Her Brain Chose for Her
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Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses
Her Brain Chose for Her

Preface: Visualizing the Invisible - Understanding Trauma

“Often it isn’t the initiating trauma that creates seemingly insurmountable pain, but the lack of support after.”
- S. Kelley Harrell

brainsThe experience of trauma fundamentally changes how a woman views herself, her world, her relationships, and her community. The effects of trauma can be longstanding and potentially debilitating, affecting problem solving ability, coping skills, feelings of loss of control, hypervigilance, sleep disturbance, intrusive memories, and flashbacks and feelings of anxiety, anger, grief, and depression.

Unfortunately, for many survivors of violence, experiences of victimization do not end with the crime as they attempt to navigate systems and services which ultimately compound the effects of the trauma she has experienced throughout her life.1 The way any service (including healthcare, justice, violence against women, social services and age specific supports) responds to the violence a woman has experienced has a profound effect on the impacts of the trauma and resulting changes to her sense of self, trust in systems, hope for the future, and faith in a just world.

“People who have experienced trauma are at risk of being re-traumatized in every social service and health care setting. The lack of knowledge and understanding about the impact of trauma can get in the way of services providing the most effective care and intervention. When retraumatization happens, the system has failed the individual who has experienced trauma, and this can leave them feeling misunderstood, unsupported and even blamed. It can also perpetuate a damaging cycle that prevents healing and growth. This can be prevented with basic knowledge and by considering trauma-informed language and practices.”2

Guided by a provincial advisory committee, the Aging Without Violence project (AWV) has created this Visual Training Tool (VTT) to help service providers across a wide range of sectors gain a deeper understanding of trauma-informed approaches and promising practices when working with women of all ages who have experienced violence. By visualizing the neurobiology of trauma and practices of trauma-informed care, we hope to disrupt the invisibility survivors of all ages may experience following trauma, in particular the invisibility of older women.

In understanding trauma, the AWV project advocates for a feminist intersectional analysis within a life course perspective, which recognizes the connections between types of violence and compounding impacts of violence at different stages of a woman’s life.3 When a woman’s experiences of trauma and violence are only examined from one point in her life, the impacts of her previous experiences are ignored, as are potential long-term health outcomes, including reduced life expectancy.4

Trauma-informed approaches have the capacity to improve the experiences of survivors of violence within healthcare, justice, social services and violence against women sectors and end cycles of re-victimization while engaging women who have long been at the margins of service including those who are older, 2SLGBTQ, racialized and differently-abled.

VTT Learning Objectives

This tool is designed to increase the capacity of the user to provide trauma-informed support to women of all ages by developing a working knowledge of the neurobiology of trauma including:

By understanding the connections between various forms trauma, vicarious trauma, behaviours and impacts including long term health outcomes, we can ensure when women of all ages who have experienced violence reach out, they are met with competent, informed, and effective support and access to justice.5

On behalf of the Aging Without Violence Provincial Advisory Committee, we hope this Visual Training Tool helps you to provide effective, trauma-informed care and support to women of all ages, understanding of just how often, experiences of fear and trauma, “her brain chose for her.”


Amber Wardell
Aging Without Violence Project Coordinator
Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses


  1. Hill, J. (2003). Victims’ Response to Trauma and Implications for Interventions: A Selected Review and Synthesis of the Literature. Retrieved From: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cj-jp/victim/rr03_vic2/rr03_vic2.pdf
  2. Klinic Community Health Centre. Trauma-informed, The Trauma Toolkit Second Edition, 2013. Retrieved From: https://trauma-informed.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Trauma-informed_Toolkit.pdf 
  3. Williams, L. (2003). Understanding Child Abuse and Violence Against Women: A Life Course Perspective. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18(4), 441–451. Retrieved From: https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260502250842
  4. Etherington, N. and Baker, L. (2017). Links between the Maltreatment of Girls and Later Victimization or Use of Violence. London, Ontario: Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children. Retrieved From: http://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/our-work/issuebased_newsletters/issue-15/index.html 
  5. Ponic, P et al. Trauma- (and Violence-) Informed Approaches to Supporting Victims of Violence: Policy and Practice Considerations. Victims of Crim Research Digest No. 9. Retrieved From: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cj-jp/victim/rd9-rr9/p2.html