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Trust-Based Relational Intervention: A Framework for Healing

Last updated on February 28, 2022

Trauma in any form affects people physically, emotionally, and mentally. Sometimes, a trauma is so severe, it requires special intervention. Complex Developmental Trauma takes place when a person experiences multiple, consistent, and often prolonged adversity early in life. These early traumas are called relational trauma because they are interpersonal in nature. When children experience Complex Development Trauma, it disrupts many aspects of their development including the brain, body, biology, beliefs, and behavior.

Trauma care can be boiled down into three critical pillars: Safety, Connections, and Managing Emotions.

Three pillars labelled safety, connections, and managing emotions are providing the foundation for the roof, labelled trauma informed care.

We provide safety and connection in our schools every day. We also help students learn to manage their emotions, but sometimes we need more intensive interventions to help students process complex trauma, and that’s where TBRI comes into play.

What is Trust Based Relational Intervention?

TBRI is an attachment-based, trauma informed intervention designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. It was specifically designed for children and adolescents who have experienced complex trauma or severe adversity, but is effective for all students. Because TBRI is so versatile, it is practiced in a variety of settings ranging from homes, schools, and doctor’s offices to summer camps, family court, orphanages, and organizations serving victims of human trafficking.

Although trauma can change the development trajectory of children, TBRI helps students return to the natural developmental path they would have experienced had the trauma not occurred. It is a process of helping children and adolescents recognize and process the trauma in a safe environment all while forming a strong relationship with a trusted adult.

The TBRI Framework

TBRI has three main principles which are applied in forming relationships with children and give clear, predictable patterns for the child as they begin to process their trauma.

Connecting Principles

These are tools to help young people build trust and meaningful relationships. Before the work of processing trauma can begin, students have to relearn how to form relationships with adults they can trust.

  • Mindfulness Strategies: Invite adults to be aware of what they bring to the interactions with students (e.g., awareness of relationship history).
  • Engagement Strategies: Ways to connect with students nonverbally (e.g., eye contact)

Empowering Principles

The goal of empowerment is to help students learn how to self-regulate. There are physical and environmental triggers we can teach students about in order to help them become mindful of their emotional state.

  • Physiological Strategies: Focus on the internal physical needs of the student (e.g., hydration, hunger, and sensory triggers)
  • Ecological Strategies: Focus on the students’ external environmental (e.g., daily rituals, transitions, and teaching self-regulation)

Correcting Principles

We need to help disarm the fear response in order for students to learn behavioral and social competence so that they can better navigate the social world 

  • Proactive Strategies: Designed to teach social skills to students during calm times
  • Responsive Strategies: Provide adults with tools to respond to students’ challenging behaviors

Often students do not feel that they matter or worth being cared about. They often use fight, flight, freeze to protect themselves from that painful feeling

Compassion is the Glue

Compassion: noun / com-pas-sion / kəmˈpaSHən

1. Concerning awareness of suffering that results in responsiveness or readiness to help relieve that suffering

2. Caring enough to do something about someone else’s need3. Sympathetic concern for the sufferings/misfortune of others

The most important factor regarding connection is building a trusting relationship with a safe adult who is responsive to the needs of the child. Remember, the goal of all behaviors is to have a need or a want met. Compassion should drive our work with children, to listen and help them process their experiences in a safe space by being a consistent, reliable presence in their life.

TBRI in Elkhart Schools

What do you think? Would you like more training or information on TBRI? Let us know in the survey below (Elkhart staff only).

The featured image is come site with me a while, a flickr photo by Sushicam shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

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