Classroom Activities


Psychological Trauma-Based Presentation and Paper Assignment by Bethany Brand, Ph.D.

Trauma Reflection Essays by Bethany Brand, Ph.D.

Lesson Ideas

TED Talk Discussion: How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime [1]

Summary: “Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. An impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.”

A meaningful class discussion could be based around this video. A few sample discussion questions are outlined below:

  • What is your opinion on the ACE studies? Do you think they are representative of the population? Do you think the results are a product of “science” or simply a rough childhood?
  • Why do you think children are especially susceptible to trauma?
  • Do you think it health care professionals should be required to screen patients for trauma as a part of an intake packet, such as part of the initial screening when patients meet with therapists such as psychologists or social workers? Is screening for trauma an invasion of privacy?
  • Do you think it should be mandated that all health professionals receive education about the effects of trauma and how to assess for trauma?

PsychologyTools: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder [2]

Wonderfully informative website that has CBT based worksheets for PTSD, treatment guidelines, assessment/evaluation tools, intervention guides, general information, grounding techniques, lectures/workshops, key papers, complex PTSD information, and more.

These tools could be useful for multiple lessons related to PTSD. For example, students can be directed to read a case study about PTSD or to watch a movie about someone who is traumatized and asked to complete the form on this site titled “Cognitive Model of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder of Victims of Violent Crimes Activity [3]

Through this lesson, students will be able to understand the intersection of PTSD and violent crimes, understand the importance of emotional management, and analyze how art may play a role in soothing the mind and body. This lesson is based on the documentary, The Interrupters.

Students will analyze and discuss appropriate texts to build upon the key concepts raised throughout the lesson. Students will apply their knowledge by drawing, analyzing artistic works of art, and engaging in reflective activities.

These assignments can be altered depending on the experience and education level of the audience. The lessons as they are written on this website are particularly well-suited for high school students and college students, but the documentary, The Interrupters, and the related assignments, could easily be adapted for graduate students. The third lesson, Building Vocabulary, is particularly helpful for less advanced students.

Mini Trauma Activity [4]

This is a very simple, yet powerful way for students to begin understanding what it is like to experience a traumatic event. It will be important to set aside some time to talk to students about their reactions to doing this exercise. It is also important to consider giving students the option to not participate if they feel this activity might be distressing to them. Let students know in advance that they do not need to share any information that they feel uncomfortable discussing.


  • Ask students to write down the name of a very close loved one
  • Ask students to write down their favorite activity
  • Ask them to write down their favorite place to go
  • Ask them to write down (or simply think about) a secret they have that is embarrassing to the point very few, if no one, knows about it (they can use a symbol if they don’t want to write it down or simply think of it without writing anything). Assure students that the papers will not be collected.


  • Imagine you have now become a victim of the crime. Take paper 1 and rip it up, because this person doesn’t exist to you: you learned that they have been a victim to a homicide and are deceased.
  • Now rip up paper 2 because you just learned the homicide occurred during the time you were involved in your favorite activity. This activity is no longer enjoyable to you because it reminds you of the loss of your loved one so this activity doesn’t exist for you anymore.
  • Now rip up paper 3. Your favorite place is gone now too because this is where the murder occurred. This place no longer exists for you because you cannot go there without thinking of the loss of your loved one and the incident surrounding their death.
  • Now what you have left is a secret. Something that makes you feel ashamed, and blaming yourself and helpless. This is similar to the feelings you might have for not being able to save your loved one. This is what you have left. Each victim has a personal experience and reaction. As a supporter and loved one of a victim, the closer you are, the more real it becomes.
  • Discussion: Discuss what they have learned about how it would feel to lose someone they love to a violent crime. What reactions did they have that surprised them? What do they think would help victims of violent crime recover from such a powerful and painful experience? What would be unhelpful for people to say to them? What would be helpful for people to say to them?

NPR Discussion: To Head Off Trauma’s Legacy, Start Young [5]

Summary: Health professionals discuss the importance of supporting parents to help break generational cycles of trauma and abuse and measuring childhood adversity.

A meaningful class discussion could be based around this video. A few sample discussion questions are outlined below:

  • Why do you think it is important to measure childhood adversity? At what age should children begin to screened for childhood adversities?
  • Do you think it would be helpful or hurtful to label a child with an “adversity score”? Would a label potentially create more problems or create opportunities to help children with high adversity scores?
  • Do you think it is ethical or unethical to let the parents know about their child’s adversity score if asked? What if the parent is the cause?

NPR Discussion: Exploring Multiple Personalities In ‘Sybil Exposed’ [6]

Summary: Writer Debbie Nathan reports that she reviewed archived material documenting the experiences of a patient known as “Sybil” who reportedly suffered from multiple personality disorder in her book, Sybil Exposed. Ira Flatow and guests, Debbie Nathan, Paul McHugh, M.D., and dissociation expert, Bethany Brand, Ph.D., discuss multiple personality disorder and its modern equivalent—dissociative identity disorder (DID).

A meaningful class discussion could be based around this video. A few sample discussion questions are outlined below:

  • Is there a way for mental health professionals to know if a now deceased patient such as Sybil actually had DID?
  • What research supports the existence of DID and its treatment? What evidence is offered in support of the view that DID is created by therapists or other cultural influences?
  • What are the points of view offered by each guest? Which guest(s) provide scientific evidence to support their point of view?

NPR Discussion: In ‘The Evil Hours,’ A Journalist Shares His Struggle With PTSD [7]

Summary: War correspondent and former Marine David Morris discusses the history and science of PTSD, as well as his own struggle with the disorder after encountering multiple traumatic events overseas.

A meaningful class discussion could be based around this video. A few sample discussion questions are outlined below:

  • Davies and Morris discuss Prolonged Exposure Treatment and the controversy surrounding it. What is your opinion on this treatment? Is this treatment more beneficial or harmful? Should it only be used on a case-by-case basis or routinely administered?
  • Morris states that he personally found alcohol in moderation to be one of the “best PTSD drugs ever invented” and that other survivors have agreed with him. What do you think of this statement? Is this a slippery slope? If you were speaking with Morris, how would you reply to him?
  • Why do you think Morris’ symptoms of PTSD became more exaggerated after a period of two years? Why do you think some individuals develop PTSD symptoms while others do not, even when faced with the same situation?

[1] Harris, N. B. (2014). How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. Retrieved from

[2] Psychology Tools. (2015). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Retrieved from

[3] Swope, M. (2015). Post traumatic stress disorder of victims of violent crimes. Retrieved from,Module-6.pdf

[4] Harwood, B. & Haas, S. (2012). Your duty to crime victims: Know the right, do the right. Adapted from

[5] Starecheski, L. (2015). To head off trauma’s legacy, start young. Retrieved from

[6] Flatow, I., Nathan, D., McHugh, P., & Brand, B. (2011). Exploring multiple personalities in ‘Sybil Exposed’. Retrieved from

[7] Davies, D. & Morris, D. (2015). In ‘The Evil Hours’, a journalist shares his struggle with PTSD. Retrieved from