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Trauma Competent Practice


Newman University’s School of Social Work is pleased to offer a new and cutting-edge curriculum with a concentration in Trauma Competent Practice. This specialty focus is based on a growing paradigm shift, often referred to as Trauma-Informed Care, which has evolved over the past 30 years as a result of the convergence of research, clinical practice and the perspective of trauma survivors.

Research over the last two decades has demonstrated the pervasiveness of trauma among those whom social workers serve across a wide range of settings. According to the National Comorbidity Survey in 1995, 60% of men and 51% of women in the Unites States have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives, while 17% of men and 12% of women have experienced three or more traumatic events (Kessler, Sonnega, Bromet, Hughes and Nelson). Studies of adolescent and adult mental health settings indicate that the prevalence of trauma histories is exceedingly high, leading some experts to conclude that “virtually all users of services in the public mental health and substance abuse systems have histories of trauma” (2011, Butler, Critelli, & Rinfrette). Similarly, the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study conducted by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente, established the widespread experience of childhood trauma. Surveying over 17,000 insured individuals from 1995-1997, the study revealed that almost two-thirds of participants reported at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (e.g., childhood abuse, neglect or family/household challenges, such as parental divorce, mental illness, violence, alcoholism or incarceration) and more than one in five reported three or more ACE. The study findings clearly demonstrated a “grade dose-response” relationship between childhood trauma exposure and negative health and well-being outcomes across the life span. In other words, the more ACEs increase, so does the adoption of health risk behaviors (e.g., substance abuse, smoking, eating disorders) leading to serious behavioral and physical health consequences later in life, such as depression, suicide attempts, heart disease, pulmonary disease, and liver disease (Center for Disease Control).

Given the nearly universal experience of trauma among consumers of behavioral health services, it is imperative that social workers be trained regarding the wide-spread experience of trauma and the impact of trauma in the lives of clients, regardless of the stated diagnosis or reason for seeking services. Further, treatment services and organizational policies and procedures must reflect this knowledge by providing programs and services that are sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of those seeking services, and that avoid re-traumatization of clients. It means approaching clients from a view of, “What happened to you?”, instead of “What is wrong with you?” An approach based on respect, collaboration, empowerment, safety and the importance of the helping relationship is the heart of social work and of Trauma-Competent Practice.

The new curriculum at Newman University is built on this foundation of understanding the significance of trauma in our clients’ lives, current trauma-informed care principles, as well as the most current research on neuroscience, attachment and evidence based screening, assessment and treatment for trauma. Elements of trauma informed practice are infused throughout the curriculum as well as a specific focus of the advanced courses in the second year. We chose the term Trauma-Competent Practice to reflect the importance of moving beyond awareness to competency, a holistic and multidimensional approach which encompasses knowledge, values and skills. This competency approach is in alignment with the competency-based framework for the accreditation standards of the Council on Social Work Education. According to CSWE, “social work competence is the ability to integrate and apply social work knowledge, values and skills to practice situations in a purposeful intentional and professional manner to promote human and community well-being.

For more information about the curriculum visit here