As we all do our own versions of the counselor COVID pivot, certain students and families are taking up a lot of space in our minds. Many of us are extra worried these days about our students who have experienced trauma, so let’s explore helpful information and resources on trauma-informed virtual school counseling.
Trauma-Informed Virtual School Counseling: Background Information
One of the best sources on information related to how our students and families are faring in this pandemic world comes from a webinar provided by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s leading trauma experts. He points out that we are in a in a pre-traumatic stage and that there are actually 3 issues that families are grappling with in this very unsettling new normal:
- Worry about getting sick
- Worry about the economy
- Separation from other people
He goes on to explain that there are no experts in this field of a current-day pandemic, so we are all stumbling through this experience, and the trauma of it, together. He also notes that domestic violence sharply increased in Spain, Italy, and China in the last few months, so we expect to see the same here in the USA. This leads us to the necessity of dicussing our topic today- how to support our tramatized students through virtual school counseling.
(Van der Kolk, 2020)
In addition to Dr. van der Kolk’s webinar, here are a few informative articles to give you a fuller picture of what our traumatized kids and fams are facing during the pandemic:
“Children More at Risk for Abuse and Neglect Amid Coronavirus Pandemic” by Suzanne Hirt, Andrea Ball and Katie Wedell
“Coronavirus Roils Every Segment of US Child Welfare System” by David Crary
“COVID-19 Fact Sheet for Grandfamilies and Multigenerational Families” by Generation United
Trauma-Informed Virtual School Counseling: Strategies & Activities
When this pandemic first hit, I started combing through all the news and literature to find strategies and activities on supporting traumatized students through online platforms. All of the ideas I detail below can be tweaked to use in individual, group, or lesson settings. If you need more info on the basics of how to run trauma-informed guidance lessons, groups, or individual sessions, check out this post I wrote in 2018.
When No One Shows Up
Keep in mind that it can be very hard to connect with students during this time. Everyone is overwhelmed with technology and kids will be kids. After all, the alternative to working with their teacher or school counselor might be a video game or Youtube show! And this is especially true for our kiddos that are not supervised during the day because their parents are working. So, go easy on yourself if you are having trouble reaching students. Consider it a huge success if you make a few student connections a day or a week! In order to make any progress, it may very well be that you have to choose the 5-20 highest student concerns on your list and then chase them down through phone calls, etc. This is normal and you are doing amazing work at trying to maintain those connections.
Ok, a few trauma-informed strategies activities for when you do make contact…
- Connect your students to each other with games, virtual storytelling hours, and music.
- Lead students through breathwork and grounding activities; make sure to spend time processing how they felt during the activity. You can find many of these types of relaxation and self-regulation activities here in my:
- Encourage students to talk through their emotional state with others by modeling this for the whole family.
- Teach students body-calming techniques such as yoga and tai chi. These will help students to self-regulate and avoid negative alternatives to upsetting physiological reactions, such as alcohol or drug use (Van der Kolk, 2020).
- I’ve discussed and shared videos previously about my Counselor Corner that I run, so how about transitioning to a virtual Counselor Corner (CC) now?!? If you are new to the idea of CC, here’s quick explanation. Head to the cafeteria one day a week to sit through all student lunch periods. This gives kids a chance to to talk with you about anything that’s on their mind. I take my CC sign, request forms, and pencils so students can sign up to talk to me more privately later on in the day, if necessary. In the cafeteria, I sit at a round table that is placed off to the side. I remind students on the microphone that I’m available during their lunch. To reduce the stigma, I tell them I’m there for anyone to come talk, say hi, or check their grades. Some days I’m really busy and some days I’m not. So, I bring my laptop and work on my paperwork tasks if I have downtime there. Now a virtual CC could work in much the same way: you would designate a time and online platform link for CC. Then, on the CC day, just eat your lunch at your computer in a video chat platform such as Zoom or Google Hangout Meets. Wait for students to jump on and join you. You could also have a topic or story or mindful activity that you faciliate with students as well. You might even consider offering a door prize of college swag (mail it to them) to the first 5 or 10 students that come by to say hi at your virtual CC!
