Trauma-Informed Interviewing: A Compassionate and Effective Approach

I have interviewed many people over the years. Complainants, offenders, and witnesses. You should prepare an interview plan to allow you to address key issues. What are you trying to discover? You sit down and ask the questions and expect the answers. But do we think enough about the person we are speaking to?

I recently interviewed a witness. It related to allegations of bullying. A relatively simple matter to investigate. Allegations made, witnesses present, evidence gathered, report written.

However, there is another side we, as investigators, must consider. The impact of the investigation on all parties. The witness broke down during the interview. Was this my fault? Did I fail to prepare properly? Did I fail to consider the “feelings” of the witness?

This led me to consider the need to adopt a compassionate and effective approach to trauma-informed interviewing.

I realised trauma-based interviewing is an approach to communication that recognises and respects the potential impact of trauma on an individual’s life.

It is a sensitive, empathetic, and supportive method to interview individuals who have experienced trauma, ensuring that they feel comfortable and safe while sharing their experiences. This technique not only helps the interviewee feel more at ease but also promotes more accurate and reliable information gathering.

Investigators need to think more about the person we are about to speak to. It does not matter whether they are the complainant, a witness, or the alleged offender.

We need to appreciate trauma is an emotional response to an event or series of events that a person perceives as physically or emotionally harmful. It can have lasting adverse effects on an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. The experience of trauma is subjective, and people react to and recover from traumatic events in different ways.

Investigators sometimes do not appreciate the emotions felt by persons we speak to. We plough on with the investigation, gathering evidence and getting ready for the next one. We should consider the fundamentals of trauma-informed interviewing.

Trauma-informed interviewing is based on the understanding that many individuals have experienced trauma in their lives. This approach allows for a more compassionate and effective dialogue, providing a safe space for the interviewee to share their story without re-traumatizing them. We do not know what feelings we may trigger as we speak to the parties.

I conducted some research to identify what I believe to be the key principles of trauma-based interviewing. These are:

Safety: Create a safe and welcoming environment for the interviewee. Ensure the space is free from distractions, noise, and potential triggers. Communicate the purpose and goals of the interview clearly and maintain confidentiality.

Empathy and Compassion: Approach the interview with genuine empathy and understanding. Listen actively, validate the interviewee’s feelings, and acknowledge their courage in sharing their experiences.

Choice and Control: Allow the interviewee to have control over the process. Give them the option to choose.

Explain the process: Make sure the interviewee knows what will happen. Do not provide false assurances (no one will find out, etc.).

Follow up: Where appropriate, follow up personally.  If not, speak to someone in the organisation to alert them to potential difficulties with the person because of the trauma of the incident.

If you need help, then contact me ([email protected] or

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