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Trigger Warnings: Helpful or Harmful for Trauma Survivors?

This research study presents compelling evidence that trigger warnings may do more harm than good.

While this study’s methods may overlook that a trigger warning along with the choice to opt-out has the potential for self-care (in abstaining) and empowerment (in feeling free to abstain or choose exposure), the results are notable, particularly given that they reinforce identification with one’s trauma (which is known to complicate trauma recovery) and that previous research  demonstrated that trigger warnings may decrease resiliency to future traumatic events in non-traumatized individuals.

For further research, the title of this study is  “Helping or Harming? The Effect of Trigger Warnings on Individuals with Trauma Histories“.

A Helpful Alternative to Trigger Warnings?

When we effectively communicate content, the need for trigger warnings, even among populations who might be helped, becomes unnecessary. If journalists do the work of accurate and not click-bait headlines, event coordinators communicate what their event or sub-meetings are about clearly, and educators do the work of lesson planning, accurate syllabus writing, and sticking to their schedule, then “trigger” “warnings” aren’t necessary, because that information has already been communicated in a non-pathologizing, non-trauma-reinforcing way.

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