Training and Trauma

Recently someone close to me had an unpleasant experience on a training course her workplace had sent her on. She was put in an overwhelming situation involving actors modeling aggression for several hours, after saying she found this areas difficult and understandably it left in tears. So here are some guidelines for trainers to avoid traumatising participants! It will be useful to any trainer or coach working with stress management, difficult behaviour, conflict resolution, experiential approaches to leadership training or emotional intelligence (to name just some areas where trauma may come up)

Trauma is incredibly common with rates of childhood abuse alone being 1 in 4 for girls and 1 in 6 for boys. Add to that car crashes and other accidents, loss of loved ones, war and the myriad other potentially traumatising events and chances are that a trainer will have have a number of participants with some kind of trauma history in any single training. So here are some tips for avoiding further trauma:


Ask people if they want to take part! Do this repeatedly, not just once at the start of the training, and really allow them to say no, without punishment, shame or any subtle pressure. Note that many traumatised people have a type of learned helplessness where they find it very difficult to decline a request from an authority figure so so don’t push it! You may even unconsciously seek out to “complete” traumatic experience by re-exposing themselves (called repetition compulsion).


What may freak one person out will not disturb another and vice versa. Allow for participants themselves to calibrate the intensity of an exercise form a range of options, starting gently and building up. Do not “throw people in at the deep end” they will just drown.

Resources before Challenges

If you are going to challenge people with an exercise related to stress,leadership, conflict or emotional intelligence for example, give them grounding or centering exercises to manage their arousal first.

Watch out for Hyper-Arousal and Dissociation

People with trauma backgrounds may be hyper-alert and “sensitive” to certain triggers. An assault victim for example may be super aware of any threats. People who have experienced trauma may also not enjoy being present in their bodies and to their emotions, if you work with these areas. Under pressure they may “zone out” as if not there.

Learn the Basics About Trauma and Be Vigilant in Training

Learn at least the basics about trauma LINK and pay attention to what you are doing if working with any of the more personal aspects of business/management training and coaching. I am not a psychiatrist or therapist and I only hope this gives trainers and coaches a place to start in exploring a difficult issue. Take and give care.


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    • Mark Walsh