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Biometrics in the Age of Trauma-Informed Checklists!

Posted on February 4, 2020

Biometrics in the Age of Trauma-Informed Checklists!

I ended my last post on heart rate variability (HRV) with…

I want to leave you with the hope that so much of the mystery and speculation of the healing process is now quantifiable. A simple biometric that will help us move our thinking on best practices from what works for the masses to what works for this specific person and where they are at in this moment of their journey.

As someone who considers it their job to stay on top of advancement in the trauma field, I’m astounded at the number of checklists and implementation guides coming out to help people on their trauma-informed journeys. It seems like every type of organization, program and focus area has multiple checklists to choose from with more coming out each day. I believe that providing people a structure for their improvement processes is a positive thing and even created a checklist myself as part of an intensive training program over a decade ago.

Checklists are useful because they provide mile-markers and tasks as people try to operationalize the different theories of what makes an organization or program trauma-informed. However, in the flood of checklists, we often struggle to find measures to answer the most critical question when embarking on a trauma-informed improvement journey. Are our efforts improving the resilience and facilitating post-traumatic growth in those we are helping?

Most trauma trainings speak to the effects of trauma on the brain and nervous system and for many of us, the Adverse Childhood Experience Study became much more powerful when coupled with the science on how trauma impacts the brain. While we have long known about trauma and the nervous system, we had little way to measure this impact or how our interventions and treatments improved nervous system health. We were left trying to glean outcomes from self-reports on assessments or behavioral changes.

The technological advances that make HRV accessible and affordable allow us to establish a baseline for each person. This baseline, when compared to population norms, provides us insight on how stress, trauma, and current life challenges are effecting an individual’s social, emotional, cognitive and medical health. One central goal and outcome of any trauma-informed program or interventions is to help the person’s nervous system stabilize and heal. Quantifying post-traumatic growth allows us to measure the effects of interventions on a specific individual and adjust our approach based on the data.

HRV and other biometrics will not replace improvement checklists. However, I hope that in the next couple of years, another measure will start to appear on these lists. The program improves the health of the person’s nervous system and social, emotional, cognitive and medical health as measured through increases in heart rate variability. Right now, it is just a dream, but a dream within all our grasps!

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