Deaf People's Help-Seeking Following Trauma: Experiences With and Recommendations for the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Care System

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry; Systems and Psychosocial Advances Research Center

Publication Date


Document Type



Health Services Administration | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatry and Psychology | Speech and Hearing Science | Translational Medical Research


Objective: Deaf trauma survivors are one of the more underserved populations in behavioral health care and experience significant obstacles to seeking help. Repeated encounters with these barriers fuel negative perceptions and avoidance of behavioral health treatment. The current study sought to explore Deaf trauma survivors' help-seeking experiences and elicit their recommendations for improving Deaf behavioral health services in Massachusetts.

Method: We conducted semistructured American Sign Language interviews with 16 trauma-exposed Deaf individuals that included questions from the Life Events Checklist and the PTSD Symptom Scale Interview and questions about Deaf individuals' help-seeking behaviors. Qualitative responses regarding help-seeking experiences were analyzed using a grounded theory approach.

Results: In the aftermath of trauma, our participants emphasized a desire to work with a signing provider who is highly knowledgeable about Deaf culture, history, and experience and to interact with clinic staff who possess basic sign language skills and training in Deaf awareness. Most stressed the need for providers to better outreach into the Deaf community-to provide education about trauma, to describe available treatment resources, and to prove one's qualifications. Participants also provided suggestions for how behavioral health clinics can better protect Deaf survivors' confidentiality in a small-community context.

Conclusions: Deaf-friendly trauma treatment should incorporate the components of trauma-informed care but also carefully consider key criteria expressed by our participants: direct signed communication, understanding of Deaf history and experience, stringent practices to protect confidentiality, provider visibility in the community, and reliance on peer support and Deaf role models in treatment interventions.


UMCCTS funding

DOI of Published Version



Psychol Trauma. 2017 Mar;9(2):239-248. doi: 10.1037/tra0000219. Epub 2016 Oct 31. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Psychological trauma : theory, research, practice and policy

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID