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  • Rebekah Magin

Act as if. Do no harm.

Trauma science lesson of the day: Universal precautions = Act as if. Do no harm.


In trauma-informed care, we often use parallels to healthcare when teaching folks about the theory and science of trauma and stress, while also teaching folks the most effective and efficient treatments and interventions for trauma and stress.


I tell the story of Louis Pasteur and germ theory and how crazy it seemed at the time to believe that it was invisible things and stuff (microscopic germs) that was making us sick, that you cannot always tell who is sick by looking at them, and that proactive measures are the best way to prevent illness.


This was madness!


And here you can start to see the parallels to trauma theory and science. We are understanding more and more that it is, in fact, the invisible stuff (i.e., our traumatic and chronically stressful experiences, thoughts, and feelings) that are making us sick, that you cannot always tell who has trauma by looking at them, and that proactive measures are the best way to prevent (and heal) trauma.

We talk about universal precautions in trauma-informed care too; practices like emotional management, recognizing the losses that come with every change and challenge, giving opportunities for learning and questioning, and focusing on goals and future.


We do these things no matter what. Whether I have trauma or not, whether you have trauma or not, whether we know anyone's trauma history or not. Because, like germs, we know that trauma and stress are universal. So we ACT AS IF AND DO NO HARM.

And today, we have come full circle. Germ theory has come back around to our urgent awareness. And yet the truth is still that proactive measures are the best way to prevent illness.

In healthcare, and generally agreed upon good hygiene, we practice universal precautions. Any kindergartner can tell you what these consist of (and Kindergarten teachers can recite them in their sleep!): cover your cough and sneeze, wash your hands before eating and after using the potty, and wear gloves when you treat someone's boo-boo. We do these things whether we are sick or not, or whether the other person is sick or not. We ACT AS IF AND DO NO HARM. No one is offended. No one is inconvenienced by the extra few seconds it takes.

And today, we are being asked to ACT AS IF AND DO NO HARM! Social distancing is now a universal precaution. Staying home whenever possible is a universal precaution.

You don't know if you have COVID-19 (or maybe you do in which case you better be at home taking good care of yourself!). You don't know if I, or anyone else you see, has COVID-19. The idea here is you don't have to know. ACT AS IF AND DO NO HARM. Proactive measures are still the best way to prevent (and heal) illness.

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