How to help a friend with trauma-informed support

Experiencing interpersonal violence is often a traumatic event. It can affect the way the brain and body work together. A survivor’s response to trauma entails courage, strength, and resiliency. If you are supporting a friend who has experienced a trauma, providing trauma-informed support to them will be most helpful.  This type of support takes the brain and body’s response to violence into account. These small changes in your interaction can make a world of difference for a survivor.

Consider the surroundings

  • Does the student feel safe right now? Is this area private or confidential? What would help the student feel more comfortable?
  • Does the student want someone else there, a glass of water, or a closed or open door?
  • Make sure to turn your full attention to the student by turning off cell phones and diminishing distractions.

Things you can say

  • “Thanks for coming to see me or telling me or calling.”
  • “Take your time.”
  • “What is your biggest concern right now?”
  • “What’s on your mind?”
  • “You’re safe here.”
  • “What would help you the most today?”
  • “You have support at Emory.”
  • “No one should have to face something like this alone.”
  • “How are you feeling?”
  • “No one asks to be sexually assaulted or abused.”
  • “You did what you needed to do to make it through.”
  • “Feel free to say whatever is on your mind.”
  • “You’re not burdening me. I’m here to help.”
  • “We don’t have to figure everything out at once. Let’s take it one step at a time.”
  • “I believe you.”
  • Nothing. Be comfortable with some silence and pauses.


Things you can do

Have an open, welcoming stance.  Sit near the student, on the same level; avoid talking through barriers like a desk.

Avoid giving advice.  Explore the options with the student rather than telling the student what to do or what should be done. The student is the best expert on the situation, and this can help the student regain a sense of control.

Focus on immediate health and safety issues.  It can be overwhelming to consider all of the possibilities at once, so you should start with those immediate concerns.

Write down resources.  Give written information and referrals to ensure that the student has the information, as they may be too traumatized to fully remember the conversation. If it’s safe to do so, emailing can also be helpful.

Do not threaten retaliation.  Keep the focus on the student who has come to you. Do not threaten violence or other retribution against the perpetrator or focus on what the perpetrator might have been thinking.

Ask permission before touching the student.  If you think it would be appropriate to touch or hug the student to provide support, simply ask if it is alright to do so. This might be a challenging time for the student to be touched, regardless of your intent to be comforting.

Minimize future contact with the assailant.  Help the student plan for their safety if maintaining contact. Mediation is not an option in situations involving assault or abuse. Do not suggest that the student have future conversations or contact. Respect whatever decision the student makes.

Do not provide medication.  Unless you are a medical professional, you should refrain from giving medication or medical advice; instead, encourage the student to seek medical care. If the student is going to go to an emergency room after a recent incident, ask if they have showered, changed clothes, or eaten anything. If not, encourage them to wait until after going to the hospital.

Limit the conversation, but ensure follow-up.  Telling their story can be difficult and re-traumatizing, both for students and for you as a support provider. Set a time limit to the conversation and ensure follow-up to avoid having the student re-traumatize themselves by continuing to retell the story, or becoming emotionally drained yourself to the point that you are unable to be supportive.

Take Care of Yourself.  It can be challenging or emotionally draining to support someone who has experienced something traumatic. Make sure to take care of yourself. We encourage you to contact us at the Office of Respect ( and we can connect you with National and local professional counseling resources that you can utilize.