International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

ISTSS Lifetime Achievement Award Presented to Ochberg

Posted 1 January 2004 in StressPoints by ISTSS

Frank M. Ochberg, MD, is the 2003 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor given by ISTSS. It is awarded to the individual who has made great lifetime contributions to the field of traumatic stress studies. Ochberg is an acclaimed psychiatrist, pioneer in trauma science, educator, diplomat, chair emeritus of the Dart Center Executive Committee, and a founder of organizations, including ISTSS.

A graduate of Harvard University and Johns Hopkins Medical School, Ochberg has dedicated his life and work to the prevention of the psychological consequences of violence. Following the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King in the late '60s, Ochberg, then a resident at the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University, helped form a group of students and faculty to study dimensions of aggression. Shortly afterward, he co-edited the book, Violence and the Struggle for Existence. That was only the beginning--he directed his professional life into what would become a lifelong career of service, research, education, treatment, and international leadership in the interrelated fields of trauma, crisis and coping with violence and cruelty.


Onno van der Hart (left) congratulates Frank Ochberg following the awards ceremony.

Ochberg has worked with the National Institute for Mental Health, the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Security Council. Though he was responsible for community mental health primarily in the United States, he was an advisor and instructor for numerous governments and international organizations.

While on a European assignment, Ochberg conducted one of the first systematic studies of political terrorism. It was from this research that he defined the term, "The Stockholm Syndrome," used to describe the phenomenon of interpersonal seduction of victims. This is discussed in the book Victims of Terrorism, which he co-edited with David Soskis.

Ochberg had several key roles within the American Psychiatric Association that helped shift policy toward a more informed view of traumatization. He advocated policy initiatives that helped overcome resistance to the PTSD diagnosis. He was part of the Vietnam War generation of "Young Turks" within APA who moved for open elections, advancing a feminist agenda, and recognizing minority rights. His philosophy of treatment (collegial, gentle, individualized) became the theme of a number of influential writings, including the first text on PTSD treatment, in his 1988 book, Posttraumatic Therapy and Victims of Violence.

In the 1980s and 1990s Ochberg became an international leader. He served as professor of psychiatry and criminal justice at Michigan State University and secured the backing of the Dart Foundation as its principal representative. The Dart Award for Excellence in Reporting on Victims of Violence was established under Ochberg's leadership. The award is part of a larger strategy to reform journalism education; Ochberg is helping to transform journalism into a more trauma-sensitive profession worldwide. As a result of his efforts, there now are curricula in many journalism schools involving interactions among students, survivors and trauma experts. Ochberg's influence on the Dart Center has been so great that the Dart Fellowships have been renamed the Dart Center's Ochberg Fellowships.

Ochberg provided the start-up grants and helped to create and maintain Gift from Within, the only global nonprofit organization for people with PTSD. He also has produced and funded public service announcements on PTSD awareness that aired in the USA to more than 4 million homes. In the past few years he coordinated and narrated "When Helping Hurts: Sustaining Trauma Workers," a Gift from Within videotape that won several awards.

Recently Ochberg was named the second winner of the Academy of Traumatology Golden Award for achievement by a member. And at the 2003 annual meeting in Chicago, ISTSS announced the creation of a new annual award, the Frank Ochberg Award for Media and Trauma Study, in recognition of Ochberg's role in creating and sustaining this crucial and rapidly evolving field. The first Ochberg award will be presented at the ISTSS 20th Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

Frank Ochberg is a multitalented professional, and those who know him personally testify to his warmth and generosity, his commitment to reducing violence and trauma, and his dedication to fostering personal and professional growth among young people and those new to the field.