Updated November 29, 2021
The purpose of this resource is to help ensure a storytelling/interviewing process that promotes the safety of and empowers those who have experienced trauma. It seeks to ensure that individuals who have experienced trauma are not harmed by sharing their story.
Consider the principles of trauma informed care when interviewing and writing about individuals who have experienced trauma: trauma awareness, safety and trustworthiness, choice, engagement and collaboration, strengths-based skill building, cultural and historical awareness, and developmentally appropriate considerations.
- Avoid labels (describe the behaviour, not the person)
- Ask a person for their preferred descriptor, if one must be used. And be aware that preferences can change over time. While “survivor” is frequently noted as preferred to “victim,” the choice can vary by individual.
- Avoid language that connotes judgement.
- Use empowering language.
- Don’t generalize. Remember that things that are true for some of us, some of the time, are not necessarily true for all of us, all of the time.
- Remember culture is central to people’s experiences. Be curious, without making assumptions or being presumptuous, listen and learn.
- Provide helpful, relevant community resources in the story.
Before the interview
- Explain what the interviewee can expect: how the interview will be conducted, what questions you’ll ask and why, how they will be identified, when/how it’ll be edited.
- Explain how they can let you know if they are uncomfortable, would like to end the interview, pause or skip a question.
- Obtain informed consent once you have thoroughly explained the project and process and questions are addressed. Ensure the individual is aware that they may get a response/criticism to the article.
- Ask if your interviewee would like to have a support person present or if they have someone they can talk to following the interview.
- When prepping for the interview, consider: could any of my questions make the participant feel like they are being blamed or their accounts are being questioned? Are any stigmatizing?
During the interview
- Let the participant decide where they would like to begin and what level of detail they would like to share.
- Ask yourself, am I asking this individual for details that are not necessary and may cause discomfort (i.e. sensationalizing the story). What purpose do they serve in the story? Can the story be told without them?
- Opt for open ended questions.
- Pay attention to body language and respond accordingly.
- Should the individual become emotional during the interview, offer pause and support.
- Before the end of the interview, try to ground the individual back into the present moment, e.g. by talking about the day, the weather, the weekend, etc.
- Thank the individual for sharing their experience.
After the interview
- Once the story is complete, share it with the interviewee and get approval to print it (note that this is not generally the practice for external media).
- Share your contact information, in case they would like to reach out to you after the story is published.
- As an interviewer/writer/reporter, consider the impact of hearing about trauma on your own wellbeing. If possible, take a pause, walk, do a grounding exercise, or other relaxing activity after the discussion. Seek additional support as needed.
(Source: Sue McWilliam, PhD, Research and Evaluation Lead in Trauma Informed Care, IWK Health Centre)