Teaching Careers and Professional Development

Trauma-Informed Specialist: Education, Salary, and Outlook

By The Editorial Team

With acts of violence reported daily on the evening news and, unfortunately, occurring frequently in school systems, the role of a trauma-informed specialist is becoming more and more critical to educators.

Victims of trauma may need extra help to get them through the school day and to overcome memories of events. These specialists can help reduce triggers that may cause students to withdraw socially and lessen their ability to learn and grow intellectually. Whether it’s a school-wide crisis or an individual student with family concerns, trauma-informed specialists can help ease the burdens these students must carry, by direct treatment through behavioral modification and by giving teachers and other caregivers the tools necessary to assist.

At a glance: trauma-informed specialist career

Trauma-informed specialists, or trauma-informed coordinators as they are sometimes known, work with doctors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and teachers to help treat victims of trauma.

Conducting research and distributing educational materials at training sessions around the country, trauma-informed coordinators help care providers understand the role various types of trauma play in their client’s lives. They teach support staff to work toward better health and social outcomes by avoiding re-traumatizing survivors unintentionally.

Job description

Trauma-informed specialists perform a number of duties across the corporate, educational, and private sectors. Primarily, they are educators who help public health professionals understand and adopt a new approach to care that recognizes the prevalence of personal trauma in many people’s histories.

Much of the challenge of working as a trauma-informed coordinator involves assembling and teaching key concepts to medical and social work practitioners, as well as participation in research studies to improve best practices. Common duties include:

  • Coordinating workshops, faculty conferences, and community events to spread understanding about trauma-informed care
  • Collecting and interpreting data from patient studies and personal histories to develop a picture of how trauma histories affect people’s reactions to care professionals 
  • Training and coaching other professionals in key program concepts
  • Conducting refresher training at intervals using nationally recognized concepts in trauma-informed mental and emotional healthcare
  • Assessing physical spaces for potentially triggering or otherwise distressing stimuli that can induce counterproductive emotional reactions in doctors’ offices, community centers, and schools
  • Organizing fundraisers and finding public sector funding sources and other sources of grant money and support for research opportunities
  • Explaining trauma-informed care in an intelligible way to a lay audience 

Who makes a good trauma-informed specialist?

Trauma-informed specialists need a very diverse range of talents and drives, but some key abilities go a long way towards helping an individual succeed in their chosen career path.

  • Natural teacher abilities with a keen analytical mind to interpret data from what are sometimes very complex research studies
  • Good organizational skills, to manage workloads across multiple platforms, from victims of trauma to enabling their support staff
  • Proficient in communication with a variety of individuals, since the coordinator may work with a patient or student one minute and a team member with advanced degrees in medicine, social work, and mental health the next
  • A solid mix of group skills and individual motivation
  • Empathy for victims of trauma that comes across naturally

The trauma-informed specialist in-depth

Education requirement for trauma-informed specialist

A bachelor’s degree in a compatible field, such as psychology, social work, counseling, or education, is usually the first step for those wishing to work as a trauma-informed specialist. Most organizations will also require a master’s degree as well, in similar studies.

Certification requirements for trauma-informed specialists

Certified trauma-informed specialist careers cover a vast sweep of practices, and certification requirements are as diverse as career opportunities. Credentials in this field are provided by several organizations, each of which has its own similar but distinct requirements.

  • Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists (ATSS): The ATSS certifies specialists as Certified Trauma Responders (CTRs), Certified Trauma Services Specialists (CTSS) and Certified Trauma Treatment Specialists (CTTS). Requirements for each of these certifications range from 40 to hours of experience working in a trauma environment to 1,900 hours of clinical instruction and membership in the ATSS.
  • International Association of Trauma Professionals (IATP): The IATP provides certification in lower-level trauma-informed specialty fields, such as Certified Family Trauma-Informed Professionals. Many of the Association’s certificates require 12.5-course hours and passing an online test that ranges between 40 and 50 questions. Online training is also provided by the Association as part of a 12-week course that ends with testing for credentials.
  • National Institute for Trauma & Loss in Children (TLC): TLC provides certification in several trauma-informed fields with online coursework and examinations. Higher-level certification is available for more demanding fields, such as for Advanced Certified Trauma Professional – Clinical, which requires a passing grade on the level-2 exam from TLC.

Trauma-informed specialist salaries

Pay for this position varies depending on whether you choose to work for governmental, educational, or private enterprises. Several job-search websites provide salary ranges, listing job categories, such as trauma counselors, trauma therapists, or trauma specialists.

Employment projections for trauma-informed specialists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data on occupations through the United States, including key skills, outlook, and salary figures. There is no specific category for trauma-informed specialists but the need for counselors, such as behavioral disorder and mental health specialists, is on the rise. There is a projected 22% growth in the field through 2028.

Challenges and opportunities for trauma-informed specialists

Jobs that deal with mental and physical pain and suffering have the opportunity for great reward and also significant stress. Let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of working as a trauma-informed specialist.

Benefits:

  • Share in the success as trauma victims overcome their past.
  • Collaborate with team members in the education system to work toward a better tomorrow by helping victims of today.
  • Enjoy variety in your work, as each appointment and client must be handled uniquely.
  • Experience social interaction in your day via client appointments, meetings with colleagues, and engaging conferences.

Drawbacks:

  • It’s often difficult to separate personal and professional feelings, especially on subjects concerning child trauma.
  • Victims may initially be resistant to therapy and the therapist.
  • Dealing with government regulations can be frustrating and at times, may seem contradictory to your vision.
  • There may be quite a bit of paperwork when you would rather be working with individuals or attending seminars.

Trauma-informed specialist professional development

As a trauma-informed specialist, your growth opportunities may be limited by your organization. Some school systems may have the budget to employ their own trauma specialist, while others will share a government-sponsored employee across many districts.

If you work for a government agency or nonprofit organization, you may be able to advance to team coordinator or department head, and if you wish to make national changes, a career move to politics may be a possibility. Either way, advanced degrees can be extremely helpful as you move up the ladder.

Continuing education requirements for trauma-informed specialists

Trauma-informed specialists and coordinators deal with a large body of research on a professional basis, and so they must keep up to speed with frequent refresher training. New research is continuously being done in the fields of trauma awareness and its implications, which motivates professionals in this field to read peer-reviewed journals and attend academic symposiums to keep their working knowledge fresh.

Continuing education requirements vary with the details of the position a trauma-informed specialist holds, but many practitioners also have professional certifications in medicine, social work, law, therapy, and other relevant fields. 

The International Trauma Training Institute licenses trauma-informed healthcare professionals, and the organization offers renewals for practitioners’ licenses for one, two, or three years. The Institute accepts CE credits from any accredited institution that offers relevant clinical applications. A minimum of six hours of clinical CE must be provided for a one-year renewal, with 12 needed for two-year renewals and 18 credits for three-year license renewals.

Professional associations for trauma-informed specialists and coordinators

Organizations made up of like members in your career field give you the opportunity to share ideas and learn new tactics.

Best of the web

The internet has a lot of resources to help trauma-informed specialists learn and apply their trade, as well as to stay in touch with other experts in the field and make much-needed connections for work. Because the trauma-informed model touches so many fields of care, multiple disciplines have resources online to help coordinators work with medical and other practitioners.

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