Note: If you live in the state of Georgia, Georgia State University is offering a series of courses on Trauma and Brain Development. These courses include:
Trauma 101 and 201
Brain 101 and 201
Community Team Building
Disclaimer: Since I am not an expert in neuroscience or trauma, the information shared in the blog was gathered in a three day training by Georgia State University.
The purpose of my post is to share with school counselors some of the information that I learned about the adolescent brain and the results of childhood trauma. So before you start reading this post, let me give you some reasons why school counselors should be more informed about brain science and the fundamentals of childhood trauma.
.Jane Webber, Associate Professor of the New Jersey City University, says that trauma is not a one time event, but happens to students everyday.
Trauma has a direct impact on student learning (McInerney and McKlindon).
Counselors can provide care and safety to students who have faced complex trauma (McCorry).
Understanding the brain may help school counselors better understand how to help our most difficult students and parents.
What is the Big Deal About the Brain?
First, let’s discuss the brain and why we, as school counselors, need to be educated on the latest science.
The impact of trauma (which includes such factors as poverty, violence, abuse, etc) can change the DNA of individuals and their children. This process is known as epigenetics.
What is Epigenetics? Watch this video for a breakdown.
Students who are exposed to trauma over an extended period time have an overworked mid-brain which means they are wired for survival. These students often stay in survival mode (often act out) even when in they are in what we consider safe environments.
A thinking (learning) brain and a doing (high alert) brain cannot operate in the same space. If a student is on high alert, it is a difficult for him or her to learn.
How Does Trauma Impact Children and Adolescent Development?
This study was conducted in the late 90s by an insurance company and picked up by the CDC. The study contains some essential information which is important for school counselors to know.
1. Adverse childhood experiences impact the ability for students to multitask and keep up with their schoolwork.
2. Keeping a job is more than just learning job skills or career awareness, but includes teaching soft skills like writing a resume, interviewing, communication, listening, conflict resolution, etc.
3. Many of our students’ parents have an ACE score of 10 and often minimize their own trauma. In minimizing their own trauma, they will do the same for their children.
4. One out of every four students in schools are exposed to trauma.
5. The higher the ACE score the higher the death rate for these individuals.
Resource Alert! Want to know more about the ACE Study, watch this short video.
How Trauma Impacts Our Students…Don’t Underestimate its Impact!!
If you work in a school, you know that students may have many adverse experiences. Here is a short list of traumatic situations for our students.
Here is a review of the types of trauma students will experience:
Acute:one single event (natural disaster or loss of parent)
Chronic: multiple events (child experiences a natural disaster in which the parent dies and because of the disaster child loses home).
Complex: chronic multiple events, whether real or perceived, that happen over time (child abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc.)
What makes complex trauma most concerning is the absence of a caring adult (this is the biggest piece). Often, the caregiver has inflicted or neglected to protect the child from trauma.
2. Tolerable Stress: changing friendships, starting school, ending of school, test taking, or failing at a task.
3. Toxic: poverty, living in violent environment, or abuse by a parent.
Stress Response Cycle
When students experience toxic stress, their brain experiences a change due to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Here are some changes students may experience:
- Changes in behavior;
- Always being in survival mode due to the release of the stress hormone cortisol.
A student’s “doing and thinking” brain cannot act in the same space. In a crisis, a student’s “doing” brain activates and his or her “thinking” brain ceases to operate (a student cannot control his or her stress hormone nor how his or her body feels);
For a student’s body to self-regulate, his or her hippocampus must return the body to a normal state. This may take a longer period of time for some students;
After a stressful event, a student will usually seek support to help process the event;
Following the event, if a similar event occurs, a student’s body may have the same stress response;
The stress response remains in effect for children who have repeated trauma (even in safety).
How Does Trauma Impact Adolescents?
The impact of trauma depends on:
2. The child’s subjective response to it. Note: not all children process trauma in the same way.
How Our View of Trauma is Formed?
2. Victim or witness of the trauma.
3. Relationship to victim and/or perpetrator.
4. Perception of danger.
5. What happened following the trauma?
6. Past experiences with trauma.
7. Presence and availability of nurturing relationships.
- Attachment in relationships which can include the lack of boundaries or isolation (running away, lack of trust or too trusting, rejecting others, sabotaging relationships);
Biological changes in the brain;
Lack of mood regulation;
Dissociation, detachment, depersonalization, or withdrawal from the world. Examples include: daydreaming, lack of empathy, referring to self in 3rd person, antisocial behavior, false sense of reality, inappropriate dress, lack of belonging;
Lack of behavioral control, poor impulse, self destructive behavior, or destructive behavior (bullying, social isolation, profanity, lack of empathy, attention seeking, no boundaries, tantrums, impulsivity);
Cognition or learning problems;
Poor self-concept, body image, self esteem, shame, and guilt (this can be the one factor that school counselors can impact the quickest!) Examples include: over compensating (becoming bullies to keep people from hurting them), self harming behaviors, and at-risk behaviors;
Developmental issues which interfere with appropriate developmental skills. Examples include: speech delay, potty training, lack of cognitive abilities, problem solving skills, return to baby like behavior (immature).
How Can School Counselors Effectively Deal With Trauma in Students?
An additional resource: Building a Trauma Aware School can produce guidance on how to build a trauma competent schools.
3. Build resilience in your students
Three Factors for Building Resilience
Safety: the extent to which a child is free from fear and feels secure from physical and psychological harm.
Stability: the degree of predictability and consistency in the child’s environment.
Nurturing: the extent to which an adult is available and able to consistently and sensitively respond to a child’s needs.
Resource alert! Check out this resource on how school counselors can foster resilience in students.
One challenge, given by our trainer, was for school counselors to partner with a teacher to identify one traumatized student. The goal is to build resiliency skills in this student to help him or her develop the ability to overcome the trauma he or she has experienced. If you want to take this challenge, consider downloading the free ebook from Trauma Sensitive Schools for a guide on how to build resiliency in your students.
Now that you have a bit of awareness about trauma and its impact on our students, you may want to do a little professional development on your own. Here are some additional resources that you can explore to discover training, research, and more trauma informed practices. As always, if you have resources you would like to share please feel free to comment!!
Trauma Training for Educators (Free)