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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

Trauma Informed Facilitation: The Power of Reflection in Training, Workshops and Experiences

Updated: 4 days ago

Reflection is a powerful tool in a facilitation process as it provides participants a way to look back on their experience and think about how they can use the information learned and the different ways in which the experience impacted them. The ability to look back and explore the impact of an experience can help participants think towards the future. For facilitators working with groups that may include individuals who have experienced trauma, incorporating reflective practices allows participants to process. 

How Reflection Is Used in a Volunteer Training 

At Hand-to-Hand, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals who have experienced domestic violence, a group of volunteers went through a training program. After the training program, the volunteer serves in the role of answering the 24-hour phone support hotline. As part of the training program, facilitators incorporated reflection activities to help volunteers process their learning and prepare for their roles.

During these sessions:

  1. Journaling: Volunteers were encouraged to write in their journals about their thoughts, feelings, and takeaways from the day's training. The journals were branded and included tips on each page relevant to the journal exercise. The journaling experience allowed the volunteers to process their experiences and reflect on the material covered, such as crisis intervention techniques and active listening skills.

  2. Group Discussion: The facilitators led group discussions where volunteers could share their reflections, if they felt comfortable. This sharing often revealed common concerns and insights, fostering a sense of community and mutual support among the volunteers.

  3. Reflective Questions: Facilitators posed specific questions to guide the reflection, such as "What did you learn about yourself today?" and "How can you apply what you learned in real-life scenarios?" These questions helped volunteers connect the training content to their upcoming roles and responsibilities.

Through these reflective practices, volunteers were able to look back on their training experiences and explore how the sessions had impacted them. For example, one volunteer shared how learning about active listening had changed her approach to conversations, both on and off the hotline. Another volunteer reflected on the importance of self-care techniques discussed during the training, recognizing their necessity in preventing burnout.

For facilitators, these reflective practices provided valuable insights into the volunteers' progress and emotional state. They could tailor subsequent training sessions to address any emerging needs or concerns, ensuring that the program remained relevant and supportive. The process also allowed facilitators to observe the emotional journey of volunteers, many of whom might be processing their own experiences with trauma or anxiety about their new roles.

Overall, incorporating reflection into the training process not only helped volunteers process their experiences but also empowered them to think towards the future, applying the knowledge and skills they had gained to their upcoming roles on the domestic violence support hotline. This preparation was crucial in ensuring they felt confident and equipped to support callers effectively.

The Importance of Reflection in Facilitation

Reflection allows both facilitators and participants to pause and process and connect a facilitated experience to their personal or professional life. Reflection promotes a deeper understanding of individual and group dynamics and helps uncover insights that may not be immediately apparent during the facilitation process. In trauma-informed facilitation, reflection can provide a moment to gather thoughts, think about the experience or just have a moment of silence. 

Overview of Trauma-Informed Principles

Trauma Informed Principles*: 

There are six key principles connected to a trauma informed approach when leading a group experience. These principles are defined by the following organization and resources*: 

Safety (key principle)*: 

Prioritizing physical and emotional safety is essential in a trauma informed environment for a facilitator. For the context of facilitation, safety means creating a space where participants feel emotionally connected and comfortable to share or engage in conversation. 

Trustworthiness and Transparency (key principle)*

Trust and transparency in trauma-informed facilitation are essential to create an empowering, and supportive environment. Being transparent about the purpose, structure, and expectations of the facilitation process creates an atmosphere of openness for participants. 

Peer Support (key principle)*

A facilitator strives to create a supportive community where participants with shared experiences can connect, plan for the future, and assist each other in the context of why they have gathered. This principle is based on the understanding that individuals who have experienced trauma can offer unique insights and understanding to their peers, fostering a sense of connection and collaboration.

Collaboration and Mutuality (key principle)*

Collaboration and mutuality in the context of trauma-informed facilitation refers to fostering partnerships and shared decision-making between facilitators, participants and the group itself. Is collaboration possible in the setting that you facilitate? How might you create structures, processes and policies to allow for shared decision making between both the facilitator and participants related to the experience? How might shared decision making occur in a mandatory facilitated experience?

Empowerment and Choice (key principle)* 

In the context of trauma informed facilitation, empowerment and choice are interconnected principles that focus on allowing participants the autonomy to have control over their lives during a facilitated experience. Facilitators may want to provide choices and options in how participants can engage in conversation with others. Examples of choices and options may come in the form of breaks, turning off a camera, the ability to opt out of a conversation.

Cultural, Historical, and Identity (key principle)*

In trauma-informed facilitation, it is important to consider each person's unique cultural, historical and racial identity to foster an inclusive and sensitive environment that honors the distinctive personal experiences of each individual. 


