Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures
Helping Students Cope with Trauma and Loss: Online Training for School Personnel with Helene Jackson, Ph.D.
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This course was edited by Sharon Kay. The project was developed by the Columbia University School of Social Work with support from the Bank Street College of Education.

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Childhood Trauma

A 3-year-old child’s image of herself.
© Abigail, age 3. Used by permission of father, Keith R. Courtesy of

In the mental-health field, interest in trauma has waxed and waned for over a century. Periods of fascination with trauma and its physiological, psychological, and behavioral manifestations have been followed by periods of denial and disbelief. However, studies of veterans of the Second World War; concentration-camp survivors; victims of childhood abuse and rape; and survivors of natural and man-made disasters—such as earthquakes, war, and terrorist attacks—have transformed how we view and define trauma.

Today, psychic trauma is seen as an understandable reaction to a sudden, unexpected, and intense event that taxes individuals beyond their usual capacity to cope. Similar to adult psychic trauma, childhood psychic trauma is defined as a reaction to an overwhelming event that is a real or perceived threat to a child's life, or their physical or psychological well-being. To be considered traumatic, such events must be accompanied by feelings of intense fear, helplessness, or horror. 2 The child's assumption that parents and caretakers are all-powerful is challenged; the belief that the world is a safe and secure place is shattered.

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