What Does Being “Trauma-informed” Really Mean?
By Dr. Will Henson
I was recently asked to consult on the case of a young man with fairly severe behavior issues. When I arrived to meet with his school team, they described to me a student who had a substantial trauma history. I asked if they knew what Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) were, and if they had been through trauma-informed training. The team said they had been through training, which consisted of a book study, and they felt that everyone was well-versed in trauma-informed practices.
Then they handed me the student’s behavior plan. Nothing in the plan reflected trauma-informed interventions. None of the responses, none of the proactive strategies, and none of the classroom supports had anything to do with managing the classic responses of students with a history of childhood trauma. When I began to explain how chronic stress rewires the nervous system, they began to see why the current behavior plan (earning points and trading them for prizes) wasn’t doing anything for the student. When we focused the team on interventions that target safety, predictability and regulation, we saw things change quickly in a positive way.
Being trauma informed doesn’t just mean reading a book or going to a training. It means integrating what you learn into your everyday practices. This takes time and thought, but is always well worth the effort.