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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Course Outline

Following a trauma, children express their feelings in drawings.
Upper left: Copyright (c) Danilo M. Lower right: (c) Kristen H. Used by permission of mother, Julie. Middle left: Copyright (c) Victoria, Thompson Middle School. Upper right: Copyright (c) Conner, Cedar Grove Elementary. Lower right: (c) Abigail, age 3. Used by permission of father, Keith R. All images courtesy of

In Course 1, Part 1, you learned about trauma, its causes, risk and protective factors, and the various ways a traumatic event can impact your students, your colleagues, and yourself. Building on this knowledge, you are now prepared to learn how to intervene. Once you have completed this part of the course, you may choose to participate in one or both of the other two parts of the course, which address a specific type of trauma: "Sudden and Unexpected Loss" and "Family and Community Violence."

In this course, we have designated some sections for specific school personnel such as teachers, school counselors (including social workers and other mental-health professionals), and administrators. However, we encourage you to read the whole course in order to become familiar with both how you, and your colleagues can respond to students who have been exposed to traumatic events.

The goals of Course 1, Part 2 are to

  • inform you about the importance of self-care
  • provide you with the tools that will enable you to respond to students during and after a traumatic event

Upon completion of this course you will be able to demonstrate a working knowledge of

  • self-care strategies and activities
  • how to create a safe environment
  • ways to minimize the risk of students developing PTSD
  • how to assess students who have been exposed to trauma
  • therapeutic classroom activities
  • cognitive behavioral interventions

Please reread the two vignettes "Arjun" and "Emily," first introduced in Course 1, Part 1, in the context of how you, as a teacher, school counselor, and administrator, would intervene.

Vignette: Arjun

Nearly one year after surviving the devastating earthquake that killed hundreds of children in his village and thousands in his region as a whole, nine -year-old Arjun is terrified of going to school. As a result of the disaster and lack of infrastructure, Arjun's school was closed. Months later, the children returned to a temporary building near the school that was destroyed. There are rumors among Arjun's classmates that on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, there will be another disaster, even more devastating than the last. This time Arjun is convinced that he will die. He doesn't tell his parents or his friends about his anxieties because he thinks they would become angry or make fun of him. However, his teacher has noticed that Arjun's mood and behavior have changed. He is irritable and aggressive with his peers, is often absent, and his academic performance has declined.

Vignette: Emily

Sixteen-year-old Emily began the 2001 school year with hope and enthusiasm. Less than one week after school began, she watched in horror and disbelief from her classroom window as a plane crashed into the nearby World Trade Center. Months later, when other students had already returned to their normal routine—joining in school and social activities—Emily remained withdrawn and alienated from her peers. Because she finds it hard to concentrate and focus, she is unable to do her homework. She often speaks about the futility of planning for the future because she believes that it holds no happiness for her.

You may have found yourself asking some of the following questions. How can I provide a safe environment for students such as Arjun and Emily? What are the important factors to include in a comprehensive assessment? What kinds of interventions will be effective? What do I do if the interventions don't work? How do I help students cope with traumatic reminders and secondary stresses? How do I know when a student is suicidal? Why does working with these children day after day leave me feeling exhausted, irritable, sad and angry? Why do I sometimes wonder if I'm qualified to do this work?

As you proceed, remember your reactions to rereading these vignettes. When you have completed this course, you will have a new understanding of how to take an active role in helping students, colleagues, and yourself with the psychological impacts of trauma and its aftermath.

Note: Anyone taking this course is required to complete all pre- and posttests where indicated.

Before continuing, please take the pretest.

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