About ISTSS
Complex Trauma SIG
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Complex Trauma SIG

Mission Statement

The focus of the Complex Trauma special interest group is on the development, co-occurring symptoms and treatment challenges associated with chronic or severe interpersonal trauma. With respect to the development of complex trauma, it is recognized that an identifiable traumatic event is not always discernible, especially for young children for whom the simple unavailability of a caregiver may signify a severe life-threatening danger and who necessarily depend upon the caregiver to help them organize and process their reactions to extreme stress. Moreover, even for an adult, a traumatic event may not necessarily involve a physical threat so much as a psychological threat to the integrity of the self by an attachment figure. Profound stressors such as group violence and chronic exposure to stressors such as poverty and deprivation and community violence can also affect individuals and communities in ways that are not limited to PTSD and can exacerbate the effects of other identifiable stressors that in isolation would not ordinarily lead to excessive suffering. Thus, a focus on complex trauma necessarily attends to the historical and current context of severe stress as well as the systemic cultural factors of privilege and disadvantage that create the social ecology in which complex trauma can develop. The fact that events such as these are indeed significant has been demonstrated repeatedly by neuroscience research indicating long-term and perhaps irreversible psychophysiological effects on brain organization. The co-occurring problems observed in individuals who have experienced complex trauma are varied and include affective, anxiety, dissociative and somatoform disorders as well as interpersonal problems and substance abuse. These symptoms are associated both with treatment-seeking as well as negative outcomes in traditional treatment approaches. Therefore, in addition to exploring the development and correlates of complex trauma, this SIG seeks to address the concerns of clinicians whose clients typically consist of children and adults suffering from the pervasive and long-term effects of chronic interpersonal trauma.

This SIG looks to knowledge currently being generated by a number of different fields and disciplines ? including attachment theory, with its emphasis on intimate relationships and caregivers as either sources of trauma themselves or as unable to protect children from fear or trauma; developmental psychopathology, with its emphasis on trajectories of symptoms and vulnerability to subsequent trauma as a function of initial failures in the caregiving relationship; neuroscience research, with its discovery of neurobiological abnormalities associated with abusive or neglectful family relationships; and psychotherapy outcome research conducted on the treatment of patients with complex trauma histories.

We welcome new ideas and members. For more information, please contact Wendy D'Andrea at dandreaw@newschool.edu or Paul Frewen at pfrewen@uwo.ca.

Chairs

Wendy D'Andrea, PhD
The New School for Social Research
Dept of Psychology
80 Fifth Ave 6th Flr
New York, NY 10011
Phone: (212) 229-5727x3257
Email: dandreaw@newschool.edu 

Paul Frewen, PhD
Univ of Western Ontario
Univ Hospital B3-264
London, ON N6A 5A5
Canada
Phone: (519) 685-8500x77760
Email:pfrewen@uwo.ca