Who’s Who: Sandra Mattar, PsyD

Fall 2014

Sandra Mattar, PsyD
Sandra Mattar, PsyD
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What is your current occupation? I am currently an independent practitioner. I just finished a job as Associate Dean and Professor in the School of Education and Counseling at Saint Mary’s College of California. Recently we decided to move near family in Boston, and just settled here about two months ago. In the meantime, I am also chair-elect of the Committee of Ethnic Minority Affairs of APA, and Associate Editor of Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy.

Where were you educated? I did my undergraduate education in psychology in Caracas, Venezuela, at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. Later on, I completed my graduate education at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology and did a post-doctoral fellowship in behavioral medicine at a county hospital in Northern California.

Why did you choose this field? I was initially interested in medicine; however, I later realized that I was better suited for psychology. I was passionate about helping others (even though it sounds cliché). My interest in trauma began when I decided to do research in Lebanon to study the war’s effects on people. I was not aware at the time of the new diagnosis of PTSD, and I decided to study time perspective and locus of control in people immersed in war zones. This study also triggered my interest in the intersection of culture and trauma.

A few years later, I finished my internship at Cambridge Hospital at the Victims of Violence Program. I had Judith Herman as my supervisor, which had a great influence on my trauma-focused career. In addition, as a professor, I created the first trauma psychology course in the doctoral program where I was teaching. I continued to teach different versions of that course until last year.

What is most rewarding about this work for you? Trauma psychology has provided me with many tools to understand human behavior. I can’t conceive of any mental health training without trauma-informed training because trauma histories have a deep influence on mental health outcomes.

When I started teaching my trauma classes, my students were very thankful because they saw these classes as the “missing link” in their training. It amazed me at that time (and it applies today as well) how people could properly diagnose someone without taking a trauma history. Adding the cultural perspective to this class was also very rewarding for me, as I believe that culture deeply affects our reactions and assessment of traumatic experiences.

I also consider my work with Division 56 as my “trauma work.” I was a charter member and the division’s first membership chair. I was also a Division 56 Council Representative. It gives me much pleasure to continue working toward promoting the relevance of trauma psychology and to advocate for the need to train future psychologists in this area.

What is most frustrating about your work? People still consider trauma psychology a specialty. I believe trauma psychology should be part of the foundational training of every psychologist. In this sense, I don’t think it is a specialty.

How do you keep your life in balance (e.g., what are your hobbies)? I love to be in nature so I am an avid hiker. Hiking helps me put my life into perspective and keeps me in touch with a higher being. I also enjoy traveling, photography, and reading.

What are your future plans? My move to Massachusetts has granted me the privilege of starting anew and of reassessing my career in the years to come. Stay tuned.