Jeanne M. Felter, Ph.D., LPC
CTC Program Director
In 1985, Vincent Felitti, MD, set out to assist obese patients in their weight loss goals. Upon close examination, Felitti uncovered that obesity was frequently the outward manifestation of psychological stress that resulted from past trauma. This initial observation set in motion a large-scale epidemiological study of the impact of stressful childhood experiences on future behaviors, social problems, psychological health, and disability.
This research, referred to as the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study (Felitti et al, 1998), sparked an awareness of the astounding prevalence of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, violence, and substance use in the U.S. Findings showed that individuals with more frequent and varied ACEs (trauma histories) were at greater risk for serious health and medical conditions resulting from alcohol, drugs, disordered eating, self injury, or other coping mechanisms employed to decrease the psychological pain associated with trauma. Perhaps most notably, this research further uncovered that the underlying cause of these physical and psychosocial problems, the trauma history, frequently went undetected because of shame, secrecy, and social taboo.
Fast-forward fifteen years to 2013. The unfortunate state of our world is that violent acts are increasing, and people are more frequently faced with unimaginable hardships. People today are far more likely to be victims of violent acts perpetrated by humans, and the number of individuals affected by natural disasters around the world is rising. In recent months, the U.S. has met with much adversity including the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, and the Boston Marathon bombings. These are the “Big T” traumas- those that capture media attention and cause widespread anxiety. But mental health clinicians understand that traumatic events rarely make the headlines. Traumatic stress, tragedy, and adversity are merely part of the human experience in today’s world.
Mental health settings must be well equipped to identify and address current and past histories of trauma exposure among today’s clients. Many organizations are developing initiatives and agendas to accomplish this aim, and direct service providers working in community mental health, private practice, hospitals, and schools are more frequently seeking out and engaging in advanced trauma training. Additionally, research on the impact of traumatic stress and evidenced-based practices for effective trauma treatment is burgeoning.
Despite the growing awareness of the impact of trauma on psychological health, there remains a significant disparity between the need for trauma-related psychological services, and the availability of professionals with expertise in psychological trauma. And it is perhaps the most important players in trauma competency development, higher education training programs, who have lagged in their commitment to train trauma professionals.
The concept of trauma continues to be but a fleeting discussion in a meager number of graduate classrooms. The Presidential Task Force of the Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (now called the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies) first uncovered a void in trauma curriculum among training programs in 1989. Courtois and Gold (2009) similarly expressed a need for trauma curriculum development, declaring a “call to action” for higher education institutions and underscoring an “urgent need for the inclusion of information about trauma in the psychology curriculum.” The authors recognized that a few programs are beginning to add on trauma-focused classes, trauma electives, or other courses not embedded in the curriculum, but criticized this normed approach as falling short of the necessary scaffolding of trauma competency development. The authors called for a full integration of trauma skills, knowledge and research within graduate curriculum, and further recommended trauma training begin within undergraduate social science programs.
Philadelphia University has recognized the need to adequately train clinicians to work effectively with people in our ever-changing world, and is blazing a new path with the introduction of the Community and Trauma Counseling Masters Program. The CTC program holds as its central mission developing competent, knowledgeable, and skilled trauma-informed clinicians. Trauma competencies and knowledge are infused in the fabric of every course offered in the 60 credit sequence, and students are engaging in top-notch clinical training in settings in Philadelphia and beyond that are dedicated to trauma treatment and prevention.
While the Community and Trauma Counseling Program is uniquely focused, it is also offered in a traditional day program model (weekdays), as well as a flexible 2 or 3 year executive format that allows students to maintain full- or part-time employment while earning their degree and advancing their careers. In the executive program, students engage in class meetings two weekends per month throughout the year and participate regularly in asynchronous online interactions with instructors and peers. This distinctive focus, coupled with the flexible formats offered underscores the University’s commitment to being relevant, cutting-edge, accessible, and student-centered.
Further answering the aforementioned authors’ call (Cortios & Gold, 2009), the University has also developed two combined B.S.-M.S. opportunities, where students can achieve both a trauma-focused Bachelors and Masters degree in five years.
Graduates of the Community and Trauma Counseling Masters Program will be eligible for state licensure and national certification in professional counseling, and will have a skill-set, knowledge base, and competencies that far surpass graduates of general counseling programs. They will be uniquely positioned to have an immediate and positive impact on the organizations they work for and the individuals and communities they serve. Philadelphia University's Community and Trauma Counseling Program is answering the call.
Courtois, C.A. & Gold, S.N. (2009). The need for inclusion of psychological trauma in the professional curriculum: A call to action. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 1, 3-23.
Felitti, V.J., Anda, R.F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D.F., Spitz, A.M., Edwards, V., Koss, M.P., Marks, J.S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. American journal of preventative medicine, 14(4), 245-258.
The Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (1989). The initial report of the presidential task force on curriculum, education, and training. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.