Many of my students live in impoverished areas, where drugs and violence plague their neighborhoods. Many live in homes with absent mothers and/or fathers, and in homes where there are multiple family members living with them. I once had a student tell me that she sleeps on a sofa in her living room with her two cousins. After hearing this, I got into a habit of asking my students about their home life. To my surprise, I found out that I have students who run drugs back and forth between dealers, students with incarcerated parents, students who have witness shootings, students who have been mentally and physically abused, and students who live in apartment buildings where there is sex trafficking.
The affects of trauma can cause signs of distress through somatic complaints such as stomachaches, headaches, and pains. Trauma can also cause behavioral issues, such as an increase in agitation, irritability, anger, and aggression. In addition, trauma can seriously interrupt the school routine and the process of learning and teaching. There are usually high levels of disruption and an inability for the student to concentrate.
So how can we really expect students, who have experience trauma, to achieve and behave appropriately?
Without proper interventions, students can develop other mental health illnesses, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. School based counseling may help students cope and create a safe place within the school. However, it takes a lot of work and patience to develop a trusting relationship. I had a 3rd grade student who would destroy the school and physically assault staff at least once per day. I remember wanting to “fix” my student by creating reward systems, break cards, and visuals. I thought that would motivate my student to want to behave. I felt defeated when my student continue to engage in destructive behaviors. After reevaluating, I realized I never took into account what my student needed. Therefore, I made a goal to establish security and stability with my student. At first, he would just come to office and wouldn’t talk; he would just sit there. After some time went by, he would come to me when he was in distress. He interacts with me more but more importantly he views me as a safe person he can go to. Currently, he has less incidents of destruction and is also doing well academically.
Many students who experience trauma need counseling beyond what the school can offer
While school based therapy can help manage behaviors in the school, many students require intensive individual and family therapy. It is recommended that students who experience trauma receive trauma focus cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), which provides interventions specifically tailored to meet the needs of students experiencing emotional and psychological difficulties as a result of trauma. However, many of my students do not have medical insurance or access to TF-CBT therapist. Therefore, schools need to offer these services within the school in order for students to be properly treated.