MSW Student, Emily Krueger, entered our program as an Advanced Standing student and will graduate in just one year with her MSW. She’s currently enrolled in a Trauma Theory course (the course is offered as part of the Certificate in Trauma-Informed Care.)
Trauma affects 90% of individuals who seek services in public behavioral health settings, and our Certificate in Trauma-Informed Care addresses this priority by preparing students to become practitioners and leaders versed in trauma theory, the neurobiology of complex trauma, the effects of working with trauma, and evidence- and community-informed practice.
As part of the certificate, students take two trauma elective courses and design a trauma informed change project, which they sometimes implement as part of their time here. Students graduate from the program with skills and tools that can be applied at both micro- and macro-practice levels.
Emily’s Trauma Project
Emily’s change project focuses on Weight Watchers (WW) studios, and specifically addresses the weigh in process. Emily herself is a WW member.
“I have been a member of WW since July 2018. I have successfully lost 37 pounds and am 13 pounds away from my goal. The program has absolutely changed my life and I am so thankful I joined when I did. I have had generally very good experiences at weigh ins and workshops, with really only two or three challenging experiences. I chose to do this trauma informed change project at WW Studios because I believe there is always room for improvement and even a small change could effect someone else in a big way. Creating a trauma informed weigh in experience is what I focused on the most as that is where a significant amount of re-traumatization, or “activation” could occur, and is most definitely able to be avoided with proper training of all WW employees.”
In a letter to Weigh Watchers International Headquarters, Emily writes, “Throughout my time as a WW member, I have visited many studios ranging from different locations in New Hampshire, Maine, and even Las Vegas. Due to this, I have been in contact with many Guides, all who have different approaches to weighing a member in. I believe that a more consistent and predictable weigh in process would be beneficial to WW members.”
Weight can be a sensitive topic in general, and studies show a strong correlation between trauma and weight. Emily includes data about this in her letter. Adverse Childhood Experiences or “ACEs” are fundamental to understanding trauma theory. ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood that strongly impact one’s overall health trajectory. These experiences range from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse to parental divorce or the incarceration of a parent or guardian. Extensive research shows that the higher one’s ACE score, the greater their overall health risks become. Emily specifically points to the weight correlation in her letter. She writes, “adolescents who reported even just one ACE were 1.2, 1.4, and 1.5 times more likely to have overweight, obesity, and severe obesity, respectively, when compared with their peers with no ACEs” (Davis, Barnes, Gross, Ryder, & Shlafer, 2019).
In an interview with UNE, Emily shares that when a WW member enters through the Studio doors and approaches the scale, it can be a very emotionally charged, psychologically challenging; and/or potentially a re-traumatizing experience. “Training WW employees and making them aware of the likely potential of their members to have a traumatic event history, weight related or not; and how to address them so as to not re-traumatize, is incredibly important,” she says. “The majority of any population, but especially those who are members of WW, have had at least one or two adverse childhood experience (ACEs). This training has the potential to change the way WW members feel about arriving at the studio and weighing in. Being able to create a trauma informed weigh in experience would not only benefit the members’ experience, but it would also empower the WW employee in being able to assist members more thoroughly and effectively throughout their journey. The overall goal of this trauma informed change is to increase WW members’ emotional, psychological, and physical safety; increase the ability to gain trust and mutuality within the Studio environment; and also provide a member with the ability to choose what will work best for them.”
In Emily’s letter, she presents the six principles of trauma informed practice paired with suggestions for practical application. The principles are, safety; trustworthiness and transparency; collaboration and mutuality; empowerment; voice and choice; language access and cultural competence. Suggestions range from addressing topics such as placement of scales to how to create an environment that nurtures predictability and clear expectations. Along with the letter, she includes her final Trauma Informed Theory and Practice paper as well as info-graphics around how to support and build trust with individuals who have experienced trauma.
Click here to view Emily’s full Trauma Final Presentation .
From Class to real life application:
“I have really enjoyed this course and have learned many aspects of trauma informed care. Learning just the basics of trauma informed care have been really helpful in identifying both, areas of concern, and things that are going well in my internship placement; as well as how to address them and possibly make a change to create a more trauma informed space,” says Emily. When asked how she plans to use the knowledge and skills gleaned from the trauma courses in her practice as a social worker she responds, “the knowledge of the aspects of trauma informed care will follow me everywhere. It seems to be something ingrained in me now; something that I always notice and pick up on in each new environment I step into – whether in a social work realm or not.” Emily is already putting these practices in motion as she sends this letter off and. She also plans to forward her plan to Oprah Winfrey, an advocate for trauma informed practices and fellow WW member.
Oprah speaks about Trauma-Informed Social Work:
Emily’s Advice to Prospective Students:
We will wrap this up with words of advice from Emily to anyone considering taking a trauma course or pursing the trauma certificate:
“Certainly take this class as it will change the way you look at your social work practice and work, and the way you approach certain situations and environments. You will become more aware of the pressing issues that should be addressed in order to create a trauma informed, or at least a trauma aware, environment. This is something you cannot get everywhere and I am very grateful for my ability to take this class.”
“The knowledge of the aspects of trauma informed care will follow me everywhere. It seems to be something ingrained in me now; something that I always notice and pick up on in each new environment I step into – whether in a social work realm or not.” -Emily Krueger
Illustration by Getty Images