Session: Conceptualizing and Researching "Trauma" within Social Work Science: Critical Interrogations of Research Theories, Modalities, and Constructs across Cultures (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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266 Conceptualizing and Researching "Trauma" within Social Work Science: Critical Interrogations of Research Theories, Modalities, and Constructs across Cultures

Friday, January 22, 2021: 5:00 PM-6:00 PM
Cluster: International Social Work & Global Issues
Cindy Sousa, PhD, MSW, MPH, Bryn Mawr College, Martha Bragin, PhD, Hunter College and Bree Akesson, PhD, Wilfrid Laurier University
"Trauma" is a core construct in social work science, describing the experiences and effects of extreme adversities. Yet, despite its ubiquity, key questions about this construct remain. With the aim of advancing the science of trauma research, this roundtable will grapple with key questions such as: How should social work - as a profession concerned with empowerment and liberation - center the experiences of those who suffer within healing journeys? How do we construct and center culturally-contextualized models so that social work is better equipped to learn about suffering and survival? Rooted in diverse and rich examples from our decades of cross-cultural research and practice in Africa, the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and Latin America, we will deconstruct the concept of trauma through situating it within complex structural, social, and interpersonal contexts.

We will begin by providing an overview of the historical turning point that undergirds the construct of "trauma". The diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) entered the nomenclature in 1980, with its introduction celebrated in the United States and much of Europe. However, the diagnosis raised concern by local experts from global contexts. Despite the ways that trauma science has bolstered the expertise and unique abilities of social work to understand suffering, global critiques of the concept of "trauma" continually point to several problems, including an overreliance on Western concepts; a tendency to pathologize and individualize suffering that is social and communal in nature; and an overlooking of culturally-rooted, indigenous sources of meaning and recovery.

In the roundtable, we will propose several theoretical models and methodologies that help address these critiques. Drawing from our own experiences and the work of global colleagues, we will reflect on how social work science might uncover and center complex theoretical concepts rather than solely adhering to Western ones. We will explore methodological choices to help confront the challenges and ethical imperatives of promoting the voices, experiences, and standards of those most affected. We will highlight how ongoing global research partnerships may be harnessed to jointly uncover articulations of both suffering and resilience and to continually examine the dynamic terrain of hardship. For example, we will discuss the contexts underpinning the COVID-19 pandemic for our colleagues working to protect mental health in war-torn Afghanistan (Bragin); for Syrian refugees displaced in Lebanon (Akesson); and for Palestinians dealing with the crippling effects of war over generations (Sousa). In each of these situations, our global research partners rely on us to come with understandings of the current stressors at hand as well as the historical suffering and modes of survival that underpin their experiences.

By speaking specifically to the theories, propositions, and research modalities that help us better conceptualize "trauma" as a key construct within social work science, this roundtable will push the boundaries on the notion of trauma. Urging a departure from universalizing ascriptions of the term "trauma", our conversation will advocate for a focus on contextually-situated descriptions of distress and attention to the ways hardship interacts with dynamic sources of strength.

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