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School-based trauma counseling

Evidence Rating

Some Evidence

Health Factors

Decision Makers

School-based trauma-specific counseling interventions help students process trauma exposure and learn how to cope with feelings that result from their experiences (e.g., anger, fear, depression, etc.). These interventions include trauma screening and assessment, individual or small group counseling from mental health professionals or school staff with trauma-specific training, and parent and caregiver education and engagement. Specific treatment programs vary, although many use a 3-phase process of stabilization, resolution of traumatic memory, and personality (re)integration and rehabilitation (). Individual trauma counseling interventions are often implemented as part of broader trauma-informed school initiatives (McInerney 2014).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced post-traumatic stress

  • Improved mental health

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased resilience

  • Improved academic outcomes

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that school-based trauma-specific counseling interventions reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression (, , Blueprints). School-based trauma counseling is also a suggested strategy to address unmet mental health needs, build resilience, and support academic success (). Several types of cognitive behavior therapy, including trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), have been shown to reduce symptoms of psychological harm, PTSD, and depression. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects of treatments adapted for school settings (, ).

Studies of the Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS) program and Bounce Back, two school-based trauma counseling interventions, suggest reductions in PTSD, depression, and anxiety among participating children (Blueprints, CEBC-CBITS, CEBC-Bounce Back, ). Parents of participants also report greater improvements in their children’s daily functioning than parents of non-participating children (Blueprints). Additional research is needed to determine effects of other school-based trauma counseling interventions, such as the Support for Students Exposed to Trauma (SSET) program, an adaptation of the CBITS program (CEBC-SSET). 

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

The Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS)  program has been implemented in California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin, and Washington DC (CBITS). Schools in Madison, WI; Baltimore, MD; Los Angeles, CA; and New Orleans, LA have successfully sustained CBITS programs (CBITS-Success stories). The Support for Students Exposed to Trauma (SSET) program is a recent adaptation of the CBITS program that has not yet been implemented widely (SSET).

The Bounce Back program, an elementary school program for trauma intervention, has been implemented in California, Illinois, Connecticut, Louisiana, Nebraska, and New York (Bounce Back-Learn more). 

Implementation Resources

ACEsCN-TIC Toolkits - ACEs Connection Network (ACEs CN). Trauma-informed care (TIC) toolkits: Education resources.

CPI-TIC resources - Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI). The top 10 recommended trauma-informed care (TIC) online resources.

AHWG-Toolkit - Adolescent Health Working Group (AHWG). Trauma & resilience: An adolescent provider toolkit.

WI DPI-Resources for schools - Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WI DPI). Resources for schools to help students affected by trauma learn.

TSAC-Trauma services - Treatment and Services Adaptation Center (TSAC), National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). Trauma services in schools: Essential resources.

RAND-CBITS - RAND Corporation. Cognitive-Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS).

Bounce Back-Resources - Bounce Back. Bounce Back program overview and resources.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Blueprints - Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV). Blueprints for healthy youth development.

Wethington 2008* - Wethington HR, Hahn RA, Fuqua-Whitley DS, et al. The effectiveness of interventions to reduce psychological harm from traumatic events among children and adolescents: A systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2008;35(3):287-313.

Leenarts 2013* - Leenarts LEW, Diehle J, Doreleijers TAH, Jansma EP, Lindauer RJL. Evidence-based treatments for children with trauma-related psychopathology as a result of childhood maltreatment: a systematic review. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2013;22(5):269-283.

CEBC-Bounce Back - The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse (CEBC). Bounce Back.

CEBC-CBITS - The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse (CEBC). Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS).

CEBC-SSET - The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse (CEBC). Support for Students Exposed to Trauma (SSET).

Nadeem 2014* - Nadeem E, Jaycox LH, Langley AK, et al. Effects of trauma on students: Early intervention through the cognitive behavioral intervention for trauma in schools. In: Weist MD, Lever NA, Bradshaw CP, Owens JS, eds. Handbook of School Mental Health: Research, Training, Practice, and Policy. Boston, MA: Springer US; 2014:145-157.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

CBITS-Success stories - Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS). Success stories: CBITS dissemination and sustainability.

CBITS - Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS). Learn more: Where has CBITS been implemented?

Bounce Back-Learn more - Bounce Back. Learn more: Where has Bounce Back been implemented?

SSET - Support for Students Exposed to Trauma (SSET). Learn more: Where has SSET been implemented?

Date Last Updated

Oct 19, 2016