A Guide to Supporting Trauma Survivors

Let's help each other learn about how we support the trauma survivors in our lives. Social support promotes resilience and healing.

Trauma occurs during an experience (rape, abuse, war, natural disaster, fire, car accident, witnessing violent acts happen to someone else, etc.) that causes intense fear, helplessness, or horror due to physical threat of death, serious injury, or a breach of physical integrity.” One way we can combat this is to gather around each other, support one another, and respect each individual’s unique vulnerabilities.

For trauma survivors, talking about their experience[s] or disclosing their PTSD diagnosis can be nervewrecking. Sharing and talking about the trauma can be triggering so do not force them to talk about it if they aren’t ready to do so. As a facilitator, you are there to hold a supportive space for survivors and encourage them to share their stories if they are ready.


Listening deeply, caring, and believing Staying with the survivor physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Being present and grounded while the trauma survivor while they suffer from pain and other emotions stemming from their abuse.

Maintaining boundaries and know your limits

“Don’t open a box you can’t close.”

It is essential to develop that survivors of trauma have had their boundaries violated. Maintaining
boundaries is how you can signal to someone that they are safe. If you are a facilitator who does not have experience in mental health care then it is imperative to not ‘open a box you can’t close’. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

Dont ask leading questions without asking

Create a safe space for the survivor and enable them to share their experience themselves. Don’t push. Don’t ask for details. Don’t follow any curiosity you may have. Let the survivor lead the conversation because they will generally talk about as much as they are ready to process at that particular point in their healing. Instead ask open-ended questions such as:

How do you feel about that?
Where will you go from here?
What’s your opinion about that?

What to do if a survivor is having a flashback

A flashback is an intense, involuntary reaction to a trigger that causes the survivor to relive their trauma. In the moment of the flashback, the survivor may detach from the present. They may see and hear things that aren’t there, or react as though they are currently being attacked. Be cautious in your actions, and be sure to know the survivor inside out and what they need before you do anything at all. If a particular object is stimulating this reaction, remove that object. It also may be helpful to avoid touching the survivor. Talk softly to the survivor

Responding to a survivor self-balming

Sexual assault is NEVER, EVER, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, the fault of the victim

It is natural for the survivor to think of ways the event could have been avoided. A survivor taking the blame can be their way of concealing the fear of realising that they were not in control. Gently describe to the survivor what they are doing and call out self-blame as a lie.

Most importantly get support yourself

In order to come back and support survivors tomorrow, you need support yourself today.
Treat yourself as gently and compassionately as the people you are caring for. Remember that you are a human too with fragile emotions that need attention and respect, Don’t forget that in the process of taking care of a survivor.


Remember to be respectful as all responses to trauma are valid and traumas shouldn’t be compared. Hug them repeatedly if they are comfortable with you doing so. Gently remind them that they’re safe and don’t forget to validate their feelings. This is a healing process so be patient.

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