International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Conference on Innovations in Trauma Research Methods: Highlights of Inaugural Meeting

Posted 1 December 2005 in StressPoints by Jeffrey Sonis, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The First Annual Conference on Innovations in Trauma Research Methods (CITRM) attracted more than 120 attendees to New Orleans in November. CITRM was founded as an outgrowth of activities of the ISTSS Research Methodology Special Interest Group and is devoted exclusively to research methods in the area of psychological trauma.

The conference theme for 2004 was Methodological Issues in Addressing Mass Disaster and Terrorism. Fran Norris, Dartmouth University and the National Center for PTSD, gave an insightful plenary address that framed key issues for the entire conference. Norris described the methodological aspects of 215 disaster studies published between 1981 and 2004. She reported that measurement has improved in the past 23 years, but also noted that researchers need to pay more attention to developing large random samples and collecting longitudinal data.

One session focused on measurement issues. Frank Weathers, Auburn University, emphasized the limitations of checklist approaches to measuring the complexity of exposure to trauma. Two sessions featured the topic of sampling. Bill Schlenger, Research Triangle Institute, and Roxanne Cohen Silver, University of California, Irvine, gave a presentation on Web-based sampling. They reported that one major advantage of Web-based sampling is that studies using large, nationally representative samples can be launched shortly after disasters, if researchers use preexisting Web-enabled samples. The Methodological Think Tank focused on a study of the March 11, 2004, al-Qaeda attack on Madrid commuter trains. Rafael Gabriel Sanchez and Laura Ferrando, Universidad de Alcalá, Madrid, reported that they collected data on three groups affected by the attacks, and panelists Linda Bourque, UCLA, Brett Litz, Boston University and the National Center for PTSD, and Sandro Galea, Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies, commented on the strengths and limitations of these approaches.

Three sessions presented innovative statistical methods. Daniel King and Lynda King, Boston University and the National Center for PTSD, presented new longitudinal methods for trauma research, including adaptations of time series and latent growth curve approaches. Dalene Stangl, Duke University, introduced Bayesian statistical methods to trauma researchers. In his presentation on multilevel modeling, Ichiro Kawachi, Harvard University, noted that multilevel models enable researchers to examine the effects of both individual and group-level variables on individual responses to trauma.

Joan Sieber, California State University, Hayward, suggested that the abstract ethical principles governing all human research must be interpreted appropriately to the unique complexities of disasters. Terence Keane, Boston University and the National Center for PTSD, facilitated a lively brainstorming session devoted to identifying important questions in disaster research. One of the most common issues raised by audience members was the need for longitudinal studies.

Sessions on time management (Jayne Thorson, University of Michigan) and a Pathways to Publication workshop (Joseph Guydish, University of California, San Francisco) provided useful career guidance to researchers at all levels of expertise. These were followed by a panel discussion on trauma research career development organized by Karestan Koenen, Harvard University, and led by Julie Kaplow, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Several panel members noted that taking advantage of unplanned opportunities was a key factor in their success. Panel members were Paula Schnurr, Dartmouth University and National Center for PTSD, Grant Marshall, RAND Corporation, David Foy, Pepperdine University, and Ned Rodriguez, Trauma Research Consultant, Santa Monica, California.

For many of the attendees, some of the most useful moments of the conference occurred during the multiple opportunities for informal discussions with other attendees. As one noted: “There was ample time to interact with people, and the attitude of all was extremely collegial. People were open about brainstorming and sharing ideas. The way the conference was organized brought out the very best in people as scientists and peers.”

CITRM 2005 will be held November 6–7, in Toronto, immediately following the ISTSS annual meeting. In 2005, CITRM will welcome submissions for methodologically oriented presentations and posters; watch for details on the CITRM Web site at

Jeffrey Sonis, MD, MPH, is assistant professor of social medicine and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.