Presidential Voice – Spring 2019

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Sylvia Marotta-Walters, Ph.D.

Sylvia Marotta-Walters, PhD

The news every day seems to provide a panoply of potentially traumatic experiences (PTE) affecting our families, our political systems, and our global society. At the time of this writing, families are hearing that their loved ones have lost their lives in an airplane crash. Communities are bracing for yet another catastrophic storm, introducing new phrases such as “bomb cyclones” and “polar vortices” to characterize extreme weather conditions. Relentless school shootings continue to happen, resulting in children having to learn to cope with active shooter drills starting in kindergarten.  This is also a world where parents are forced into a Sophie’s choice – stay in a homeland that threatens their children with a life of violence, if not death, or risk losing them to a broken immigration system in a country that is hostile to the kinds of attachments that are fundamental to healthy human development.

Because our social systems appear to be in chaos, I’ve chosen as my presidential theme, “Developing well in a traumatizing world.” What this means is that all of us who are exposed to these PTEs are going to continue to unfold our developmental pathway, while navigating through all kinds of adversities. Human beings are remarkably adaptive and in that resilience lies our work as trauma psychologists. This year’s convention program will present a symposium on developmental repair, functional improvement, and symptom reduction for those who experience all forms of trauma, so that our treatments can promote healing from extreme exposures such as those described above.

The #MeToo movement helps victims of sexual assault find a voice and a virtual place to belong, but it’s important to emphasize that we also have the science to help people with these experiences make meaning from them. We provide treatment guidelines that help us as practitioners determine the best fit, taking into account client preferences and sound empirically supported treatments. Division 56 members are contributing professional practice guidelines to complement the clinical practice guidelines that were approved by APA last year. Division 56 also is working on a joint project with the International Society for Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), that will suggest guidelines for the treatment of complex trauma.

Joint projects are excellent ways of providing the public with resources that can be used to promote resilience. At the time of this writing I am exploring a project with the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), our sister organization in trauma, to craft a resource for practitioners who work with child trauma, to supplement those on assessment and treatment overviews that were done a few years ago. I am also exploring a possible joint project with the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) with a child treatment focus. We will provide more information on these in the coming months.

Turning more toward our own professional development, at our Mid-Winter Meeting in February, the Executive Council approved the formation of a Division 56 Task Force to study how to move the competencies for trauma psychology to the next level of institutionalization. These are the Guidelines that were developed by our own members, Joan Cook and Elana Newman, along with a group of trauma experts, during the New Haven Trauma Conference in 2014, and which were approved by APA in 2015.

The Division also is working very closely with our new Executive Director, Lee Claassen, who joined us this past fall, and who is already making a world of difference in our efficiency and our productivity. I hope you will get to meet her during our Annual Meeting in Chicago.

In conclusion, I am looking forward to 2019 as a year when Division 56 contributes clarity and compassion to our profession and our society. I hope to see all of you in Chicago.