Newsletter Section


Understanding and treating PTSD

Top row: Joyce Bittinger, Helen Miller, Lori Zoellner. Bottom row: Afsoon Eftekhari, Sally Moore. Not pictured: Michele Bedard
Top row: Joyce Bittinger, Helen Miller,
Lori Zoellner. Bottom row: Afsoon Eftekhari,
Sally Moore. Not pictured: Michele Bedard

When UW Psychology Associate Professor Lori Zoellner was an undergraduate at Rice University, two things that captured her interest had a lasting effect: volunteering in a psychophysiology lab doing research on anxiety disorders and learning about cognitive psychology. Her present work on understanding and treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) directly combines these two influences in seeking to understand the role of memory functioning in PTSD and improving treatment for this disorder. While reactions following traumatic events such as natural disasters, car accidents, or sexual assaults vary across individuals, some individuals develop some form of chronic psychopathology. PTSD describes the cluster of re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyper-arousal symptoms that is often observed following trauma exposure, with prevalence rates estimated between 8%-14% of the US population. “Key questions remain about PTSD,” notes Prof. Zoellner. “Who is most likely to develop chronic psychopathology? How do we most effectively intervene for those immediately following trauma exposure, and, for those who are still suffering, months and years later?”

“Based on the events of recent years, I found myself in the position of being one of a small number researchers/clinicians to have an intimate knowledge of recovery mechanisms and brief interventions following acute trauma, having helped conduct one of the largest studies to date on this topic. Material from this study was used for training of the mental health service providers in New York City and the Pentagon. I have been giving both research presentations and clinical training workshops on PTSD and its treatment around the country and in the state of Washington. In the Spring of 2002, I was asked to be one of approximately 50 international experts to serve on the Expert Consensus Conference on Acute Posttraumatic Reactions in Washington, DC., whose findings were published in Biological Psychiatry.

“From a basic-science perspective, we have focused on memory mechanisms underlying the development of PTSD. One of the cardinal features of PTSD is uncontrollable and intrusive memories of the traumatic event. We want to understand how threat-relevant information and how traumatic memories themselves are organized in individuals with chronic PTSD. A second related interest of ours is how emotion regulation strategies that characterize PTSD such as dissociation or emotional numbing impact how threat-relevant information and how traumatic memories themselves are encoded and retrieved. By better understanding changes in memory processing, we hope to better understand mechanisms associated with resilience and risk following trauma exposure.

“From an applied-science perspective, we have focused on how better to successfully treat individuals with chronic PTSD. Based on years of clinical trials, there are now a number of effective treatment options for chronic PTSD. However, one of the important remaining questions in our field is for whom and under what circumstances these treatments work. Our current research directly explores these questions comparing two empirically-supported therapies for PTSD: prolonged exposure (a cognitive behavioral therapy) and sertraline (Zoloft, a FDA approved medication for the treatment of PTSD). We are now conducting a large 5-year, multi-site treatment study funded by a $1.67 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to better address these questions.

Besides helping to understand memory mechanisms and therapies that are important to help prevent and treat PTSD, Prof. Zoellner’s studies have provided a key research training ground for undergraduate and graduate students at UW. Several outstanding undergraduate students – including Katie Klein, Larry Pruitt, Chandra Wajdik, and Allison Clarke - have conducted Psychology Honor’s theses in this area. Furthermore, psychology graduate student Sally Moore recently received a Kirschstein−NRSA Individual Fellowship through the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct a series of studies exploring the role of emotion regulation of personal memories in PTSD.

“This large [NIMH-funded] study impacts not only our students but also the community in general. Our adult clinical graduate students and postdoctoral fellows receive training in how to conduct diagnostic interviews and provide empirically supported treatment for PTSD. For our community, this study provides free state-of-the-art treatment for chronic PTSD and long-term follow-up care for almost two hundred men and women who suffer from this disorder,” says Prof. Zoellner. For more information about this study or to participate, please call Helen Miller, study coordinator, at (206) 685-3617.

“By better understanding changes in memory processing, we hope to better understand mechanisms associated with resilience and risk following trauma exposure.”

