Coping with Trauma After Parkland and Other Distressing Episodes

New APA book offers framework for school-based interventions

WASHINGTON — Exposure to trauma is increasingly common among school-aged American students, yet many affected children are not receiving the mental health care that could enable them to heal and thrive. Schools are the most common source of mental health care for students, which is why school administrators, counselors and teachers need the tools to enable them to develop an environment that promotes evidence-based interventions to help students overcome trauma and excel.

A new book published by the American Psychological Association — "Creating Healing School Communities: School-Based Interventions for Students Exposed to Trauma" — outlines models that schools can use to work with students experiencing various levels of trauma.

“On average, only 25 percent of children with mental health needs receive services,” the authors wrote. “Of those children who do receive mental health services, 70 percent to 80 percent receive those services in school.”

The authors recommend a model called the Multi-Tiered System of Supports, which addresses both academics and behavior in a whole-school, prevention-based approach. The first tier of this model embodies a universal approach for all students. Tier 2 is a more targeted approach for those with elevated risk or indication of need. Tier 3 is the most intensive approach, reserved for those students with the greatest need. Other elements of this model include social-emotional learning, which seeks to imbue students with five core competencies: being self-aware, being able to regulate their emotions, being socially aware, having good relationship skills and demonstrating responsible decision-making.

As part of the universal approach to supporting students exposed to trauma, there needs to be a mechanism for identifying students who need a higher level of attention, the authors wrote. They recommend that schools regularly monitor behavior, attendance and grades to identify students who are off-track.

“This is an important book being published at a critical time,” said APA President Jessica Henderson Daniel, PhD. “While the tragic shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have shone a spotlight on students and trauma, many American schoolchildren experience all manner of trauma, day in and day out. This puts them at risk for psychological symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, as well as poorer academic performance.”

There are many advantages to schools’ delivering trauma care to children, according to the authors. “[S]chool-based services eliminate many burdens on families related to transportation, time, cost and availability. In addition to circumventing structural barriers, school-based services can address many of the perceptual barriers by having trusted, known school personnel engage the family in a familiar, nonstigmatizing setting.”

Book:Creating Healing School Communities: School-Based Interventions for Students Exposed to Trauma,” by Catherine DeCarlo Santiago, PhD, Loyola University Chicago; Tali Raviv, PhD, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; and Lisa H. Jaycox, PhD, RAND Corp. APA Books, January 2018. This book is part of the Concise Guides on Trauma Care series, produced in partnership by APA’s Div. 56 (Trauma Psychology) and APA Books.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.