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Home > News > 2020 > May > Trauma teaching needs an overhaul

Trauma teaching needs an overhaul

sad_kindy_child.jpgThe further development and implementation of multi-tiered trauma-informed support, training practices and protocols for school staff and school mental health workers is critically needed in Australian schools, according to new study by Monash University researchers. 

The study itself is the first of its kind to engage with school mental health workers.  

It has granted a rare insight into how well-equipped our schools are to help students who have experienced the kind of trauma that can lead to severe mental health problems.

School mental health workers carrying emotional burden alone

The researchers heard claims that schools are responding to traumatised students ‘reactively’ and that training is inadequate, repetitive and lacks depth. 

Many of the workers feel isolated in their schools, dealing with the emotional burden alone. 

These findings need to be addressed given the ruptures the COVID-19 pandemic is causing in the lives of students and their families, potentially increasing their risk of trauma and mental health issues. 

“An overwhelming consensus emerged that training for all staff, across the whole school, must be promptly addressed,” Dr Emily Berger, the lead researcher of the study, said. 

Undertraining when it comes to helping kids who are experiencing trauma – whether the trauma stems from domestic violence, bereavement, an accident or a natural disaster – begins in the education sector. 

One participant in the study, said that trauma “very rarely” comes up in their university studies.

According to the researchers, there was full agreement that tertiary education needed to be overhauled to better equip freshly graduated school mental health workers to deal with the demands of student trauma.

Schools need to provide quality PD to support staff

However, Dr Berger pointed out that quantity does not trump quality. 

“For training to really meet the needs of school mental health workers, the need to overhaul tertiary education is one thing, but there is also a need to embed training in the schools themselves, and get the whole school involved,” Dr Berger said. 

Participants also called for schools to communicate with each other more and to share experiences of what works and what does not. 

One participant added that even within schools, there needs to be consistency in language and approach to enable all staff to respond in a more united manner.

The study showed that training needs to be delivered across the whole school. 

“When you review all the research that has come out, you find that whole-school interventions and whole-school teacher training improves students’ engagement at school, reduces disruptive behaviours and school suspensions, and decreases posttraumatic stress and depression among students,” Dr Berger said.

School mental health workers vital

School mental health workers are ideally placed to respond to student trauma based on their mental health expertise and the impact of childhood trauma on learning, classroom behaviour and school relationships. 

Dr Berger says there is a need to know more about what school mental health workers face. 

“This study was motivated by the fact that, currently, a quarter of children experience a traumatic event in their lifetimes. 

So, the role of school mental health staff is a vital one but little research into their experiences has been done.”

“Previous research shows elevated rates of burnout and vicarious trauma among these workers, but we haven’t heard their voices when it comes to what kind of support and training they need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.”

IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said that quality, ongoing professional development needed to be provided by school employers to ensure their employees were best equipped to support students. 

“It is particularly pertinent given the current COVID-19 crisis as well as the recent bush fire season and flooding seen throughout Australia over the last eight months,” Mr Burke said. 

“Supporting staff will mean that the whole school community will be able to heal and move forward together.  


To read the study: Berger, Emily & Samuel, Sarah. (2020) “A qualitative analysis of the experiences, training, and support needs of school mental health workers regarding student trauma” Australian Psychologist


Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.