Trauma-Informed Virtual School Counseling: Resources
- ChildTrends has the best resource I’ve come across for working with students of trauma during the pandemic. Many different tips are given here such as:
- Guiding students to identify/seek out the presence of a responsive caregiver.
- Reaching out to your most pressing student concerns. Brainstorm with them on how to connect with friends/family because “social distancing should not mean social isolation” (Childmind.org, 2020).
- Practicing the 3 Rs with students: Reassurance, Routines, and Regulation. You could implement the 3 Rs using resources at these links: virtual guidance lessons, minute meeting checkins, and even some trauma-informed group sessions, if possible.
- Here is an amazing toolkit for parents from the Center for Youth Wellness.
- This article from ChildMind gives fantastic ideas on how to meet kids’ SEL needs at this time.
- Here is a list of helpful apps curated by Edweek.org:
- The SuperBetter app teaches SEL skills to students.
- The Calm app, which we all know, now has activities just for kids.
- The new Atlas app has podcasts with student stories on stress and life.
- GoogleDuo provides a way to do virtual counseling with 3-5 year olds from families with a history of trauma.
- Online check-ins can be used for your Minute Meetings and more!
Trauma-Informed Virtual School Counseling: Protecting Students
So, what can we do for the rest of our students? How do we support the ones who have never experienced trauma before the pandemic, but sure are being traumatized right now by COVID? Well, Dr. Bruce Perry to the rescue! His webinar had some of the best ideas that I’ve come across related to trauma and the coronavirus. I’m just going to quote him, because no one says it better…
“Decrease your and your students’ typical workload. Activation of the body’s stress response systems requires emotional and physical energy. A key consequence of prolonged stress is exhaustion. Expect more fatigues, expect everyone to be less capable of focus, epect more irritability from yourself and others. Be gentle with yourself and others” (Perry, 2020).
And finally, two more fab info sheets here on how to protect and support kids from pandemic trauma:
- Great resource for young kids from the NCTSN.
- Tip sheet for adults supporting children with traumatic grief/separation related to the pandemic
That brings me to the end of this May post on trauma. Please leave a comment- I’d love to hear about how you infuse trauma-informed strategies into your virtual counseling program. Catch up with me again in June for my monthly counseling post that I share during the first weekend of every month!
In the meantime, you can find out about my latest promotions, free stuff, or counseling adventures by following me on my School Counselor Stephanie Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest pages!
RASHANNA HEWLETT says
Thanks so much! Great resources and advice!!!
Thank you for commenting, Rashanna! I’m thrilled to hear you found it helpful!
Danielle Callaway says
Hi! This is great information! Im wondering how to tailor these strategies to the HS level and also, how you incorporate these things amongst other administrative duties given to you? I look forward to your response.
Great questions! Thanks for reaching out. In terms of tailoring these strats to the HS level, they would work as is for the HS’ers. Keep in mind that the counselor sets the tone for the lesson- so if you are excited, they will be excited. Just explain to them why you are teaching that particular strategy and how it relates to them as HS’ers. I even read teens picture books and they LOVE it- once we briefly discuss why I picked a picture book for them and I push through a couple “I’m too cool for this eyerolls,” everyone eventually comes onboard- think of the billion dollar audio book industry and graphic novel industries for adults! In my own counseling books I write, I always say, “Older students might act like they are too mature or ‘grown up’ for counseling activities. For these situations, just keep in mind that the counselor sets the tone for the group session; therefore, if you are enthusiastic and comfortable with the activities, your older group members will come around. Likewise, if you feel awkward, juvenile, and self-conscious about certain activities, the students will mirror these feelings.” For your question about incorporating these strats with other admin duties, well that starts with advocacy- here’s a post you can check out for tips on how to move admin duties off your plate so you actually have time for trauma informed counseling strategies: http://schoolcounselorstephanie.com/2019/10/05/advocacy-in-school-counseling-top-5-tips/. Hope this helps!!!
Mrs. Reynolds says
Thank you for sharing! This is awesome and so helpful… God bless you 🙂
Hi Mrs. Reynolds,
I’m so thrilled to hear you find it helpful.Thanks for reaching out!