President Barack Obama opened his commencement speech at West Point last week by telling the graduating cadets they may become the first class to graduate and not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – the longest-running in U.S. history – have sent thousands of soldiers home with wounds both visible and invisible, meaning a spike in the need for practitioners who are well versed in dealing with the long-lasting effects of trauma.
Overall, the need for trauma services and service providers is growing, says Karin Jordan, facilitator of the American Counseling Association’s Traumatology Interest Network, one of 17 interest networks within the association.
Therapists who work with veterans will certainly come across trauma-related issues in counseling sessions. But counselors of all specialties are likely to see clients affected by trauma, from school bullying to natural disasters to surviving a vehicle accident.
Jordan, a professor and chair of the University of Akron Department of Counseling, encourages all counselors to become knowledgeable about working with trauma by attending workshops or networking with counselors who specialize in the field.
A good place to start would be ACA’s Traumatology Interest Network. The group’s 200 members exchange ideas, advocate for traumatology and organize training through workshops and sessions at ACA’s annual conference.
Responses by Karin Jordan, facilitator of ACA’s Traumatology Interest Network
Why should counselors be aware of and interested in traumatology?
The area of traumatology is rapidly growing, as we are dealing with trauma ranging from family violence (e.g. child abuse, spouse/partner abuse, etc.) to street violence, gangs, institutional violence (e.g. bullying, school/university and workplace violence) and traffic/transportation accidents to large-scale disasters, including [trauma among] our veterans, as well as other trauma events. Regardless of whether counselors are in private practice or an agency setting, they will work with trauma-affected clients, and educators are challenged today in preparing those in training. New Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards are a way to ensure that future counseling generations are well prepared.
Counselors have been recognized by the federal government as approved service providers for veterans, so that as they return to the states, qualified counselors can provide services as a covered benefit.
Finally, as traumatology is rapidly growing, it is important that counselors help shape the field and be an active and well-respected voice in cutting-edge research as well as providing evidenced-based service delivery.
What are some tips or insights regarding this area that could be useful to all counselor practitioners?
Attend workshops and seminars, as well as connect with other counselors in the field who work with trauma-affected clients.
Also, counselors who work with trauma-affected clients and/or do crisis counseling should not only get supervision, but need to get trauma supervision. There is a big difference between supervision and trauma supervision, and it will make a difference for both the service delivery the counselor will provide [and] also the self-care that is so very much needed when doing trauma counseling.
Finally, it is essential that counselors who work with trauma-affected clients learn about vicarious trauma, which is a job hazard when dealing primarily with trauma-affected clients. This of course means learning about self-care, setting appropriate boundaries and learning how education and trauma supervision can serve as a buffer effect [against] — but not prevention of — vicarious trauma.
What are some current issues or hot topics that you’ve been discussing?
There are several areas that have been addressed.
1) How can CACREP-accredited programs ensure that they have well-trained faculty to provide training for their master’s and doctoral students to help ready them to serve trauma-affected clients?
2) How can counselors in the field provide cutting-edge, evidence-based trauma counseling?
3) Advancing the field of traumatology through research/publications and presentations, such as having a special section of the Journal of Counseling and Development (JCD) devoted to traumatology, or through trauma-specific articles in Counseling Today.
4) Providing training through preconferences and workshops at the annual ACA conference where members also can earn a certificate in the “trauma track.”
What challenges do counselors face in this area?
Since the field is rapidly growing, it is important to stay informed but also to shape the field. We need to have practitioners and researchers who make traumatology their specialty area and through their work contribute to the field of traumatology through the lens of counseling. Leaders also can serve at state and national conventions as the experts who train other counselors and help ready the counseling field in this area.
What’s going on in the area of traumatology? Are there any new therapies, important legislation, etc.?
Counselors have been recognized as an approved service deliverer for veterans, which is not only exciting, but also confirms that counselors can and should have a voice in the area of traumatology. Even so, veterans are only one area in the field of traumatology.
What are some trends you’re seeing?
As the field of traumatology is growing and changing, we are certainly seeing a lot of changes, such as the use of Psychological First Aid, something that has become very popular.
Long-term therapy and treatment approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy and treatment methods such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) have become not only recognized as being effective, but also empirically validated over the past decade. Of course there are other approaches and methods which could be listed here that are trauma/population specific.
Advances in neuroscience and experiential modalities of treatment promise deeper understanding and more focused avenues of moving toward trauma-informed counseling and assessment.
What does a new counselor need to know about this topic?
Beginning counselors as well as seasoned counselors should see traumatology almost as a specialty area. Not in the sense that only specialists can provide services in this area, but rather that there needs to be an understanding and a set of skills — through new core curriculum in the area of trauma-informed counseling and assessment, as well as supervision — that need to be developed to practice effectively and ethically.
Counseling programs should add new core curriculum in the area of trauma-informed counseling and assessment to help counselors-in-training — the future of our field — to understand that.
What does a more experienced counselor need to know?
Same as above. They most likely, however, will need to get their training through workshops, seminars and supervision, whereas those in training should be readied in their training programs.
What makes you, personally, interested in this area?
I have a long history of working with trauma-affected clients, first in private practice and later as a crisis counselor. I have seen firsthand the effects of trauma and disasters and how well-trained counselors can make a great difference in the recovery and healing process. Therefore, training counselors-in-training, [and] also those in the field, becomes important, especially as the field of traumatology is growing and changing.
For more information on ACA’s interest networks or to get involved, see counseling.org/aca-community/aca-groups/interest-networks.
For more on trauma and counseling, read the cover story in the July issue of Counseling Today.
Also see ACA’s page of resources for dealing with trauma and disaster: counseling.org/knowledge-center/trauma-disaster
Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org