How do we help individuals affected by trauma?

Strategies to restore trust, a sense of safety and build connection are relevant in many professions considering 40% of people have experienced trauma in their lifetime.

Denise talks to Tom Brunzell about strategies to help others overcoming trauma to build wellbeing.



Tom Brunzell leads Teaching and Learning at the Berry Street Institute in Melbourne, Australia.  He presents internationally on topics of transforming school cultures, high expectations for differentiated instruction, trauma-informed practice, wellbeing and the application of positive psychology, and effective school leadership. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education


The lowdown

A sense of safety in the classroom environment is critical for students to be able to engage and for learning to take place. For trauma-affected young people, unpredictability equals risk. Structured, ‘routine rich’ classrooms and schools, alongside genuine connection and trust with their teachers are safe. Many young people are exposed to events or experiences which may lead to them being trauma-affected. Therefore, the Berry Street strategies are relevant for all classrooms and other work environments.

The development of the teacher-student relationship is supported by separating the child from their behaviour so the student feels that the teacher is there for them no matter what. The trust that the relationship will endure a range of behaviours is critical for a trauma-affected student. The language used to discuss or describe a student’s behaviour comes from the perspective that the child has not has his or her needs met; this holds the student in a place of unconditional positive regard.

Strategies to develop a sense of safety in the classroom include: teaching self-reflection with knowledge of strengths and teaching how to regulate emotions and bodies. Teachers need to learn this before it can be taught.

Somatosensory movements – when the body is using more than one sense at time – are effective at developing self-regulation. This includes the use of patterned and repetitive movement.  In teaching this, we are teaching students how to learn better.

Self-care is important for anyone working with trauma affected students as there will be good days and hard days where we may experience either ‘compassion fatigue’ or ‘compassion satisfaction’. Labelling what sort of day we have had helps with self-care.


Additional resources

Find out more about the Berry Street Institute’s Education Model:

Grab a copy of a Berry Street Institute book for working with trauma-affected young people:

Read about Tom’s research with Lea Waters, and Helen Stokes in teaching with strengths for trauma-affected students: