Are You a Trauma-Informed Therapist?

Professional organizations, national credentialing agencies, and university educational programs are not producing trauma-informed therapists. The curriculum endorsed by the American Counseling Association (ACA), the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and most higher education institutions lack foundational training in traumatology, both “event” trauma and “developmental/complex” trauma that examines the long-term impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on mental and physical health.

Because of this curricular deficiency, newly graduated MA level counselors are not trauma-informed and  not adequately prepared to work in their chosen profession. New graduates feel resentful that they must now spend additional time and money to get traumatology training. This situation is not new, as experienced therapists have been paying for their own traumatology training for the last 20 years.

Higher education simply has not kept up with the advances in the field of traumatology. And only a smattering of doctoral programs currently produce trauma-informed graduates. MA and doctoral training programs for therapists need basic training in both early childhood’s “developmental or complex trauma” and in PTSD’s “event trauma” caused by accidents and war.

Many researchers who have been studying trauma are filling this gap by giving live presentations around the US and other countries where they share their research findings with mental health practitioners. And there are many online programs now available to licensed practitioners that give them Continuing Education Units.


So . . . trauma informed clinicianHere’s SAMHSA’s answer to this question:

A Trauma-Informed Approach

According to SAMHSA’s concept of a trauma-informed approach, “A program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.”

A trauma-informed approach can be implemented in any type of service setting or organization and is distinct from trauma-specific interventions or treatments that are designed specifically to address the consequences of trauma and to facilitate healing.

SAMHSA’s Six Key Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach

A trauma-informed therapist adheres to six key principles rather than a prescribed set of practices or procedures. These principles may be generalizable across multiple types of settings, although terminology and application may be setting- or sector-specific:

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and Transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice and choice
  6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

From SAMHSA’s perspective, it is critical to promote the linkage to recovery and resilience for those individuals and families impacted by trauma. Consistent with SAMHSA’s definition of recovery, services and supports that are trauma-informed build on the best evidence available and consumer and family engagement, empowerment, and collaboration.

What To Do?

For MA level graduates to find work requiring them to be trauma-informed therapists, it’s obvious that they must find and pay for additional training. Period. But don’t stop there!

Much as caring, attentive, attuned therapists dislike it, we must also become politically active. We must join  and participate in our professional organizations such as ACA, state counseling organizations and local professional groups. Recent graduates must inform their university training programs about their lack of expertise as trauma-informed clinicians. Time to be vocal!

Bessel van der Kolk made a very direct comment during an all-day trauma training when he spoke in Denver in November of 2014. He said, “Counselor training programs that fail to train students in trauma are preparing them to do malpractice.” He didn’t say that this also sets up therapists to “do harm.” But, ethically the current ACA and CACREP curriculum standards do just that.

CPDC Now Offers Trauma-Informed Care Practitioner Training!

For more information, go here.


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