Wright State graduate psychology students conduct research on racial trauma training

From left: Research by School of Professional Psychology students Artesia Dunbar, Vanessa Prosper, Nina Talavera and Timea Tozser found that graduate psychology students need more resources and training on racial trauma. (Photo by Erin Pence)

More resources and training are needed for graduate psychology students on racial trauma, which can be critical in diagnosing and treating clients during therapy.

That was the indication of research conducted by four Wright State University School of Professional Psychology (SOPP) students and their faculty supervisor, Jeff Cigrang, Ph.D., professor and director of clinical training, the results of which were discussed at a national conference.

Artesia Dunbar, a student from Atlanta, said racial trauma is pervasive in the United States, made evident by media coverage on racial injustices between law enforcement and communities of color.

“Considering widely available documentation of the pervasive experiences of racial violence can be impactful for those who witness them and amplified by personal experiences, we feel that racial trauma training is an important competency to have as trainees,” she said. “Looking into how well different programs are addressing it, we think there is room for growth.”

Dunbar said racial trauma training is often not included in some clinical psychology programs and only lightly covered in others.

“Here we have a trauma course, and like other programs it is an elective,” she said. “One direction that could be impactful may be expanding current trauma training to cover this aspect of trauma in more depth and introducing it earlier to ensure our graduates feel comfortable working with clients around issues of race base trauma and bringing it into the conversation.”

Dunbar said psychologists need to be able to ask their clients how much of their difficulty might be related to racism.

“Helping us to become more comfortable in having these conversations and more confident that we have the tools, skills and insight needed to do so would help us engage with clients around this difficult topic and support the healing and wellbeing of clients that have experienced racial trauma,” she said.

Vanessa Prosper, of Palm Bay, Florida, said some mental health care providers are put in situations where they are not sufficiently prepared to deal with problems facing their clients.

“Clients are coming in with some of these issues and they’re not getting proper diagnosis,” she said. “They’re not getting proper treatment for the experience that they’re having. And therapists are not adequately equipped to have this conversation in the rooms, not able to process those emotions with those clients.”

Nina Talavera, of Lexington, Kentucky, and Timea Tozser, of Rochester, New York, were on SOPP’s clinical training committee last year during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. That prompted the committee to look at the clinical training being given on racial trauma and stress.

The two conducted a survey of School of Professional Psychology students, alumni and practicum supervisors about what kind of training was offered and what assessment measures and interventions would work.

Tozser said many students felt they were not gaining sufficient knowledge of therapeutic approaches to racial trauma.

“A large majority of our students who completed the survey believed they could benefit from more knowledge on racial trauma,” she said.

Tozser said that aligned with what the researchers found in psychology programs at other colleges, that students were asking for more resources and formal education on racial trauma.

She said many students at the School of Professional Psychology have worked with individuals in therapy sessions who exhibit racial trauma.

“We found that SOPP does a really nice job of providing a space for students to talk about racial trauma, whether it’s clinically or personally,” she said. “But there were some areas where students felt that we needed more education, more formalized assessments that may be utilized.”

She said the school’s strengths also included coursework that increased the comfort level of students when asked about racial trauma in clinical settings.

“And many students identified that at least one course that encouraged self-reflection on their own racial trauma narrative and their experience with such,” she said.

The researchers’ findings were presented in February at a roundtable discussion during a virtual education conference hosted by Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Talavera said she and Tozser asked the students, professors and psychologists at the conference what their experience was with racial trauma training.

“Each program takes an individualized approach if they have one. Not all programs do, but it is definitely something in the past two years that has really been increasing, which is a good sign,” said Talavera.

The researchers said they hope to publish their findings soon and present them at a larger conference. In addition, they plan to use the survey data and incorporate what they have learned into helping shape the curriculum at the School of Professional Psychology.

Prosper said she appreciates being able to talk about the issue of racial trauma training and hopes the research helps increase training in programs everywhere and improve services for psychology clients.

Dunbar said she is encouraged that people are talking about racial trauma and researching it.

“But I think more work needs to be done and more racial trauma training needs to be done, not only for those clinicians who will soon join the field but also for those that are currently in practice,” Dunbar said.

Comments are closed.