Learn more about PTSD:

Anxiety Disorders Association of America

International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Prof. Zoellner’s PTSD study:

The science and practice of sexual-offender treatment

Prof. Bill George and Dr. Jennifer Wheeler
Prof. Bill George and Dr. Jennifer Wheeler

The most widely used treatment of sexual offenders has multiple links to UW Psychology. In the early 1980’s, a group of researchers developed the treatment methods that have become the worldwide standard, based on the relapse prevention therapy developed by UW Psychology Professor Alan Marlatt for treatment of drinking problems. Dr. Janice Marques, a former student of Marlatt’s, applied relapse prevention to sexual offenders at Atascadero State Hospital in California. UW Professor Bill George, then at SUNY Buffalo and also a former student of Marlatt’s, wrote the treatment manual that put research and theory into practice. Today, Professor George serves on the Advisory Board for the Sexual Offenders Treatment Program (SOTP) at the Twin Rivers Unit of the Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe, WA.

“The theory of relapse prevention is to help individuals recognize the first signs of a lapse [behavior or thought that could lead to re-offending] and to take action on those signs, before a full-scale relapse has occurred,” explains Prof. George. “Before 1983, there was no consistent theory or practice of treatment of sexual offenders. But within 10 years, relapse prevention became the primary model around the world.”

Over the past few years, Professor George has supervised two psychology graduate students, Doctors Barbara Dahl and Jennifer Wheeler, whose dissertation research investigated the effectiveness of new treatment techniques at SOTP. Dr. Wheeler now works full time as SOTP’s Research and Assessment Team Coordinator.

“SOTP is a voluntary treatment program for incarcerated sexual offenders, that begins when offenders are within a few years of their return to the community and continues after they are released,” explains Dr. Wheeler. Part of my job is to evaluate offenders as they are starting the program, to help SOTP therapists develop treatment plans to target offenders’ risk-based needs. Treatment includes group and individual therapy, using a Relapse Prevention-based approach.” . An important part of my job here is to evaluate what and how we are doing and to continue to integrate current research into assessment and treatment protocols. Currently we are focusing on the use of [additional] factors to guide treatment, and also the applicability of other cognitive-behavioral therapies to further enhance the Relapse Prevention model.”

“The impact that UW Psychology has had on treatment of sexual offenders is a clear endorsement of its commitment to training clinical graduate students as scientist-practitioners, who continue to integrate research into treatment delivery. Working in a prison-based treatment program, that values empirically-based approaches to complex behavioral problems, is a very rewarding career for a scientist-practitioner.”

“The impact that UW Psychology has had on treatment of sexual offenders is a clear endorsement of its commitment to training clinical graduate students as scientist-practitioners.”

Faculty Accomplishments


Three new faculty members started this past year: Jessica Sommerville in developmental psychology, Jeansok Kim in behavioral neuroscience, and Joe Sisneros in animal behavior. Scott Murray, cognitive neuroscience, will join us in Fall 2005.

Lori Zoellner was tenured and promoted to Associate Professor. Bill George and Bob Kohlenberg were promoted to full Professor.

Davida Teller retired in June after 32 years on the faculty. She’ll continue to work part-time on teaching, research, and graduate program revision.

Other accomplishments:

John Baer serves as Coordinator of Education at the Veterans Affairs National Center of Excellence in Substance Abuse Treatment and Education. He is also the Director of the Interdisciplinary Fellowship Program in the Treatment of Substance Abuse.

David Barash’s book on game theory, The Survival Game, was published at the end of 2003. His 25th book, Madame Bovary’s Ovaries, is intended to help establish the new field of Darwinian literary criticism and will be published early in 2005.

Kim Barrett, with assistance from Bill George, established an international site for the study of cultural psychology in Baja California Sur, Mexico, in conjunction with the UW Comparative History of Ideas (CHID) program. Seventeen UW undergraduates studied at the site in Spring 2004. Bill and Kim have also just published a book titled Race, Cultural Psychology, and the Law.

Mike Beecher was recently awarded grants from the National Science Foundation and the UW Royalty Research Fund to study learning of bird songs.

Ilene Bernstein serves as the Executive Editor of the journal Appetite. She was recently awarded new grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the UW Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.

