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Trauma-informed practice is taking the K-12 student services and education landscape by storm. Don’t let three misconceptions stand in the way of success.

Currently, trauma-informed practices are taking the student services and education landscape by storm. Close to 60% of adults report experiencing abuse or other difficult family circumstances during childhood. At any point during the school day, teachers will interact with students that have experienced acute, chronic, or complex trauma. Acute trauma results from a single event whereas chronic trauma results from a repeated and prolonged experience. Complex trauma results from repeated and varied exposure to a multitude of traumatic events.

This is relevant because those who experience trauma are 15 times more likely to attempt suicide, four times more likely to become an alcoholic, and three times more likely to experience depression. Being supported through trauma-invoked events ideally is proactive as a responsive approach can mitigate problems in later years. How are we as educators and clinicians preparing and assisting our colleagues in moving from trauma-informed competent to trauma-informed fluent?

Assessments such as the ACES, Adverse Childhood Experience Survey, assist clinicians in differentiating supports and tailoring curriculum to meet individual student needs. There is also a greater push to deliver universal trauma-informed supportive practices. Misconceptions such as the ones listed below need not stand in our way:

Misconception #1: I need to know all of the students on my roster that have experienced trauma.

Answer: No, treating students differently and singling them out can actually bring undue attention to a student of trauma. Try to reflect on your practices and class policies to allow flexibility and empathy for ALL students.  

Misconception #2: You only experience trauma after a major life-threatening event.

Answer: Research has found that trauma is not defined by the actual precipitating event, but trauma is defined by the emotional and psychological effect an event has on the person.  

Misconception #3: Supporting those with trauma will not make a difference; moreover, it will exhaust resources for the “other” students.

Answer: Research has shown that 90% of trauma survivors report a new zest for life and the ability to apply new coping skills throughout their life and toward other stressful experiences. Utilizing a trauma-informed approach can support those survivors and help them to heal faster while demonstrating empathy and compassion to the bystanders.

Adopt a strengths-based approach! All individuals have strengths and weaknesses and, as educators, it is imperative that we leverage the strengths of our students to meet them where they are. This turns the question around from, “What is wrong with you?” to “What has happened to you?” signaling an empathic and safe space that invites those who have experienced trauma to heal and learn.

Matthew Liberatore

Dr. Matt Liberatore, LCPC is the director of professional learning and student services for Township High School District 214, past president of the Illinois School Counselor Association, and senior advisor to Intellispark.