor.

Coaches working in this way are very clear about the boundaries between therapy and coaching when in the presence of coaching. They are confident and experienced coaches who avoid getting drawn into areas that are not appropriate for coaching and they know what action to take.

Finally, trauma-informed coaches are self-reflective, recognising how their own trauma dynamics, from the ‘there and then’ come into play with some clients in the ‘here and now. They do their own therapeutic work if needed.

Most of the workshops that focus on trauma are run for therapists. If you are interested in finding out more about how to become trauma-informed, the feedback we have been given is that my book and our Masterclasses are good places to start. The book has an extensive bibliography, so you can build up your reading from there. We recommend working with a supervisor who is trauma-informed and interested in supporting you explore this area of your practice. Alternatively, find or create a small peer supervision group that want to come together and reflect on their practice using the trauma framework and ideas in the book. From that basis, you may find workshops aimed at therapists that will add to your understanding and from which you can adapt the ideas to a coaching framework. A small peer group can help this adaption too.

You can also experience the therapeutic application of the theory we cover by participating in a group event run by experienced practitioners (we can give you recommendations).  You can be part of these groups without disclosing much about yourself and without doing your own work but participating in the work of others. This helps bring the theory alive in terms of how the dynamics operate at a deeply unconscious level.

This is what some people have said about learning more about trauma-informed practice:

It is a must for anyone wanting to take their coaching to another level”.

“ It has transformed my practice”.

“ Necessary for anyone who is serious about coaching”.

“The elephant in the room is so often the underlying trauma, which is causing the client’s stuckness”.

“This is the best CPD investment I have made for a long time”.

“It is rare to find something that so powerfully shifts one’s perspective on clients”.


To find out more about trauma-informed coaching, you can read my book Coaching and Trauma, available from all online booksellers.

Jenny Rogers and I also offer Masterclasses in London.