Department studies emotional trauma

Traumatology is a new field or research aimed at people who are seekingjobs in which they will deal with people in traumatic situations.

First response and first care providers such as paramedics and firemenmust deal with trauma on a daily basis. Social workers and psychologistsalso have to deal with trauma, but of a different kind. They must workwith deep emotional trauma. The goal of traumatology is to betterprepare individuals to deal with the emotional stresses of helpingtrauma victims.

Michael Rank is an associate professor in the school of social work anddirector of USF’s fledgling traumatology department. Rank said thatdeveloping traumatology in the already established school of social workat USF is a good fit.

“Social workers are on the front line,” Rank said. “I thought this(traumatology program is) natural for the social work program.”

Rank said the overall goal is to develop good social work students whocan help people involved with trauma.

Rank said he wants social work students to be trained and prepared sowhen they are faced with traumatic circumstances, they will know how todeal with them.

“The mission is to train as many people as possible,” he said. “Theyneed to have a voice and we need to listen. The mission is to bringattention to the power of emotion.”

Rank said in the field of traumatology, researchers are trying todevelop a good system of dealing with the emotional traumas thatcontinue after physical trauma has occurred.

The key problem is what is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Ranksaid.

According to Rank, PTSD occurs when someone who has experienced a severetrauma has trouble coping with its effects. Even if a person hasrecovered from the immediate trauma of an injury, small things maytrigger a memory, he said.

“What we try to do is put it into philosophical perspective,” Rank said.”We have to make sense of things in our lives.”

Rank said it is human nature to question why bad things take place inour lives.

The way to heal is to be able to put a traumatic event into perspective,he said. Rank said 20 percent of the population is unable to puttraumatic events into perspective.

He said the key to understanding social work and traumatology is tounderstand human nature.

“We’re experts at emotions – we are not creatures of logic, butcreatures of emotion,” he said. “You have to make peace within yourself,and then you can help others. The mission is to bring attention to thepower of emotion.”

Rank himself has a perspective on his field. He is a veteran of theVietnam War. Rank said experiencing the traumas war presents gives himan advantage in his field.

“It gives me a more informed perspective than others,” he said.

Rank said he is still in the process of building the program at USF.This past weekend the Traumatology Institute from Florida State held aseminar at USF. Rank’s research is ongoing. His goal, however, is to havean undergraduate class offered on the subject.

Rank said he has been working closely with Charles Figley from FloridaState University to build the program at USF.

Figley, Rank said, is the creator of traumatology research.According to Rank, Figley developed the field of traumatology afterseeing the emotional scars that occurred during the Oklahoma Citytragedy.

Rank believes by working closely with Figley and studying his success atFlorida State, USF can develop a very good traumatology department.Rank is currently in the process of further study on traumatology. Hewas given an 18-month, $164,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research.

Rank has been interviewing and studying survivors of Hurricane Mitch inNicaragua and of Hurricane Andrew in South Florida.

He has already been able to draw some interesting conclusions.

People who experienced this type of disaster in Nicaragua were forced tobond together to rebuild. People in the United States, however,typically handle the trauma internally and not with a community. Thepeople in the Nicaraguan disaster were forced to come together. Withshared misery, recovery is faster.

“People recounting their stories in South Florida are much more privateand isolated with their misery,” Rank said. “We really need a sense ofcommunity.”

He said this sense of community allows the healing process to happenmore rapidly. This is why people in Nicaragua seem to be handling theirtrauma better, he said.

“They immediately band together and formed a social support structure,”he said. “They had to create their own healing network.”