International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

ISTSS Award Recipient Reflections on Receiving the 2013 Frank W. Putnam Trauma Research Scholar Award

Posted 23 July 2014 by Sarah Campbell, MA

I was honored to accept the Frank W. Putnam Trauma Research Scholar award at the ISTSS 2013 Annual Meeting. While at the meeting, I witnessed the tremendously stimulating interdisciplinary community that is comprised of ISTSS members. Since then, I have continued to be inspired by and profit from the exchanges that occur within this great community. From email and phone meetings with senior researchers, to webinars that enhance my knowledge of ethical issues in trauma research, there are myriad resources within ISTSS that have bolstered my development as a budding clinical scientist.

My study collects nightly assessments from service members with posttraumatic stress symptoms, and their romantic partners, over the course of 14 nights. I believe this daily process approach to assessing human functioning is an ideal way to better understand the day-to-day lives of traumatized individuals.

Daily process approaches have been praised for providing “a detailed, accurate, and multi-faceted portrait of social behavior embedded in its natural context” (Reis & Gable, 2000, p. 190). While I would soften that language somewhat to say “more detailed, and more accurate,” it is nonetheless true that if we ask someone to reflect on their experiences over the last hour or the last day, we’re capturing a closer snapshot of their true experience, less clouded by the fog of memory.

I hope to extend this awareness and understanding to the lives of those who share the experience of living with, loving and caring for those traumatized individuals. By using a dyadic daily assessment approach to studying combat-related PTSD, my aim is to uncover some of the micro-level pathways that make up the cycle of distress for post-trauma couples. The social environment is a critical factor in the post-trauma period and understanding the exchanges that occur in that environment will help us to better treat trauma.

For instance, there are most certainly interactions between combat-related PTSD symptoms expressed by service members and feelings of intimacy in their romantic partners. How do those two experiences play out on a daily level? What does the experience of each person prompt the other one to do? How do these cycles perpetuate themselves over time, and how can we best intervene in those cycles as a community of researchers, clinicians, scholars and advocates?

In a related line of research, how can we identify factors that make certain couples resilient to the protracted negative effects of combat trauma? Significant others can play a huge role in initiating the healing process after trauma or prolonging the suffering of PTSD. It is imperative that we understand not only how to help romantic partners assist those suffering from posttraumatic stress, but also how to help the partners too – full stop.

This is an exciting time to pursue training in traumatic stress and related disorders. There is increasing awareness of the phenomenon of PTSD, which will hopefully raise understanding and reduce stigma (slowly, over time, to be sure!). Our field is developing new methods for assessing trauma, conceptualizing symptoms, and gathering daily experiences of trauma sufferers and their loved ones that will assist in identifying additional areas for intervention. I’m looking forward to seeing which new approaches to posttraumatic stress studies future Frank W. Putnam Trauma Research Scholar Award winners will bring to the field, and I continue to express my gratitude for the opportunity I was given last fall.

Data collection for my proposed project is underway, and it has already been tremendously rewarding to see my proposal taking on new life. The award money is being used to compensate the participant couples (service members and spouses or partners) who are providing such valuable snapshots of their daily experiences, and I hope to have data collection completed by December 2014. I look forward to sharing the results of this study with the ISTSS community and to receiving constructive feedback. I also eagerly look forward to long-term involvement in the ISTSS community as I continue my development as a traumatic stress researcher.


About the Author

Sarah B. Campbell, MA, is currently a doctoral student in clinical psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Her research primarily investigates the interpersonal environment of those suffering from PTSD and couple processes more broadly. Her research has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) and the American Psychological Foundation (APF).

Citation: Reis, H. T., & Gable, S. L. (2000). Event-sampling and other methods for studying everyday experience. In H. T. Reis & C. M. Judd (Eds.), Handbook of research methods in social and personality psychology (pp. 190–222). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.