School administrators are often on the front lines for student trauma—the first person with whom a student confides about incidents that can create significant stress. In turn, many school administrators must also consider how to process these traumas to minimize adversely impacts from their own stress levels.
Kris Roush is a retired private practice therapist from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and for the past 20 years has been a popular psychology professor at Central New Mexico Community College. She has developed six practical steps for processing stress and traumatic situations that students bring into administrators’ jobs and lives.
“The first one is simply to acknowledge what happened, what is the situation? And actually you get credit for this step because you could easily choose to stay in denial about something that's going on or you could decide to minimize it and not appreciate the severity of the situation.”
Step two, explains Roush, is assessing one’s feelings about the event or situation. “How do I feel about this; identify your feelings and express them. And then related to that, direct kind of an attitude of mindful self-compassion towards yourself for having those feelings that you're going through.”
She goes on to explain that this is an easy step to skate past: “I think very few people consciously stop in the middle of a stressful situation or a traumatic event to notice what are they feeling and to express it.”
She also acknowledges that it is not necessary to waylay here: “If you can't even recognize what you're feeling, if you can't put your finger on a specific feeling word, don't get stuck there, just simply acknowledge I'm upset, just begin with that.”
Step three is a bit more tricky, Roush acknowledges. In this step, administrators should consider for what are they responsible. It is a difficult question, but a starting examination, she says, can be, “what am I in control of?”
“As a faculty member,” she explains, “I'm not responsible for my students and whether they learn, but I am responsible to them to conduct myself in a professional, competent way, and so on.”
“Step three really is about taking a serious, sober look at, in the situation, what is mine to take responsibility for and truly what is not mine. And many of us tend to make the mistake of taking on too much responsibility or not taking enough.”
This examination leads into the next step: “Step four is, okay, now that this happened, what am I in control of doing about the situation now?”
Roush advises giving pause here in the process to say, given that this is the situation, what are, what is within my control to do about the situation now. “This is the brainstorming step,” she points out. “By definition, brainstorming means that you generate a list of creative ideas and don't initially judge any of them as silly or too much or too little or too outrageous, but brainstorm all possible avenues that you might have at your disposal.”
The subsequent step—after assessing what you know about the situation, and what responsibility you have assessed is yours—is making a choice, about “what am I going to do from today on.” It is here when action begins.
“In this step, you do it or you make a plan to do it if you can't literally do it right now. And a very important piece to step five is you have the choice to do nothing. But I really want to be clear that doing nothing is not at all the same thing as choosing to do nothing, because if, through denial, or you're not paying attention, or apathy, or fear, you do nothing about the situation, you're actually just stockpiling it.”
The final step, says Roush, is “where the magic resides.”
“We've acknowledged something happened, we looked at and identified and expressed our feelings about it, we took responsibility for what is ours and we did not take on what is not ours, we looked at what could we do about it now, and from that conscious list, we made a decision about if and what to do about it. So, my gosh, what is there left to do?”
She answers her own question: “What's left to do is let it go. Let it go.”
“This is so important because all of the other steps really are useless if you don't finish off with step six to let it go. Because then what you're doing is, yeah, maybe you've addressed the situation, but you're now still carrying it around, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and for the rest of your life. And so, usually without realizing it, you are carrying around a gunny sack of issues of resentments, of anger, unexpressed grief, all kinds of possible things, and you're wondering why you're still so, so depressed, or why you've got this anxiety going on; that kind of weighs down your life spirit. That is not the recipe for a happy, carefree, joyful life.”