• Trauma and Healing
Sheryl Anderson

May/June 2021

The Director’s Letter 

Dear Colleagues, 

Living and existing in the past sixteen months of a global pandemic has been an unprecedented experience. Months on end filled with fear, uncertainty, and unpredictability can be exhausting. If you add the growing racial intolerance and blatant and bigoted racial attacks on the minority and underprivileged populations we have a climate of growing paranoia, abuse, and trauma. Through it all, we have somehow shown great restraint and faith-filled flexibility.  What impact has this had on our psyche, emotions, and mental health?  Our mental health is just as important to our well-being as our physical health. How will this time impact our children, students, and families? How can we heal and move forward? In pondering this, I’m reminded of a sign on the side of a building that read, You can’t heal if you keep pretending you’re not hurt. That made me think, just how many of us are just barely functioning in our trauma. Trying to find stability and a new normal. 

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers or quick-fix solutions. There is only the courage and hope needed to proceed on the road towards healing. A good way to begin that journey is by first acknowledging our pain, facing our fears, educating ourselves, and seeking help in healing our trauma. This month I’m focusing on trauma & healing. We sometimes feel like we are all alone, but we are not ALONE. There is help for those that seek it. If your trauma is severe, please seek the care of a mental health professional, a therapist, counselor or psychologist. They will listen and can provide strategies and exercises to help this process. There are many resources available to educate us on the various forms of trauma; PTSD, childhood, racial and cultural bias, and pandemic stress directly related to the pandemic. There are many avenues to self-care, which is so important.  Our guilt and shame keeps us from identifying where our fear comes from and understanding it's a relationship with blame. We can beat this.  Please join me as we attempt to look at this very serious problem. As always thank you for taking this DEIB walk with me. United together, we are stronger. Stay safe and healthy.

Best Regards,

Marta Rhea-Johnson

Director of Diversity and Inclusion

From the desk of Andrew Campbell, School Psychologist:

In thinking about what to write for this blog, I began by reviewing research on trauma-informed practice, ACEs, and traumatic event response strategies.  As I read through that material, read the material shared with me by Marta, and considered the current state of our social climate, I began down a track of identifying bias and disarming racial microaggressions.  This rabbit hole of research and information finally overwhelmed me!  I realized in a moment of despair that I had gone from:  thinking about trauma, to considering the traumas our students have recently faced (and/or are still enduring), to the problems created by trauma, to actively ADMIRING the problems of trauma – I had gotten stuck in the state of deep curiosity for the presentation of the symptoms that we cannot always understand but which are the RESULT of chronic trauma.  

As this blog post is about Trauma (and my instructions from Marta were to write about trauma), I will define trauma as it is identified in the field of psychology and I will use ACEs as a comparison with a few pieces of data for impact.  In my profession, it is easy to slip into a pattern of admiring the problems our students face.  A desire to understand, empathize, and relate is natural because the clients of my practice are adolescents.  My parent instinct is to love, hug, protect – all I can do with those instincts is a share in grief and struggle.  As a scientist-practitioner, my instinct is to identify the root cause of the symptoms that prevent growth.  The fact is, a solution or an intervention must be my goal.  For the challenges we have all faced over the past two years, RESILIENCE and OPTIMISM are researched, data-based interventions that have proven to have had the most statistically significant impacts on addressing the symptoms of our most recent experiences.

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional response to a terrible event.  It is somewhat intuitive to know that shock and denial are common, immediate responses to a single traumatic event (or an acute trauma), but what we may not know is that long-term reactions can include emotional instability, social strain, and even physical symptoms.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fifth Edition (DSM-V) separates “Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders” into an isolated category that includes “disorders in which exposure to a traumatic or stressful event is listed explicitly as a diagnostic criterion.”  That category includes the following diagnoses:  Reactive Attachment Disorder, Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Acute Stress Disorder, and Adjustment Disorders.  These are grouped into their own category because they not only include those immediate reaction symptoms, which are fear or anxiety-based, but they also include “anhedonic or dysphoric symptoms (inability to feel pleasure or general dissatisfaction), externalizing angry and aggressive symptoms, or dissociative symptoms (feeling disconnected with oneself and/or emotions).”  There is a lot to talk about regarding the symptoms of disorders associated with trauma.

ACEs is an acronym more commonly used in school psychology because it refers to Adverse Childhood Experiences.  The collection of those experiences or a compilation of repeated adverse experiences is called “chronic trauma.”  Often in children who have experienced chronic trauma the presentation of their symptoms is paralleled with neurodevelopmental delays.  Impairment in the executive skills is paramount - they are things like: inhibition control (aka impulsivity), emotion regulation, working memory, task-initiation, focus, goal-directed persistence, planning/prioritizing/organizing, flexible thinking, and self-monitoring.  According to the CDC’s website (linked here), 61% of adults surveyed reported having experienced at least 1 ACE while 16% experienced 4 or more ACEs in their youth.  Knowing these numbers means that it is imperative for me to take a trauma-informed approach to all challenges our students face.  That, in a nutshell, means asking, “what happened?” vs. “what's wrong?”
To that end, I promise to put forth my best effort.  I am encouraged by new research being done on the impact of teaching resilience and optimism and hope to continue that conversation in future blogs.

This month’s blog topic is
Trauma & Healing

Student Mental Health Matters
The 2020 Back-to-School List for Teens’ Emotional Well-Being
Anxiety and Depression Rises Among Young Adults, Blacks and Latinos in Pandemic
When Things Aren’t OK With a Child’s Mental Health
How to Keep Children’s Stress From Turning Into Trauma (Published 2020)
How to Help Teenagers Embrace Stress

TED Talk 
How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime


A Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching Through Coronavirus
A Healthy Reminder to Educators During School Closures
Trauma-responsive Education: Supporting Students and Yourself
The Value of Educator Self-care
Responding to Trauma in Your Classroom

Having Tough Conversations: Racial Trauma

Healing the Hidden Wounds of Racial Trauma