An Approach to Preservice Trauma Training
Updated: Mar 4, 2021
Meg Smith, MSW, LICSW, ACSW
Because the impact of childhood trauma on learning and life outcomes is profound, there is an emerging understanding that schools need to become more trauma-responsive and resilient places in order for students to heal and thrive. Providing mental health and trauma supports in schools can remove access barriers and reduce the stigma associated with mental health treatment.
How, then, can our field better prepare the workforce of future school mental health professionals to take on this challenge? Below we describe the Alliance for Inclusion and Prevention’s model for training graduate mental health interns during their year of school placement, and how this informs our evolving work with the National Center for Safe Supportive Schools (NCS3).
Alliance for Inclusion and Prevention (AIP) operates the Center for Trauma Care in Schools (CTCS) as part of a Category III SAMHSA grant and is a member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). For the past 5 years, CTCS has partnered with several Boston-area graduate schools of social work and counseling to provide a year-long training and learning community for their students placed in internships in metro Boston public schools. The result is our Trauma-Focused Intern Training program (T-FIT), where a cohort of 20 school-based graduate students enroll in a year-long program that provides training in both school mental health and trauma. One of our graduate school partners places both teaching interns and clinical interns in the school as a team. T-FIT then trains the interns jointly and includes them in a teacher/counselor learning community for the duration of their placement.
In addition to direct instruction on key topics in school mental health and childhood trauma,
T-FIT graduate interns participate in a weekly learning community, where students present cases and receive consultation on treatment approaches using the principles gleaned from the evidence-based treatments taught in the program. Two CTCS trauma consultants, both with years of experience supervising school-based interns, co-facilitate the one-hour call, integrating into the case consultation guidance for how to conceptualize and manage the trauma and other symptoms they are seeing in their student clients.
A key lesson from this program has been the need to embed trauma training within the larger framework of quality school mental health. This means emphasizing essentials, including: teacher consultation; engagement with Individual Education Programs (IEP); discipline policy and practice; family engagement in mental health support; student goals and motivation for behavioral change; and, understanding the impact of the overarching school climate and cultural responsiveness that can promote or impede student well-being and academic success. T-FIT works hand-in-hand with field placement supervisors in each school to ensure that the program supports rather than supersedes their role.
The goal of T-FIT is the development of a workforce with the range of skills and knowledge needed to shape trauma-informed school environments. AIP is now partnering with the NCS3 to develop a 12-hour online Pre-service Training Program for Graduate Social Work and Counseling Interns available to mental health graduate students across the nation. Our experience with T-FIT over the past five years has shown that graduate schools, interns, and public schools all recognize the value of this approach. The coming generation of school mental health professionals will benefit from specialized preparation for the multifaceted aspects of quality school mental health while also gaining a deeper understanding of best practices in addressing childhood trauma in schools.