Ken Benau, PhD
For those of you able to attend the upcoming annual ISST-D conference in Chicago, Illinois, March 24-26, you are in for a real treat with respect to our plenary speakers. With Robert Neimeyer, Ph.D., Edward Tick, Ph.D., and Donna Hicks, Ph.D., we will explore death, grief and trauma (Neimeyer), warrior trauma, moral injury and the soul (Tick), and how dignity informs our understanding of individual and collective conflict and healing (Hicks).
Robert Neimeyer, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Memphis, and is best known for his extensive research into and clinical work with death and grief. He has published 30 books and nearly 500 articles and book chapters and is currently working to advance a theory of grieving as a meaning-making process. As perhaps the most renowned researcher into the psychological responses to death and loss, Dr. Neimeyer will assist us in plummeting the depths of grief processes both normative and traumatic, and enable participants to better understand what we, as human beings, need in order to process common and catastrophic loss. As a constructivist, Dr. Neimeyer emphasis is on how we give death and loss meaning, something essential to our work with complex trauma survivors who, in many cases, lost much before ever having achieved a secure relational foundation.
Edward Tick, Ph.D. is co-founder of Soldier’s Heart, a comprehensive program aimed to heal the hearts, minds and souls of warriors. As observed on his website, “At Soldier’s Heart, we do not consider PTSD to be a mental disorder. Instead, we believe it is a normal reaction to a traumatic experience. It is the expression of anguish, dislocation, and rage of the self as it attempts to cope with its loss of innocence and reformulate a new personal identity.” Dr. Tick is best known for several books about war and the soul, including War and the Soul, Warriors Return, and Restoring the Warrior’s Soul. Dr. Tick is not being merely poetic when he writes about the soul. His approach integrates traditional and non-traditional pathways to healing warrior trauma and moral injury, with particular emphasis on understanding and working creatively with the collective and mythic aspects of the warrior’s journey and his or her return. Dr. Tick’s plenary address should give us much to think about with respect to our work with survivors of both war and other life or soul-threatening experiences.
Finally, Donna Hicks, Ph.D. work on dignity has transformed how we think about working with individual, collective, intra-national and international conflict. Dr. Hicks, author of Dignity: It’s Essential Role in Resolving Conflict, is a leading expert in working to define and restore the dignity of individuals, groups and nations. Based at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University for more than two decades, Dr. Hick’s clients include the World Bank, the United Nations, and governments worldwide. As she remarks on her website, “Learning about dignity is no longer an option. It’s a human imperative. We know now that the desire to be treated with dignity is universal. Even though we were all born with dignity, we are not born knowing how to act like it.” As clinicians and researchers working with complex, relational trauma, we know all too well the toll taken on the survivor’s sense of inherent worth or dignity. Shame and its pernicious effects both overt and covert dominate the intrapersonal and interpersonal landscape of these survivors. As some have written, dignity can be understood as the best antidote to shame [cf. Chefetz, R. A. (2017). Dignity is the opposite of shame and pride is the opposite of guilt. Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis. 11, 119-133]. Dr. Hicks’ unique perspective will teach us much about how dignity is both lost and restored, individually and as a society.