New Undergraduate Certificate in Trauma-Informed Approaches

Bullying, disasters, terrorism, eating disorders, and family violence: What do these phenomena have in common? All are types of trauma.

Dr. Debra L. Berke | Photo by Paul Patton

Trauma is an event, a series of events, or a set of circumstances that are experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and can have lasting adverse effects on an individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional or spiritual well-being.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 70 percent of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives.

Trauma-informed care is an approach to engaging people with histories of trauma that recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role that trauma has played in their lives. So to better prepare Wilmington University undergraduates to work with people who have experienced trauma and also meet growing market needs, Marilyn Siebold, an adjunct professor for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, was instrumental in work-ing with colleagues to create an undergraduate certificate in Trauma-Informed Approaches. It launched this past summer and is one of WilmU’s most popular new certificates.

The Trauma-Informed Approaches certificate is valuable because it prepares people to work in fields in which they may encounter trauma and/or traumatized service recipients, says adjunct instructor Lauren Gillespie.

Working with traumatized people takes a certain mindset and understanding, without which people run the risk of further traumatizing the people they’re trying to help. Human service organizations are embracing the Sanctuary Model, a trauma-specific intervention for clinical and organizational change which, at its core, promotes safety and recovery from adversity through the active creation of a trauma-informed community, and are becoming invested in trauma-informed care like never before. This certificate is perfectly timed to complement this relatively recent shift in the human services industry.

“The certificate is an added professional and educational bonus that says, ‘Hey I care about what happened to you,’” says WilmU student Dennis Broomell, who will soon complete the certificate.

“Because adversity is virtually a universal experience, a graduate will find the information applicable in any work setting, “ says Dr. Leslie Brower, project director of Trauma-Informed Care for the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, and a  Psychology/Organizational Dynamics advisory board member at WilmU. “Certificate holders have the advantage of understanding the possible connections to trauma and knowing how to relate helpfully.”

“I can see students who are trauma-informed becoming the top candidates for employment,” adds Homlish.

Gillespie adds that students will be able to immediately apply what they learn to the workplace. “In the Trauma and Self-Care course (PSY 421), students formulate an individual self-care plan,” she says. “The goal is for them to incorporate self-care techniques into their lives right away. Students also formulate recommendations for organizational self-care. They’re creating programs and ideas that will help them in their professional roles as staff and management.”

Broomell, who works at Connections, Inc. in Wilmington, implemented diverse skills right away. His consumers responded well and were more willing to open up about experiences and treatment goals.

“Since we use a trauma-informed approach, students will already have general knowledge about the various approaches — what is trauma and how it affects people,” says Cherelyn Homlish, an adjunct instructor and associate director of People’s Place II, Inc., in Milford. “We will be able to quickly familiarize them with [our] specific model and they will be able to begin practicing it much sooner than other students might.”

The TIA certificate will appeal to potential employers. “I think it will make students attractive to employers since the trend in the human service industry is an enhanced understanding of trauma and how trauma impacts individuals,” says Gillespie. “Having this certificate will make the student seem very cutting edge and informed of the latest trends and academic research around trauma-informed work. As someone who does some hiring in my field, I know this certificate would make me take a second look at an applicant.”

Brower agrees. “Providers and policy-makers in most service settings are increasingly aware of the prevalence and potential impacts of adversity,” she says. “They are more likely than ever before to be considering or in the process of implementing trauma-informed practices. The certificate holder brings a deeper understanding of the topic and knowledge of resources that can assist the service managers in meeting their goals of trauma-informed programming.”

As Broomell attests, “When my new director at Connections saw the classes I had been taking, she was very impressed. Most organizations are slowly moving to a more trauma-informed approach. This certification will look great on a résumé, especially for people just entering the field.”

“I can see students who are trauma-informed becoming the top candidates for employment,” adds Homlish. WU

—Debra Berke

Dr. Debra L. Berke is director of Psychology programs in WilmU’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Learn more about the trauma-informed approaches certificate here: