The School Counselor and Trauma-Informed Practice
(Adopted, 2016, revised 2022)
School counselors understand the impact adverse childhood experiences have on students’ academic achievement and social/emotional development. Through the implementation of a school counseling program, school counselors strive to identify, support and promote the success of students who have experienced trauma.
Schools are increasingly recognizing the lasting negative impact on children exposed to traumatic events (Davis, et al., 2022). Children’s trauma exposure, either as direct victims or as witnesses, can lead to social/emotional harm that manifests in negative ways in schools, including low academic performance, maladaptive behavior, lack of attention and focus, and an increase in absenteeism and drop-out rates (Rumsey & Milsom, 2019).
A trauma-sensitive school is one in which all students feel safe, welcomed and supported (Cole et al., 2013). Establishing a trauma-informed school counseling program paired with a multitiered system of supports (MTSS) and a preventive focus can decrease the effects of trauma exposure (Davis, et al., 2022; Martinez et al., 2020; and Rumsey & Milsom, 2019). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2014) describes four characteristics of a trauma-informed program or system:
- realizes the impact of trauma and understands the potential for recovery
- recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in system members
- responds by integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures and practices
- actively resists re-traumatization
The School Counselor's RoleSchool counselors can be key players in promoting a trauma-sensitive environment at their schools. They are in a unique position to identify students affected by traumatic events and can provide the support and resources these students need. Certified school counselors implementing a data-informed school counseling program addressing academic, career and social/emotional development can have a positive impact at all levels of education. In an effort to promote student’s physical, emotional and mental health and to create conditions allowing students to thrive and succeed, school counselors:
- recognize the signs of trauma in students
- understand traumas need not predict individual failure if sufficient focus on resilience and strengths is present
- avoid practices that may re-traumatize students
- create connected communities and positive school climates that are trauma-sensitive to keep students healthy and in school and involved in positive social networks
- implement effective academic and behavioral practices, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports and social and emotional learning
- promote safe, stable and nurturing relationships. Research shows this is critical in helping students succeed even in the face of deprivation and adversity (The Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act of 2015).
- provide community resource information to students and families dealing with trauma
- educate staff on the effects of trauma and how to refer students to the school counselor
- collaborate with community resources to provide support for students
- promote a trauma-sensitive framework for policies, procedures and behaviors to entire staff
- recognize the role technology can play in magnifying trauma incidents for students
A trauma-sensitive school is one in which all students feel safe, welcomed and supported. School counselors, collaborating with school staff and community partners, can help transform the school into a safe, supportive, trauma-sensitive learning environment for all students. School counselors advocate for policies and procedures focused on the trauma-sensitive framework and the establishment of a safe school climate for all students.
Cole, S., Eisner, A., Gregory, M., & Ristuccia, J. (2013). Helping traumatized children learn: Creating and advocating for trauma- sensitive schools. Retrieved from http://nysteachs.org/media/TLPI_Creating.and.Advocating.for.Trauma.Sensitive.Schools.pdf.
Davis, W., Petrovic, L., Whalen, K., Danna, L., Zeigler, K., Brewton, A., Joseph, M., Baker, C. N., & Overstreet, S. (2022). Centering trauma‐informed approaches in schools within a social justice framework. Psychology in the Schools. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.22664
Martinez, R., Williams, R., & Green, J. (2020). The role of school counselors delivering a trauma-informed care approach to supporting youth in foster care. Professional School Counseling, 23(1), https://doi.org/10.1177/2156759X20947747
Rumsey, A. D., & Milsom, A. (2019). Supporting school engagement and high school completion through trauma-informed school counseling. Professional School Counseling, 22(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/2156759X19867254
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma14-4884.pdfResources
Bethell, C. et al. (2014). Adverse childhood experiences: Assessing the impact on health and school engagement and the mitigating role of resilience.” Health Affairs, 33(12), 2111.
Department of Health and Human Service’s Letter to State Directors. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.oacbha.org/docs/TIC_October_2013.pdf
Effects of Emotional Trauma on the Brain and Learning. Bright Hub Education. Retrieved from http://www.nctsn.org/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects-of-complex-trauma
FUTURES Without Violence. Safe, Healthy, and Ready to Learn. (2015). Policy recommendations to ensure children thrive in supportive communities free from violence and trauma. Retrieved from https://www.gadoe.org/External-Affairs-and-Policy/Policy/Documents/Safe-Healthy-and-Ready-to-Learn_Full-Report.pdf.
Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities. (2013). Behavioral health: Developing a better understanding. (citing Department of Health and Human Services Letter to State Directors). Retrieved form http://www.oacbha.org/docs/TIC_October_2013.pdf.
Southern California Public Radio. (2014). Teaching through trauma: How poverty affects kids’ brains. Retrieved from http://www.scpr.org/blogs/education/2014/06/02/16743/poverty-has-been-found-to-affect-kidsbrains-can-o/.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2016). The effects of trauma on schools and learning. Retrieved from http://www.nctsn.org/resources/audiences/school-personnel/effects-of-trauma.