Trauma impacts all of us to varying degrees. We may have experienced trauma in our own lives, or we may have been subject to vicarious trauma through our work with clients who have experienced intense trauma of their own. Traumatic events include instances of abuse, neglect, gun violence or sexual assault. Our ever-volatile climate and the increased intensity of natural disasters also can lead to trauma and can require years of recovery. Often, people experience multiple instances of trauma. We need additional research on how to prevent and treat this complex trauma with evidence-based practices.
Complex trauma can occur throughout the life span, crossing over many counseling specialty areas. For instance, complex trauma can accrue with repeated encounters of racial prejudice and injustice, family violence and bullying in the schools. By the time emerging adults reach college age, many of them have endured an adverse life experience. Young adults who have experienced a significant past negative event that was stressful may be more vulnerable to developing maladaptive behaviors with the occurrence of additional traumas. In my experience working with many young adults with substance use disorder, it has been evident that a traumatic event (or events) was the underlying cause of their initial and continued substance use. When it comes to traumatic events, prevention and early intervention are critical to reducing the risk of chronic mental illness and increasing the likelihood of resiliency and posttraumatic growth.
As professional counselors, we need to be aware of our role in advocating for children, adolescents and adults in our work settings. For instance, children with certain neurological and sensory disorders may find the traditional school setting traumatizing, leaving them in flight-fight-or-freeze mode daily. Clients who need to be hospitalized in an inpatient facility for stabilization may find the experience of being in such a setting traumatic in and of itself. We are in a unique position as counselors to practice empathy with those in our care and to advocate that their educational and mental health treatment settings promote wellness.
The pervasiveness of trauma necessitates that counselors, regardless of their work settings and specialty areas, become proficient in treatments to address trauma and provide crisis intervention. For those interested in connecting with a group of professional counselors focused on trauma work, consider joining the Traumatology Interest Network (counseling.org/aca-community/aca-connect/interest-networks). You will also find this interest network at the ACA 2019 Conference & Expo in New Orleans this month. In addition, numerous conference sessions on trauma will be offered, including a presentation by the Crisis Preparedness and Trauma Counseling Task Force titled “Standards of Practice and Available Resources for Crisis, Disaster and Trauma Counseling.” Additionally, consider attending the session on “The Critical Need for Counseling in the Aftermath of Climate Change.”
Other conference presentations include “A Seat at the Table: Barriers and Solutions to Achieving Parity of Status for Counselors”; “Licensure Portability: Historical Context, Current Status and Future Directions”; “Difficult Dialogues: Navigating Culturally Challenging Situations”; and “Making a Practical Difference: Promoting Mental Health and Averting Addiction.” Likewise, sessions will be held on current social justice issues and future career counseling concerns related to increased technological advances. The conference program offering is also robust with innovative strategies and critical topics on school counseling and clinical mental health counseling. There is even a conference session about tips for developing a conference proposal to be submitted for the ACA 2020 Conference & Expo in San Diego.
This year’s conference in New Orleans (March 28-31) will be an opportunity to learn, recharge, celebrate and connect with counselors who share your passion in assisting students, clients and communities to thrive. I hope to see you there!