A group of scholars and students from the University of Tulsa have banded together from several disciplines to study all aspects of trauma and diversity, especially the ongoing effects of trauma in the lives of survivors. Their hope is that the knowledge gained by this special collaboration will serve to improve the care of those who continue to suffer from their experiences.
The Tulsa Institute for Trauma, Abuse and Neglect (TITAN), was born out of a desire for greater collaboration among experts from different academic fields. "In 2007, the president of TU [Dr. Steadman Upham] put out a call for competitive grants," said Joanne Davis, Ph.D., one of TITAN's five co-directors and an assistant professor of psychology at TU. "He wanted to start several interdisciplinary studies, and TITAN was one of five to be founded," Davis said, along with institutes studying nanotechnology, bioinformatics, alternative energy and information security.
According to President Upham, "Our goal was to create research synergies among investigators who are probing the same questions, but from different disciplinary perspectives. If you think about academic disciplines, they do not exist in isolation. Rather, they are constellations of ideas and learning that are connected to other fields of interest."
Upham said that researchers in such diverse fields as psychology, anthropology, economics, criminology and more are able to unite in TITAN in order to bring their own perspectives to the same problems. "The resulting intellectual milieu that is created when these faculty work together is robust and provides a seedbed of innovation and path-breaking research," Upham said.
"Everything is interdisciplinary," Davis said. Along with inter-university cooperation, the institute also has partnerships with outside organizations, including other academic institutions, law enforcement agencies, legislators and various civic entities. The insight of all these experts helps get a complete view of this complex subject.
Some of the complexity comes simply from the variety of possible disorders. According to Judith Herman, M.D., in her now classic Trauma and Recovery, "There is a spectrum of traumatic disorders, ranging from the effects of a single overwhelming event to the more complicated effects of prolonged and repeated abuse" (Basic Books 1997, p. 3).
TITAN studies all these variations of trauma and their effects, said Lisa DeMarni Cromer, Ph.D., another of TITAN's co-directors and an assistant professor of psychology at TU. Combat veterans, victims of sexual assault and other violent crime, survivors of serious accidents and disasters, journalists who witness and report on traumatic events, and also caretakers of the traumatized are all both the subjects of study and eventually the recipients of newfound knowledge. "There are many people involved in this project," Cromer said. "TITAN doesn't discriminate, because trauma doesn't discriminate," she said.
Several studies involve alleviating the symptoms of disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, among returning combat veterans. "[We] conducted a pilot study examining the efficacy of a treatment for trauma-related nightmares with veterans and found very positive results," Davis said. "We hope to be able to offer this intervention to more veterans in the future to help them obtain better sleep and overall mental health functioning."
Besides studying the victims of trauma, TITAN also gives attention to those guiding their recovery. "Dr. Elana Newman and a TITAN student, Jacob Finn, conducted a survey of mental heath practices and needs related to veterans to help guide future endeavors for ensuring the best available care for our veterans," Davis said.
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) are also studied. In cases of violent crime, such as sexual assault, often one of the first professionals to see a victim after hospital emergency room staff is a SANE, who is a registered nurse specially trained in both working compassionately with victims and in gathering forensic evidence for criminal investigation.
"Here in Oklahoma there is one training program for SANEs," said Kathleen Strunk, clinical assistant professor in the TU School of Nursing and another of TITAN's co-directors. This program is offered through the forensic sciences department of the OSU Center for Health Sciences. Strunk has teamed up with Kathy Bell, Forensic Nursing Administrator with the Tulsa Police Department and instructor of the OSU SANE course, to investigate the personality characteristics, organizational structure and job satisfaction of SANEs, whose job requires a delicate mixture of empathy and professional distance. "That truly is what has interested me -- how these nurses maintain this and satisfaction with the work that they do," Strunk said.
Also in collaboration with the SANE program, Davis and several students conducted a study of a pre-exam video, produced by the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center of Charleston, South Carolina, shown to victims of assault. The 15 minute video "essentially describes some of the common effects of a sexual assault and basic strategies for coping for these effects," Davis said. "We found it to be helpful in reducing the anxiety and distress over time of women who viewed it. [The video] is now being used as part of the standard care of sexual assault victims in Tulsa. We hope to get funding to expand the use of this video throughout Oklahoma," Davis said.
In all, about 10 studies have been completed, and 11-12 are ongoing. "[Some] main areas of research concern interventions, occupational health, and underserved people. For example, for women who are convicted of substance abuse crimes, ways are being explored to offer them treatment rather than jail time," Davis said. Other studies include investigations into the emotional development of young children who have been exposed to trauma and ways to identify predictors among domestic violence offenders.
Knowledge for its own sake has value, but TITAN's scholarly pursuits are undertaken with the belief that foundational knowledge can lead to practical results.
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