A facilitator recognizes and values the diverse cultural backgrounds of participants. In practice, this means a facilitator acknowledges how culture shapes individuals' perceptions and responses to trauma. Other methods to foster cultural competence may include integrating culturally relevant examples, ensuring materials are culturally sensitive, and establishing an environment where participants from various cultural backgrounds feel genuinely valued and understood. Creating culturally relevant content and curriculum takes time and requires input from program participants, staff and perhaps outside consultants. What is your organization's process for developing a culturally sensitive curriculum? What is your organization's process to review materials and activities?

Historical Considerations:

Historical considerations involve recognizing and understanding historical trauma or collective experiences that may influence individuals or communities. Acknowledging historical context is crucial for a facilitator to understand how social and systemic factors contribute to trauma.

In practice this means that a trauma-informed facilitator acknowledges the intergenerational impact of past events and recognizes the potential links between historical experiences and the current challenges faced by participants in the group. 

Preparing for Reflection in Trauma Informed Facilitation

Create an Environment Conducive to Reflection

Creating an environment conducive to reflection starts well before the facilitation begins. This involves several crucial steps to ensure participants are prepared and feel safe to engage deeply in the reflective process.

Set Clear Intentions

Set clear intentions for reflective practice and communicate these to the group. Clearly outline the goals of the reflection activities, emphasizing their importance in enhancing learning and personal growth. By articulating the purpose and expected outcomes, participants can better understand the value of reflection and feel more motivated to engage fully.

Establishing a Safe Space

Establish a safe space where participants feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and participating in the facilitated experience. Creating a safe environment in a trauma-informed context can take anywhere from a few hours to weeks or even months, depending on the purpose and context of the facilitation. 

Building trust, fostering open communication, and consistently demonstrating respect and empathy are key components of this process. Do not assume that a feeling of safety will be established in the first hour or day of a facilitated experience; it requires ongoing effort and attention.

Safety is often defined by the individual, meaning that what feels safe for one person may not for another, and there is no specific time frame that guarantees when an individual feels safe in a group environment. Continuous reflection, feedback, and adaptation are crucial in maintaining and deepening this sense of safety throughout the facilitation process.

Some methods to establish a safe space include: 

  • Establish Clear Guidelines: Set and communicate clear guidelines for interaction and behavior. These should include respect for all opinions, confidentiality, and the importance of listening without interrupting.

  • Build Trust: Develop trust by being transparent about the facilitation process, the goals of the session, and how information will be used. Consistently follow through on commitments and promises made to the group.

  • Use Inclusive Language: Incorporate language that acknowledges and respects diverse backgrounds and experiences. Avoid jargon and terminology that may exclude or alienate participants.

  • Normalize Taking Breaks: Encourage participants to take breaks as needed to manage their emotional well-being. Provide a designated quiet space where individuals can go if they need a moment away from the group.

  • Validate Feelings and Experiences: Acknowledge and validate participants' feelings and experiences. Let them know that their emotions and reactions are normal and acceptable.

  • Empower Participants: Give participants control over their level of engagement. Allow them to opt-out of activities or discussions if they feel uncomfortable and provide alternative ways to contribute.

  • Provide Grounding Exercises: Incorporate grounding exercises, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, breaks, music, pillows, comfortable seating or brief physical activities, to help participants manage stress and stay present during the session.

  • Create a Supportive Physical Environment: Arrange the space to be welcoming and comfortable. Ensure that seating arrangements promote openness and equality, and that the environment is free from distractions and disruptions.

  • Model Vulnerability and Empathy: As a facilitator, model vulnerability and empathy by sharing your own reflections and demonstrating active listening. Show that you are also engaged in the process and open to learning. 

  • Offer Follow-Up Support: Provide resources and options for follow-up support after the session. This can include contact information for counseling services, support groups, or additional resources related to trauma and healing.

Before using any of these reflection techniques, be mindful of how much time you have for reflection in the activity. Some of these protocols require more than one session to get participants ready to engage with one another. In trauma-informed facilitation, it is crucial to recognize that participants need ample time with both the facilitator and the group to reflect and feel comfortable engaging in dialogue. This process cannot be rushed; participants often need repeated sessions to build trust and openness. Allowing for extended and consistent interaction helps create a safe environment where individuals feel secure enough to share their thoughts and experiences. Facilitators should prioritize creating a supportive atmosphere that encourages ongoing reflection and dialogue over multiple sessions.

Techniques for Facilitating Reflection

Effective facilitation of reflection involves using a variety of techniques to engage participants. Some common methods include group discussions, journaling, and personal storytelling. These activities should be structured yet flexible, allowing participants to explore their thoughts and feelings in a way that feels personally comfortable and safe. 

