Student member of ISSTD, Christianna Flynn-Christianson has developed an early career interest in the assessment and treatment of Complex Trauma and Dissociative Disorders. In this interview she speaks of the benefits she gains from her ISSTD Membership which enables her to focus on her particular areas of interest, something that is not adequately covered in general psychology training, even at the doctoral level.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Christianna Flynn-Christianson and am originally from Suffolk, Virginia, currently living in Chicago, Illinois since 2012. I am a nature enthusiast and enjoy hiking in forest preserves, national parks, and anywhere else with a decent trail. I just returned from a lovely trip to rural Ireland (Counties Wexford and Wicklow), where my husband and I spent two weeks with my family, who lives in County Wicklow for about a month a year. I much prefer a good trail in the country to the pub atmosphere, though I did enjoy some Irish folk music during my stay as well. I also enjoy swimming in Lake Michigan in Chicago and the cycling, walking and running along the Lakefront path near my home. On occasion, I will compete in local sprint triathlons or running races just to keep fit.
Can you tell us a bit about your studies?
I am currently starting my third year at Adler University in the Clinical Psychology, Psy.D. program. Previously, I obtained a Master’s degree in Psychology with an emphasis on Social Psychology as well as a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. I am currently a Licensed Professional Counselor working at an inpatient psychiatric hospital outside Chicago. Previous supervised clinical experience included a one year practicum at American Indian Health Services, where I did counseling with a diverse group of American Indian patients from various tribes, most of whom were trauma survivors. I also worked as a case manager with an organization which helps transition institutionalized individuals to independent living. I just completed my diagnostic practicum at an inpatient psychiatric hospital with a population of predominantly children and adolescents. Currently, I am awaiting the start of my therapy practicum at a college counseling center known for excellent supervision and multicultural competency. I have also completed basic level one clinical hypnosis training and look forward to completing my intermediate training in the Fall. I have clinical and research interests in Complex PTSD, DID, trauma and resiliency in the transgender and gender nonconforming community, and clinical hypnosis.
How did you hear about ISSTD? What led you to join ISSTD as a SEP member?
I heard about ISSTD through my dissertation chair, Dr. Janna Henning, at Adler University. I met with her during my first semester and expressed an interest in becoming competent to serve the needs of individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder. I had noticed during both master’s programs and already in my first year of doctoral training that attitudes and information provided in classroom instruction and clinical supervision had predominantly been grounded in sensationalized myths and misinformation, seemingly biased against viewing DID as a legitimate diagnosis. By this time, I had already interacted both clinically and relationally with multiple individuals who had shared their how difficult it was to get connected with a therapist competent in working with patients with DID. Dr. Henning was the first individual I had encountered who understood my concerns about the way the field seemed to view both DID as a diagnostic phenomenon and the impact this had on patient care. She recommended I read ISSTD’s Guidelines for Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder in Adults. Admittedly, I waited until my first day of diagnostic practicum, where I was somehow given a case where the psychiatrist listed DID as a rule out. I was paired with an individual who was gratefully open to the idea and she and I both read the Guidelines to complete the case. In this experience, I learned how difficult it is as a student to obtain adequate clinical supervision on diagnosing individuals with DID. While the DSM-5 does have some useful information to aid in the process, I found the Guidelines to be much more robust and helpful in navigating the nuances of diagnosing. I was so impressed with the Guidelines that I visited the website and later registered for the 2018 conference, which was conveniently located in Chicago. I joined as a student and emerging professionals member because I am interested in increasing competence in our field, particularly among newer clinicians who may be open to learning what the research actually says about DID.
How have you found your experience in ISSTD? What has the SEP membership been like for you?
In my first conference experience with ISSTD, I was taken aback by how grounded and friendly people were. I found people at the conference to be open-minded and validating of my experiences in the field. It was particularly meaningful for me to have dialogue with both workshop facilitators and first-time attendees about attitudes in the field, therapy approaches and additional training opportunities. I was moved by the Dissociation 101 workshop and learning about the history of ISSTD, and I think I started to understand how and why the field views DID in such polarized ways. Since the 2018 ISSTD conference, I attended the Complex Issues in C-PTSD and DID treatment online workshop and hope to attend additional workshops soon. As someone invested and passionate about bringing services to this community, it has been transformative for me to have access to more support, research and resources that are directly relevant to my clinical interests. I am grateful to have found ISSTD during my doctoral program because clinical practica tend to be geared toward shaping generalists, rather than specialists. While it is currently more difficult to pursue specialized clinical practica that would grant me the ability to gain meaningful clinical experience in working with DID and C-PTSD on a longer term basis, I view this time as an important opportunity to build my clinical toolkit so that when I am able to pursue more specialized positions, I have attended conferences and workshops and have built a network of supportive colleagues.
What are your hopes for your future career directions?
As I look around the field, I am aware of the gap in services for individuals who have already suffered unspeakable trauma who have profound difficulty locating competent providers who can help them heal. I could see myself starting in a trauma specialist unit with inpatient psychiatric patients to continue to develop clinical competency, and transitioning to community mental health, where I could work to meet the needs of individuals who have few options. I also plan to teach graduate school, hopefully in a PsyD program, where I can ensure that information about DID and C-PTSD is accurate and grounded in research. In supervision, I plan to advocate for more emphasis on thorough clinical interviewing, provide training on diagnostic tools for trauma and dissociation, and helping trainees better understand the etiology of DID. Over time, I also hope to become increasingly more involved with ISSTD’s special interest groups and continue to participate in annual conferences. One area I’d like to work on is increasing student participation with ISSTD. After noticing the challenges with supervision and education about trauma and dissociation, I know students will benefit from exposure to ISSTD to increase their knowledge in these areas.