Focus on the Strengths and Resources of the young person

Sometimes when you are caring for a young person with experiences of trauma, your focus can often be on what’s going wrong rather than what’s working well.  Young people also often struggle to see how things in their life can change, thinking that bad things will just keep happening to them – and often unfortunately they do.  

 It is much more effective to start from their strengths. 

This is where you can help by talking about how things can and do change for people.  Things to help with this:

  • Highlight the skills and characteristics they have that will help them make some changes
  • Challenge their negative beliefs about themselves by identifying times when you have noticed they have managed a situation well
  • Explore something/situations that they are struggling with and reflect on a similar situation in their past that they may have done something different that worked
  • Be aware of your own assumptions about why the young person is doing what they are doing i.e. Thinking the young person is just trying to get attention rather than they are simply doing their best to get their needs met with what they know

Through a trauma lens, challenging or risky behaviour is seen as the young person’s best efforts to deal with that situation at that time (see table below).  The behaviour might be something they have used in the past that has worked but may not be anymore (e.g. aggressive behaviour) or it may have been protective for them but now stops them from moving forward (e.g. dissociating during stressful situations).

And when or if you think you are out of your depth and the young person needs more specialist support, contact the appropriate person or service and support the young person with this referral.

Problem focussed view

Trauma Informed View

Hypersensitive – overreacts to people and places seemingly without reason

Is reminded of trauma and this reminder is triggering powerful emotional responses – trauma reminders can be seemingly unrelated to the trauma and are highly generalizable

Unmotivated - doesn’t want to follow up employment, education, housing

Has depression and diminished interest in everyday activities, or alternatively, has PTSD and is using avoidance to manage unpleasant arousal and anxiety symptoms

Avoidant – doesn’t want to engage with their worker, avoids communication about critical issues

Over-reliance on avoidance as a key strategy for managing distress (for example avoiding reminders of trauma, or avoiding distressing emotions)

Wild mood swings, reactive mood, goes off on a ‘hair trigger’, unpredictable

Has difficulties with managing their emotions and behaviour due to trauma in early years

Aggressive, picks fights with staff or other service users, is always agitated

Is “hyper-alert” to any potential threats and relies on aggressive ways of interacting to feel in control of social situations, has a strong belief that the world is a dangerous place and to be on the “front-foot” is the only way to ensure safety

Cannot follow rules and guidelines – constantly battling with authority

Has an increased need for control in physical and social environments, past experiences of injustice have led to inflexible “black and white” views about what’s right and wrong

Seems vague, switched off or ‘out of it’ most of the time

Difficulty with remaining present (attending to the ‘here and now’) and concentrating could be due to dissociation

Refuses assistance from family, friends, services, lacks insight into support needs

Experiencing strong shame and self-blame as a result of trauma exposure and as a result of their current difficulties, also is concerned about contaminating those around them “I don’t want you to be damaged by having to deal with me”

Believes they are being singled out and treated unfairly by staff, no bonds made with staff or other service users, feels hard done by

Trauma experiences have led to difficulties with trust (“everyone is out to get me”), or a strong sense of betrayal (“everyone always lets me down”), and could be specifically relating to caregivers (“the people you should be able to trust the most are the ones who hurt you the most”).

Unmotivated to manage substance use, lacks insight into the consequences of substance use

Is relying on substances to manage unpleasant emotional responses, unpleasant memories of the trauma, or reminders of the trauma

Keeps engaging in damaging relationships

Low self-efficacy and self-esteem, difficulties recognising signs of unhelpful and potentially abusive relationships


Further Resources