Guided Questions: For reflection, facilitators can use prompts. Here are some examples:

  • "What is one thing you learned about yourself during this session?"

  • "How did today’s discussion make you feel, and why?"

  • "Can you share a moment that stood out to you, and what it meant?"

  • "How has your perspective changed as a result of our conversation?"

  • "What support do you need moving forward based on what we discussed?"

These questions help participants delve deeper into their experiences and connect their reflections to their personal and group development.

Think Pair Share

The Think-Pair-Share is a reflection or debrief protocol that begins with participants reflecting individually on a question or topic, allowing them to form their own thoughts and insights. Next, they pair up with a partner to discuss their reflections, providing an opportunity to deepen their understanding through dialogue. Finally, each pair shares their insights with the larger group, fostering a collaborative learning environment and enriching the discussion with diverse perspectives.

Here are some examples questions to use for Think Pair Share: 

  • What is one key insight you gained from today’s session?

  • How did today’s training challenge your existing beliefs or assumptions?

  • Describe a moment during the workshop when you felt most engaged. What was happening at that time?

  • How can you apply what you learned today to your current role or situation?

  • What was the most surprising thing you learned today, and why did it surprise you?

Journaling: Encourage participants to write down their thoughts, feelings, and takeaways in a journal. This journaling can be done during or after the training session, providing a valuable opportunity for reflection and deeper engagement with the material.

Here are some examples questions to use for Journaling: 

  • Identify one skill or piece of knowledge you need to develop further based on today’s session.

  • Reflect on a time during the training when you felt uncomfortable or challenged. What did you learn from that experience?

  • How did you contribute to the group’s learning today? What impact did your contribution have?

  • What questions do you still have after today’s session, and how might you go about finding answers to them?

  • What was the most valuable part of today’s training for you personally, and why?

Reflection Support: 

Reflection doesn’t end when the session concludes. A reflection can be woven into a discussion, activity or facilitated protocol. Reflection can help participants think about next steps related to the content discussed or the activities conducted.   

Encourage participants to keep reflecting on their experiences outside of facilitated sessions especially if you are facilitating with a group more than once. Ongoing reflection support can be done through regular check-ins, journal exercises, workbooks or setting up peer support groups. Ongoing reflection helps maintain the momentum of learning and growth initiated during the facilitated sessions.

The Impact of Reflection on Group Dynamics

Reflection has an impact on group dynamics and the individual experience. It allows participants to process their experiences, gain new insights, and develop a deeper understanding of themselves and others. This process fosters a sense of connection and empathy within the group, enhancing collaboration and mutual support.

Integrating reflection is a fundamental component of effective trauma-informed practice. By making reflection a core part of a facilitation approach, you create a more thoughtful, supportive, and impactful experience for your participants. Encourage reflection not only as a facilitator but also within the group, nurturing an environment that allows participants to process their experience. 

Incorporating reflective practices in trauma-informed facilitation can transform the way individuals and groups engage with their experiences. It’s a powerful tool for fostering growth, understanding, and leading to more meaningful and impactful facilitation.

Are you looking for additional resources or training on trauma informed practices and trauma-informed facilitation, check out these upcoming trainings geared towards professionals that facilitate meetings, lead trainings, manage or support programs and services in nonprofits. 

*Additional Resources related to Trauma Informed Facilitation:

  1. Harris, M., & Fallot, R. D. (Eds.). (2001). Using trauma theory to design service systems: New directions for mental health services (No. 89). Jossey-Bass.

  2. Najavits, L. M. (2002). Seeking safety: A treatment manual for PTSD and substance abuse. Guilford Press.

  3. Bloom, S. L., & Farragher, B. (2011). Destroying sanctuary: The crisis in human service delivery systems. Oxford University Press.

  4. Covington, S. S. (2008). Women and addiction: A trauma-informed approach. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 40(5), 377-385.

  5. Hopper, E. K., Bassuk, E. L., & Olivet, J. (2010). Shelter from the storm: Trauma-informed care in homelessness services settings. The Open Health Services and Policy Journal, 3(2), 80-100.

  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2014). SAMHSA's concept of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4884. SAMHSA.

  7. Ford, J. D., & Courtois, C. A. (Eds.). (2014). Treating complex traumatic stress disorders: An evidence-based guide. Guilford Press.

  8. van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking.

  9. Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (1983). Stages and processes of self-change of smoking: Toward an integrative model of change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 51(3), 390-395.

  10. Cook, A., Blaustein, M., Spinazzola, J., & van der Kolk, B. (2003). Complex trauma in children and adolescents. Psychiatric Annals, 33(5), 374-381.


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