International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

McFarlane Presented with 2003 ISTSS Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement

Posted 1 March 2004 in StressPoints by ISTSS

In addition to being a world-class researcher, Alexander McFarlane, MD, is a pioneer, a motivator, a teacher and a clinician—in short a leader in the field. McFarlane has made diverse contributions to the field of traumatic stress that demonstrate a commitment to the academic community and to the clinical and social needs of victims. For his outstanding contributions to research in the PTSD field, ISTSS presented McFarlane with the 2003 Robert S. Laufer Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement, an award established by Ellen Frey-Wouters in memory of her husband, Robert S. Laufer. McFarlane accepted the award at the ISTSS Awards Ceremony held November 1, in Chicago.

McFarlane’s contribution to the field began in 1983 following the Ash Wednesday Bushfire disaster in Australia where, through his clinical, research and organizational roles, McFarlane highlighted the dilemmas of the disaster-affected population. This interest generalized into a pivotal role in bringing the effects of traumatic stress into the broader public and professional domain. His involvement in the medico-legal arena have effected changes within health delivery systems, especially for emergency service personnel.

McFarlane has had a particular interest in improving clinical services for traumatized populations, such as individuals in the care of state-funded mental health service. In the wake of concerns about the issues of childhood sexual abuse and the incarceration of children asylum seekers in detention camps, he has been lobbying the Australian Medical Association and Royal Australian College of Psychiatrists to call a national summit on these issues.

With his collaborators, McFarlane was the first to explore background information processing in PTSD, demonstrating significant abnormalities in working memory in PTSD. He is collaborating as a principal investigator focusing on the event-related potential component of the Harvard Twin Study, which is exploring the biological correlates of PTSD in monozygotic twin pairs discordant for exposure.

He contributed to the design of the PTSD section of the replication of the National Comorbidity Study conducted in Australia. His involvement in epidemiology continues through his role as the psychiatric advisor to a study examining the health of Gulf War Veterans in Australia.

McFarlane’s broad interest in research also includes representations of trauma in literature and historical development of the ideas that have framed the intellectual and social understanding of the effect of traumatic stress.

For the past three years McFarlane has played a central role in the development of a mental health strategy for the Australian Defense Force. As a reserve Royal Australian Air Force officer, he has acted as the chief advisor in psychiatry to the director general of the Health Services branch of the ADF. His profile in the psychiatric research community in Australia has led to his appointment as the deputy chair of the Mental Health Research Grant Panel of the National Medical and Research Council of Australia. This role has ensured the recognition of traumatic stress in the broader mental health field in Australia.

McFarlane’s published work has received close to 2,000 citations since 1995, giving him the distinction of being one of the most cited researchers in the field of traumatic stress. Apart from being published in numerous prominent journals, he has edited three books and played the initiating role in developing Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body and Society (edited with van der Kolk and Weisaeth, 1996), which summarized critical areas of knowledge in the trauma field 15 years after the emergence of the discipline. This has been the most purchased edited academic text in the field of traumatic stress and has been translated into German and Japanese. Currently McFarlane is in the process of completing a single-authored text about medico-legal issues in posttraumatic stress disorder, which will be published by Cambridge University Press.

Alexander McFarlane is an excellent researcher and a colleague who is highly respected worldwide. In addition to being an advisor and counselor to governments and international bodies, he was the first non-North American president of the society. In presenting the award to him, ISTSS honored a truly international colleague.