Trauma Playbook: Using the Family Systems Trauma (FST) Model to Address Safety and Trauma


Too many teenage boys and their parents are trapped in an outdated model of masculinity. What we are missing is a model allowing for fear, grief, tenderness and the day-to-day sadness impacting us all.  As a result, teenage boys are experiencing a profound sense of loneliness and isolation. Isolation leads to depression which, in turn, manifests itself as aggression, anxiety and anger.

Parents, especially fathers, were never taught to help their sons identify feelings of vulnerability as “normal” nor how to talk about fear, grief, sadness and the need for closeness. Boys often learn to talk about sports, the weather or hunting, not feelings and vulnerability.

Helping Young Boys Expand Their Emotional Language (2018), Chris Lyford

Using techniques from his book, Treating the Traumatized Child: A Step-by-Step Family Systems Approach (Sells & Sauder, 2017), Scott Sells, PhD assists a therapist in creating step by step instructions (called a trauma playbook) for a family whose treatment isn’t progressing. 

Using the Family Systems Trauma (FST) model, Sells outlines a hybrid, trauma-informed treatment plan preserving the safety of the child and family first and then adding a plan to heal the consistent interactional trauma which caused a loss of attachment and nurturance within the family. 

Sells explains that before active trauma work can take place, stabilization and safety planning must be addressed. He explains that since aggression thrives in secrecy and it weakens with accountability and boundaries, it is important to include the entire family, such as siblings and grandparents. In addition, by involving the entire family, the child’s trauma heal but also the trauma of the parents and the other family members. 

 To see the Hybrid Playbook and to learn more about how to use the Family Systems Trauma model with your clients, visit

Scott P. Sells, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW, LMFT, is the author of three best-selling books, Treating the Tough Adolescent: A Family-Based, Step-by-Step Guide (1998), Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love (2001), and Treating the Traumatized Child: A Step-by-Step Family Systems Approach (2017). He can be contacted at or through LinkedIn.

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