Derek Clark Childhood Trauma Motivational Speaker

Professional Development for School Counselors and K-12 School Teachers

The Crucial Role of Trauma-Informed School Counselors and School Counselor Association in Supporting Students with Adverse Childhood Experiences

In the bustling hallways of a school, amidst the chatter and footsteps of students, there exists a silent struggle that often goes unnoticed. Many students carry with them the weight of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) from their home life, which manifest in behaviors, anxiety, and sadness. These students’ brains are often dealing with stress response systems that are dysregulated, making it challenging for them to navigate the complexities of school life. In such instances, school counselors play a pivotal role in providing support, understanding, and guidance.

To effectively support students with ACEs, school counselors must adopt a trauma-informed approach. This approach recognizes the widespread impact of trauma and emphasizes the importance of creating a safe, supportive environment for healing. It requires counselors to be empathetic, compassionate, and understanding, recognizing that each student’s experience is unique and valid.

ACEs encompass a range of traumatic experiences, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; neglect; household dysfunction such as substance abuse, mental illness, or incarceration of a family member; and witnessing domestic violence. These experiences can have profound and lasting effects on a student’s mental health, behavior, and academic performance.

The 10 ACEs identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include:

1. Physical abuse
2. Emotional abuse
3. Sexual abuse
4. Physical neglect
5. Emotional neglect
6. Mother treated violently
7. Household substance abuse
8. Household mental illness
9. Parental separation or divorce
10. Incarcerated household member

Each ACE increases the risk of negative outcomes, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and even chronic health conditions later in life. It’s crucial for school counselors to be aware of these ACEs and their potential impact on students to provide appropriate support.

Schools need to cultivate a trauma-sensitive environment to accommodate students with ACEs. This includes training staff to recognize trauma responses, implementing trauma-informed practices, and fostering a culture of empathy and understanding. School counselors, in particular, play a key role in creating this environment and supporting students through their healing journey.

One of the core principles of trauma-informed care is understanding the impact of trauma on the brain and behavior. ACEs can dysregulate the central nervous system, leading to difficulties in emotional regulation, attention, and behavior. As such, school counselors should approach students with ACEs with patience and understanding, recognizing that their reactions are often a response to their past experiences.

Moreover, school counselors should prioritize building trusting relationships with students. Children, especially those with ACEs, need security, validation, acknowledgement, and respect. By providing a safe space and demonstrating genuine care and concern, counselors can help students feel supported and understood.

In many cases, what students need is connection, not correction. Instead of reprimanding them for their behavior, counselors can explore the underlying reasons and offer coping strategies. Positive modeling by adults can also have a profound impact on students, showing them healthy ways to manage stress and regulate their emotions.

School counselors play a critical role in supporting students with ACEs. By adopting a trauma-informed approach, counselors can create a safe and supportive environment where students feel understood and validated. By providing compassion, empathy, and understanding, counselors can help students heal and thrive academically, emotionally, and socially.


Derek Clark’s motivational presentations serve as a beacon of light for school counselors association and teachers, reminding them of the profound impact they have on shaping and healing young minds. By sharing his remarkable journey and insights, he inspires school counselors and teachers to embrace their role as agents of change, fostering resilience, healing, and hope in the classroom and beyond. With Derek’s guidance, counselors and teachers embark on a transformative journey, reigniting their passion for teaching and unlocking the true potential of every student they encounter.

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