The Importance of Teaching Trauma

Why is it important to teach about trauma?

There is increased awareness and concern about trauma among the public, yet most professionals, including even mental health clinicians, do not receive systematic training about trauma in their training [1].

“Trauma has been ignored or relegated to specialized courses outside of the main (professional) curriculum, taught by faculty members with a special interest or expertise” [1].

Providing accurate information about trauma to students throughout their education, beginning in middle school through professional training, will result in a better informed public and professional. Better education about trauma could assist in the prevention as well as early intervention and treatment of trauma.

If textbooks in psychology, social work, sociology, health care, criminal justice/law, public health/policy, education, and related fields impart accurate information about trauma, particularly about childhood maltreatment, the next generation of professionals will be better able to recognize and assist traumatized individuals.

Information on childhood maltreatment is missing, inaccurate, or inconsistently presented in most current psychology textbooks [2] [3] [4]. Textbooks across the curriculum for human service professionals need to be updated to reflect what is known about trauma, particularly child maltreatment. Students need to be better informed about child maltreatment’s potentially enduring impact on traumatized individuals, as well on our foster care, health care, educational, and criminal justice systems. While it may be impossible to stop child maltreatment altogether, increasing awareness of this tragically common issue is an important step toward increased awareness and prevention of child maltreatment.

What do students learn about trauma from psychology textbooks?

Information on childhood maltreatment (CM) is absent, inaccurate, or inconsistently presented in most psychology textbooks.

  • One study found that 17% of 24 introductory psychology textbooks did not even mention childhood sexual abuse (CSA) [4].
  • 75% of the authors made claims about false memories of trauma that were not supported with research [4].

Recent textbooks continue to inadequately teach about CM:

  • Only 1 of 13 introductory psychology textbooks mentioned psychological abuse.
  • Only 8 of 13 discussed the psychological consequences of CM [3].

The paucity of accurate information about CM and the extent of biased information related to trauma, such as an over-emphasis on false memories of trauma, is concerning due to textbooks’ impact. College textbooks are fundamental aspects of higher education that inform students about the widespread prevalence of CM and its enduring impact. Over the course of several years, millions of college students take psychology and related classes and develop their understanding of the causes and treatment of psychological difficulties during these courses. Professors are unlikely to be well informed about the prevalence, impact, and treatment of trauma, so they typically base their lectures on the textbook they have selected. If the textbooks do a poor job of teaching about trauma, so will the professors.

What can you do about the lack of education about trauma?

If you are an educator,

  • Teach students about trauma. You are welcome to use the educational materials on this website as long as the materials are used for non-profit, educational purposes.
  • Select textbooks that accurately impart knowledge about trauma. Research on the quality of information about trauma in psychology textbooks is described here: [2] [3] [4].

If you are an educator, student, or concerned member of the public,

  • Write letters to the textbook publishers and/or authors urging them to provide factually accurate information about trauma.
  • Refer publishers and authors to research on textbooks so they can learn about the inadequate coverage of trauma in current textbooks. Tell publishers and textbook authors about this website and other trauma websites so they may learn more about trauma and improve their textbooks.

[1] Courtois, C. A., & Gold, S. N. (2009). The need for inclusion of psychological trauma in the professional curriculum: A call to action. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 1(1), 3.

[2] TeachTrauma. (2015). Textbook reviews. Retrieved from http://www.teachtrauma.com/textbook-reviews/

[3] Kissee, J. L., Isaacson, L. J., & Miller-Perrin, C. (2014). An analysis of child maltreatment content in introductory psychology textbooks. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 23(3), 215-228.

[4] Letourneau, E. J., & Lewis, T. C. (1999). The portrayal of child sexual assault in introductory psychology textbooks. Teaching of Psychology, 26(4), 253-258.