Bringing Equity to Trauma Treatment

Bringing Equity to Trauma Treatment

The project

Project Overview

The National Center for Trauma Education and Workforce Development launched at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in fall 2021, to help build capacity among mental health clinicians nationally to serve traumatized youth and their families.

Based at UNC School of Social Work, the new center formed the cornerstone of a demonstration project that will be funded through a five-year, $3 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

As part of its mission, the center will address disparities in trauma treatment with a focus on equity, according to principal investigator Sarah E. (Betsy) Bledsoe, Ph.D.

“We have prioritized schools of social work located in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, many who will be part of our first cohort participating in our inaugural summer institute, as well as agencies and schools of social work that employ and serve majority BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and persons of color] clinicians, clients, and students,” Bledsoe said.


The University of North Carolina School of Social Work is a graduate school offering M.S.W. (Master of Social Work) and Ph.D. degrees. In 2008, U.S. News & World Report ranked the School of Social Work fourth among social work programs at public universities and eighth out of 165 programs nationwide. 

The mission of the UNC School of Social Work is to expand knowledge regarding social problems and programs, to educate social workers for advanced practice, and to provide leadership in the development of socially and economically just policies and programs that strengthen individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.


The research team developed a case-based curriculum that emphasizes common trauma-informed practice elements, such as maximizing physical and psychological safety for children and partnering with appropriate agencies and systems to enhance well-being and resilience within the family.

Using the curriculum, the team partnered with Suora Studios to develop a video-based online training resource for mental health providers, including training modules on common practice elements. In addition to this free online training, the project will offer individual consultations to at least 120 clinicians across the globe annually.

The team also designed a three-credit clinical course for Master of Social Work students and will make this course available to at least 15 schools of social work each year. Over the five years of the project, more than 1,300 MSW students will complete the course.

The center will offer a summer institute to orient faculty to the new course and will develop a virtual learning collaborative to provide ongoing support to these faculty.


In partnership with the UNC SoSW, we brought three different childhood trauma cases to life. Each case is briefly described below: 

Case of Jamal

Jamal is a 10-year old African American boy living with his grandmother. Jamal comes to therapy following an incident of sexual abuse. During this experience, Jamal comes for support due to his dysregulation. We also include his parental support at the end of the sessions, to ensure that he is developing the skills needed to support him as he continues to work on trauma-focused treatment.

Case of Emma Grace

The case of Emma Grace involves Emma Grace, her older brother Connor, and their mother Margaret Grace Brennan. From Dr. Gomez, the therapist who wrote the case:

“Emma's about five, Connor's about 10, and you're gonna see a lot of complexity with what we're about to go through. It may seem a little overwhelming to you watching this, but there's two thingsI want you to focus onthrough the whole course, two roles. First one, trauma disconnects, healing reconnects. We're gonna see the disconnection that trauma can cause for families. You're also gonna see how we can reconnect them as trained providers. The second one is being heard, being recognized. It's the opposite of being traumatized. And you're gonna see how the family has been recognized, has been heard. And we're gonna do the exact opposite of that and get 'em a little bit closer to recovery. So let's get started.”

Case of Diego

Diego is a 17 year old young man who has experienced ongoing or “chronic” trauma occurring over years of his life, as well as multiple types of traumatic events that he has either witnessed or directly experienced.  His story is a clear example of the difference between a traumatic experience, and a traumatic life, and the way in which that difference manifests in terms of the “symptoms” that we see.  This case offers an opportunity to apply a “complex trauma lens” in conceptualizing delinquent or “problematic” behaviors (e.g. gang-related activity, aggression, substance use) as a young person’s best effort at coping with very difficult, traumatic life circumstances in which they see no escape and no hope for change.  It further affords an entrée for engaging a traditionally “hard to reach” population and helping youth understand how life experiences (including physical abuse, witnessing DV, community violence, physical abuse/assault) shape their sense of self, their relationships and attachments, and views about the world.  In so doing, this conceptualization opens a path toward understanding how traumatic experiences can result in reliance on coping strategies that work in the moment, but often create negative long-term consequences, and how targeted, complex-trauma specific, interventions can foster more adaptive coping methods and address the sequelae resulting from exposure to chronic and/or multiple forms of violence. 

This project was truly a collective effort. 

We casted an incredible team of talent from Talent One Agency. The actors each assumed the roles of of individuals or groups affected by trauma in an improv capacity, and worked directly with the lead therapist for each case. With it being unscripted content, they studied and took on the difficult backgrounds of each character.

Shannon Malone, an incredible set designer who helped us to build two different therapist offices in our studio in Apex, NC was a key part of the success of the project. The complexities associated with building and designing such a set was something that would not have been possible without Shannon.

The rest of our crew consisted of a Director/DP, Producer, Sound Engineer, and Gaffer. We delivered over 250 minutes of content across the three cases in just under two months. The course will be made open to the public for viewing. We are excited to see the positive effects in the community from a project like this, and appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with such an incredible group of people.


Check out the content we delivered to our partners



Check out some select frames and graphics from the project. If you'd like to see the entire course, reach out at


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