The New School’s Trauma and Affective Psychophysiology Lab Becomes a Field Site for the Complex Trauma Training Collective
The New School’s Trauma and Affective Psychophysiology Lab was recently selected to serve as a field site for a national training initiative, the Complex Trauma Training Collective. Complex trauma—trauma that results from sustained or repeated traumatic experiences—is much more common than trauma resulting from a single event like a car accident. The initiative trains New School master’s and PhD Psychology students and participating faculty to serve as facilitators for community-based training in addressing complex trauma. Funded by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, this train-the-trainer program offers introductory-level training that can be taken to community settings like schools, community-based outpatient clinics, hospitals, and organizations that serve people affected by trauma.
“There are 18 national experts who will lead our students and faculty through the training. Then we’ll bring that training to people in the community who may be teachers, school counselors, police officers, clergy, community organizers, youth group leaders, and others,” says Wendy D’Andrea, associate professor of psychology and director of the Trauma and Affective Psychopathology Lab. “This is a tremendous opportunity for our students. They will become credentialed trainers who are included in a repository with the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Once they have received the credential and gone through the training process, which takes about a year, they can independently contract to provide training with any type of agency and can volunteer for training or pursue paid training opportunities.” The students will be joined in the training by three Psychology department faculty: Lillian Polanco-Roman, assistant professor of psychology; Lisa Litt, assistant professor of psychology; and Melany Rivera Maldonado, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Safran Center for Psychological Services.
Participants will receive basic training, during which they will learn about manifestations of trauma, assessment of trauma, trauma and biology, and the way trauma affects emotional perception, relationships, and other psychological phenomena. They will develop an understanding of the way trauma affects specific populations such as those who are incarcerated or in the juvenile justice system, LGBTQ+ youth, and families dealing with intergenerational trauma, substance misuse, and homelessness. “We’re trying to increase specialized knowledge around communities that are often overlooked or non-centered in trauma recovery but are widely represented among the people trauma affects,” says D’Andrea.
The focus of the Trauma and Affective Psychopathology Lab’s work is the investigation of the effects of chronic or complex trauma and the way they differ from the effects of an acute traumatic experience, such as an assault. They look at how information processes, especially attention and cognition, are affected by prolonged trauma exposure and how the effects can be addressed through therapeutic interventions. “We try to understand what is going on beyond or what connects to the symptoms or illness features people might report. People report flashbacks or a lot of shame. We are looking at how people’s fundamental behavior and experience shift. We use tools from the field of psychobiology—people will do some sort of standardized task or set up an experimental situation—while monitoring their physiology.”
The lab also brings this understanding of trauma to intervention settings, which ranges from traditional psychotherapy to community-based programming, a form of intervention that has assumed increasing importance. “We have worked with the Trauma Informed Surf Camp in South Africa, internally displaced people in South Sudan, Syrian refugees in Jordan, and children in Gaza. Our goal is to create communities of people who can be supportive to take the recovery process beyond the clinic.”
This project was the basis for a paper published in the journal Research on Child Development and Psychopathology, in which the lab discussed mental health support services for children in Gaza who are experiencing ongoing trauma.
“We carry our experiences with us and we are shaped by them in ways that we don’t necessarily see. There can be a lot of strength and creativity from that, and there can be a lot of suffering. The field has come to appreciate the ubiquity of trauma, especially when you start to include forms of trauma that have been historically excluded from the field—experiences closely tied to discrimination and emotional abuse within the family. Those have been defined out of what counts as trauma, but those seem to have just as big an impact as car accidents, war, or natural disasters,” says D’Andrea.