Panel Presentation

What Makes an Event Traumatic?

Sunday, March 25
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: Salon 12

Defining what makes adversity “traumatic” lies at the heart of studying trauma-related disorders. Diagnosis and treatment of such disorders hinge on the belief that a) traumatic stress is qualitatively different from other stress, and b) mental disorder with the characteristic symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder may (or may not) ensue only from suffering stress of that quality. What characterizes the experience of traumatic stress, the “subjective criterion” of traumatization? The DSM-IV attempted to define it as “intense fear, helplessness, or horror”. What kind of emotions, thoughts and action initiatives should we look for? Nobody will dispute that being trapped in a fire would be “extremely stressful to almost everyone” (the “objective” criterion for what makes the fire “potentially” traumatic, more so than losing a job)? What kind of “potential” is the person appraising while in danger, the kind that many people find in being trapped in a fire and only few find in losing a job? What makes some events more “potentially” traumatic than others? The members of the panel will offer their answer to that question and then will take and debate questions from the audience.  

Learning Objectives:

Laura S. Brown

Independent Practice
Seattle, Washington

Laura S. Brown is a clinical and forensic psychologist in Seattle, WA. She writes and speaks about feminist therapy, trauma, cultural competence and ethics. Her most recent book is Not the price of admission: Healthy relationships after childhood trauma. She holds the rank of black belt in aikido. She has worked for the last four decades with survivors of complex childhood developmental trauma, and is interested in the liberatory potential of psychotherapy.


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Robert A. Neimeyer

Professor of Psychology
University of Memphis
Memphis, Tennessee

Robert A. Neimeyer, Ph.D., is Professor in the Department of Psychology, University of Memphis, where he also maintains an active clinical practice. Since completing his doctoral training at the University of Nebraska in 1982, he has published 30 books, including Techniques of Grief Therapy: Creative Practices for Counseling the Bereaved and Grief and the Expressive Arts: Practices for Creating Meaning, the latter with Barbara Thompson, and serves as Editor of the journal Death Studies. The author of nearly 500 articles and book chapters, he is currently working to advance a more adequate theory of grieving as a meaning-making process, both in his published work and through his frequent professional workshops for national and international audiences. Neimeyer served as President of the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), and Chair of the International Work Group for Death, Dying, & Bereavement. In recognition of his scholarly contributions, he has been granted the Eminent Faculty Award by the University of Memphis, made a Fellow of the Clinical Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association, and given Lifetime Achievement Awards by both the Association for Death Education and Counseling and the International Network on Personal Meaning.


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Andreas Laddis

Private Practice
Andreas Laddis, MD
Shrewsbury, Massachusetts

I am a general psychiatrist, with some training in neurology added, but I draw my professional satisfaction mainly from psychotherapy for patients with trauma-related disorders. That began with my psychiatric training at the Sheppard-Pratt Hospital in Baltimore, USA. For many years later, I cultivated the practice of psychotherapy in state hospitals and community mental health centers.

Twenty years ago, ISSTD became my professional home, where I served two terms on the Board of Directors. Since then, collaboration with ISSTD colleagues has been the inspiration for my projects, like research, presentations and publications. I just finished five years as the Editor for Members’ Clinical Corner. I do reviews for the Journal of Trauma and Dissociation. I served on the task force that wrote the Guidelines for the Treatment of Complex PTSD.

I have been primarily a clinician. In another sense, the way my mind works while I do psychotherapy, I have always been a theoretician. Whenever my engagement with a patient becomes unproductive, I test hypotheses about the patients’ mental workings, why that happened, mostly reasons latent to patients themselves. That is how I developed my conceptual insights and treatment techniques. Clinicians commonly improvise the same way, occasionally with good outcomes. Frontiers will serve sharing such lessons collegially among front line practitioners for our Society and from outside.


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What Makes an Event Traumatic?

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