Who’s Who – Bita Ghafoori, PhD

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Bita Ghafori, PhD1) What is your current occupation? I am a professor at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). I also serve as the Director of the CSULB Long Beach Trauma Recovery Center and the Coordinator of the Master of Science Program in Counseling Psychology, with an emphasis on Marriage and Family Therapy.

2) Where were you educated?  I completed my undergraduate education (BS in Biological Sciences) at the University of California, Irvine. I received an MS in Counseling Psychology, with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy at Pepperdine University. I also received an MS and PhD in Clinical Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology. Further, I completed post-doctoral training focused on PTSD treatment at the University of California San Francisco-Fresno Medical Education Program as well as a post-doctoral fellowship in disaster mental health through a special program funded by NIMH and Dartmouth University (Research Education in Disaster Mental Health).

3) Why did you choose this field?  I did not become interested in the field of psychology until after completing my bachelor’s degree. I worked in a Headstart program as a substitute teacher, and I saw the important work the psychologists did with the children and families. I pursued my MS degree in Counseling Psychology, absolutely loved it, and became inspired to become a clinical psychologist. I began my PhD program with the goal of becoming a clinician focused on treating families and children. After completing my PhD, a psychiatrist I worked with suggested I pursue post-doctoral training in trauma psychology since I demonstrated both an interest and competence in working with this population. While I initially entered the field with the desire to implement effective clinical interventions with trauma survivors, my post-doctoral training was research-focused, and I quickly became intrigued with understanding and effectively treating PTSD and other trauma-related disorders in racially and ethnically diverse populations. I was extremely fortunate to receive training and mentorship from leaders in the field of trauma psychology including Larry Palinkas, Fran Norris, Yuval Neria, and Charles Marmar. The mentorship I received from these individuals and others inspired me to continue my work in trauma psychology. I am extremely passionate about my work in the field of traumatic stress, and I feel very fortunate to have pursued this career path!

4) What is most rewarding about this work for you?  There are many rewarding aspects of my work. Currently, I find my research focused on understanding and reducing disparities in mental health treatment in diverse, trauma-exposed populations highly rewarding. My research team is investigating the implementation of evidence-based therapies for PTSD in a community mental health setting serving low-income, racially and ethnically diverse clients (the CSULB Long Beach Trauma Recovery Center). Our research is also investigating factors associated with retention and dropout in mental health treatment for traumatic distress as well timing and dosage of treatment. In addition, I have developed a training program for students pursuing a masters degree in Social Work and Marriage and Family Therapy in order to teach graduate student clinicians to become competent trauma therapists. Finally, an extremely rewarding project is the development and leadership of the CSULB Long Beach Trauma Recovery Center (LBTRC). This Center is funded by several grants including a large grant from the State of California, which allows for clinical service, graduate student training, research, and community education and outreach. The LBTRC has served over 800 clients who have experienced crime and/or violence over the last few years at no cost.

5) What is most frustrating about your work?  The most frustrating aspect of my work is that many clients who have experienced a traumatic event (particularly those who are low-income or ethnically/racially diverse) often do not get safe, effective treatments. I feel sad when I hear of clients who lost hope due to never receiving an appropriate therapeutic intervention. It saddens me when I hear of the many therapists who state that they treat trauma exposure, but fail to use effective, evidence-based therapies with clients and subsequently prolong their pain and suffering.

6) How do you keep your life in balance (i.e., what are your hobbies)?  I am blessed to have a wonderful husband, two fabulous children, wonderful parents and in-laws, and a good group of friends. I am very careful about leaving my work at work, and enjoying my time with family and friends when I get home. I also exercise regularly and watch entertaining television shows while exercising- I find these good forms of self-care. Finally, I enjoy traveling with my family, and I usually plan at least one trip (or more) to a new destination per year. The trips are very exciting to plan and experience, and I feel being exposed to new cultures and people provides me with a sense of grounding and joy.

7) What are your future plans? I plan on focusing on disseminating my research in the next few years. In addition, I will continue to mentor graduate students and junior faculty, and I hope to foster passion and excitement in new trauma professionals. Finally, I hope to travel with my loved ones to new countries and focus on the beauty of diverse cultures and people.