Making the Connection between Trauma and Bullying at IBPA 2014

I was pleased to note that the 2014 International Bullying Prevention Conference in San Diego, CA provided several sessions that made the connection between bullying and trauma. SAMHSA defines trauma as a “highly stressful experience in the face of a perceived threat to one’s self or to one’s physical integrity or to that of one’s family member, close friend or environment. “ The definition of bullying as a repeated, intentionally negative physical or psychological action involving an imbalance of power seems to suggest an overlap with trauma and the research appears to bear this out.   Amy Wolferman’s presentation on “Trauma as a Context for Bullying” noted that a study by Idsoe, Dyregrov & Idsoe (2012) found that for all bullied students, 27.6% of boys and 40.5% of girls had PTSD scores within the clinical range. The fact that bullying continues overtime suggests that many youth may experience complex trauma that is continuing as they attend school. Thus it is critical that schools create physically and psychologically safe places for students to learn. Student Support Team staff also need to screen for trauma symptoms with their students in general and in particular with students who report being bullied. While all students can benefit from universal SEL skills training, having trauma-informed interventions for bullied youth is also part of creating a safe and positive school climate.

Thus I was delighted to see a session on Mindfulness and Meditation led by high school students who were involved in a program at the UC-San Diego’s Center for Mindfulness. Many of these students shared that previously they had struggled with anxiety and depression but that regular practice of meditation and mindfulness had decreased their symptoms significantly. I would add that they seemed to have increased their resiliency to negative emotional experiences, something that all of us can benefit from in our daily life and traumatized youth in particular need these skills. This doesn’t mean that students learn to avoid negative emotions, but instead they learn to notice, accept, and work through difficult feelings without engaging in harmful defense mechanisms. As someone who has practiced meditation and mindfulness for the past year and a half and seen its benefits first-hand,  I enthusiastically support more mindfulness programs for youth and the adults who work with them.