I conceptualize and work with trauma-exposed youth (as well as educating their care providers) within the framework of The Four Assumptions – a therapeutic perspective that I developed while working in maximum-security youth corrections. These “assumptions” are intended as a reminder that children do not desire dysfunction or relational discord – but rather that their challenges are a reflection of the lessons taught to them by previous experience. I have shared this framework with school districts and clinical personnel across the Western United States, with positive results related to child outcomes, provider attitudes/optimism, and effective relationship-development.
These “Four Assumptions” are as follows:
- Children naturally aspire to be successful.
- Children pursue this goal the best they can, under the circumstances (e.g., genetic, environment, relational) they experience.
- A child’s symptoms (ineffective, maladaptive behaviors) are not flaws within the child himself/herself, but instead reflect survival behaviors adapted for previous, unsafe environments.
- By introducing children to safe environments/relationships and teaching new skills for navigating these healthy contexts, we can facilitate their natural striving for success.