Reported by: Christine Stephens
Department of Psychology
A common focus of the presentations in this symposium was the application of
theoretical models in practice and research. Three of the papers highlighted
different aspects of practice but emphasised the importance of sound and
inclusive theoretical models. Theory is the essential basis for the resolution
of controversy and work designed to improve understandings in the diagnosis and
treatment of traumatic stress.
Graham Taylor and Chris Lee reviewed the clinical considerations and eight
phases of treatment underpinning the use of Eye Movement Desensitisation and
Reprocessing (EMDR). They proposed a model of trauma memory and resolution
based on information processing and psychobiological theory. This model, which
comprises a complex of components, is offered as a clinically useful heuristic
in establishing successful outcomes using EMDR. The authors demonstrated,
using two examples recently published, that critical evaluations of EMDR have
used only a limited or mislabeled presentation of the therapy, or participants
who were exposed to an invalid traumatic experience. Research demonstrating
positive therapeutic change using EMDR were reported.
Kathryn Gow addressed another controversial area of traumatic stress outcomes
by reporting on her experiences in working with and researching in the area of
`false memory syndrome'. Several variables that contribute to the development
of `recovered memories' have been covered in the psychological literature
including: the nature of memory, the role of hypnosis in therapy, and the
personality characteristics of client and therapist. Dr Gow suggested that
there are many additional factors within the social and therapeutic context
that contribute to these memories in complex interactions. These include
client characteristics, precipitating events, media induction, social-perceptual pre-conditioning, therapist beliefs, treatment settings and
secondary gain. The social effects go beyond the client and family and include
the effects of retractions and the consideration of `true memories'. The paper
was concluded with a warning to clinicians to gain informed consent, to keep
scrupulous records, to keep up with current research and to refresh their
understandings of the theory that informs their practice.
Tony Taylor discussed a single case which highlights some issues in the current
`repressed memory' debate. In the case of a young man charged with murder, the
defence was based on provocation resulting from a `flashback' experience and
a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. The defendant had been sexually
abused as a child, and the situation and behaviour of the victim of his attack
had momentarily returned him to memories of his childhood trauma to which he
responded with the emotions of the child but the strength of an adult. The
perpetrator of the abuse corroborated the similarities of the victim and the
situation to the past abuse and the jury accepted the defence. Although, as
Professor Taylor pointed out, this memory was retained throughout the young
man's life, and not repressed, the facts of the case raise some questions
regarding the nature of traumatic memory. He encouraged clinicians to return
to the study of memory processes in trauma prevention and treatment practice,
and cognitive psychologist to include these issues in future research.
A fourth paper by Douglas Paton and Leigh Smith shifted the focus of the
application of theory from practice to methodological and assessment issues in
researching work-related traumatic stress. Those whose work increases their
chances of being exposed to traumatic stressors include professional groups
such as firefighters and police officers. Theory development and testing in
this area is being hindered by the use of a range of methods and instruments,
many of which may be unreliable and invalid, so that comparison between studies
is difficult. The paper presented three central issues in this area. The
first issue is that of structural problems in the assessment measures used.
The measures that have been developed to assess PTSD treat the theoretical
construct as a single homogeneous entity, however, recent work has shown that
this assumption is not valid. A second issue is the nature of the
organisations and their practices which have been shown to interact with the
development of symptoms in workers following critical incidents. Thirdly, and
closely related to the first two issues, there is as a need for normative data
regarding symptomatology across types of work practice. Collection of such
data will involve longitudinal multi-wave designs rather than cross-sectional
or even pre- and post-event measures. Addressing these issues will be
important first steps in placing the study of work-related stress on a firm
The fifth paper was a joint presentation and a reminder of the very human and
tragic context of traumatic stress practice. Barry Parsonson described the
difficult conditions under which he and Jane Rawls taught psychologists at the
State University, Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia. The aim of the
programme was to develop theoretical knowledge and technical skills in
behaviour analysis to be used in work with children traumatised by civil war
and `ethnic cleansing' and to train future workers. The authors provided many
of the resources necessary for the training programme which lasted three
months. Jane Rawls presented some initial results of her work with the refugee
children in Georgia. This included a description of the children's stories of
war, escape and loss, and children's drawings that vividly portrayed some of
their horrific experiences and difficult present living conditions. The
presentation concluded with a moving photographic essay detailing the
conditions and people with whom Barry and Jane had worked.
Gow, K. (1997, August). The complexity of researching into "false memory
syndrome" In C. Stephens (Chair), Psychological aspects of trauma. Symposium
conducted at the New Zealand Psychological Society Conference, Palmerston
North, New Zealand.
Parsonson, B. S., & Rawls, J. M. (1997, August). Teaching psychologists in the
Republic of Georgia to apply behaviour analysis techniques to traumatised
children: A report. In C. Stephens (Chair), Psychological aspects of trauma.
Symposium conducted at the New Zealand Psychological Society Conference,
Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Paton, D., & Smith, L. (1997, August). Methodological and assessment issues in
researching work-related traumatic stress. In C. Stephens (Chair),
Psychological aspects of trauma. Symposium conducted at the New Zealand
Psychological Society Conference, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Taylor, G. & Lee, C. (1997, August). Eye movement desensitisation and
reprocessing (EMDR): Controversies, complexities and clinical considerations.
In C. Stephens (Chair), Psychological aspects of trauma. Symposium conducted
at the New Zealand Psychological Society Conference, Palmerston North, New
Taylor, A. J. W. (1997, August). Trauma as a function of encapsulated memory. In C. Stephens (Chair), Psychological aspects of trauma. Symposium conducted at the New Zealand Psychological Society Conference, Palmerston North, New Zealand.