Eliot Brenowitz was named a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and has been invited to participate in a symposium on plasticity of brain and behavior in naturalistic context at the upcoming annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego. He is supported by a NIH Research Scientist Development Award.

Jonathon Brown recently served as Guest Editor for a special issue of the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology and as a member on the NSF Graduate Fellowship Panel.

Steve Buck was elected to a four-year term on the College Council, which advises the Dean of Arts & Sciences. Steve also serves as co-chair of the Undergraduate Advisory Council with Dean George Bridges. He recently received a UW Royalty Research Fund grant to study chromatic discrimination in low-light environments.

John Casseday gave an invited talk on temporal processing at the International Brain Research Organization in Prague, Czech Republic.

Ana Mari Cauce was recipient of a Visiting Professor Lectureship at the University of Pittsburgh in June 2004. She also gave the keynote address at the inauguration of the Cesar Chavez Institute at San Francisco State University in April 2004 and was elected President of the Society for Community Research and Action, starting in Sept. 2005.

Ellen Covey held a Visiting Professorship at the Institute of Neuroscience, University of Salamanca, Spain, during 2003-2004. She was also an invited speaker at the International Brain Research Organization Symposium in Prague, Czech Republic.

Geri Dawson continues as Director of the UW Autism Center, now the largest autism treatment center in the Northwest. She is also Co-Director of the UW Integrated Brain Image Center project, funded this year by the Murdock Foundation.

Jaime Diaz serves as Senior Faculty Teaching Fellow for three campus programs devoted to the improvement of teaching and learning at UW.

Corey Fagan serves as Director of the Psychological Services Center in the Department of Psychology. She was also recently nominated for a UW Distinguished Teaching Award.

Doug Fitts published an article titled “Regulation of Blood Lust in Vampires” in the newsletter for the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior. (Seriously! It was a humor article.)

Bill George serves as the Director of the Institute for Ethnic Studies in the United States. He was recently honored for Outstanding Service and Excellence in Graduate Mentorship by UW Psychology graduate students and was elected as a member of the International Academy on Sex Research.

Tony Greenwald gave invited addresses on his work on the Implicit Attitudes Testin Japan, Spain, England, and various locations around the U.S. this year. He is a board member and Senior Vice President (and former President) of the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra. Tony is supported by a NIH Research Scientist Award.

Jim Ha was cited in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for his work with doctoral candidate Dorothy Mandell on novel high-tech ways of studying learning in infant primates that could someday help guide preschool programs and parenting techniques.

Susan Joslyn was recently selected for the Advisory Board for Cognitive Task Analysis for Boater Information Systems, a three-year, grant-supported project.

Peter Kahn’s work on human-robotic interactions won him an invitation to a human factors workshop in Vienna, Austria, and has been featured in a robotics exhibit in the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Nancy Kenney serves as Associate Chair and Graduate Program Coordinator for UW Psychology and as Graduate Committee Chair for UW Women Studies. This past year, she chaired the Subcommittee on Admissions and Programs (SCAP) for the Faculty Council on Academic Standards.

Beth Kerr serves as Associate Chair of UW Psychology and leads the department’s efforts to design and implement the highest quality undergraduate programs for both general education and psychology majors. Beth was recently named to the new Arts and Sciences Writing Council and to the Advisory Council to the Dean of Undergraduate Education.

Randy Kyes was awarded the Lawrence Jacobsen Education Development Award for “significant contribution to primate conservation education in Indonesia” during the International Primatology Society (IPS) meeting in Italy this August. He continues to conduct summer field training courses in conservation biology and primatology in Indonesia and Tibet.

Jeansok Kim was a Visiting Professor at Ajou University, Korea, this past spring. His first publication as a UW faculty member was in the prestigious Journal of Neuroscience. He uses an animal model to understand how stress affects brain and cognition and to develop therapeutic strategies to reduce stress-related memory decline.

Bob Kohlenberg gave invited addresses and workshops on his Functional Analytic Psychotherapy in Sweden and Spain. On behalf of UW Psychology, he accepted the Outstanding Clinical Training Program award at the annual meeting of the Association for Advancement of Behavioral Therapy in 2004.

Lili Lengua was recently awarded funding from the Doris Duke Foundation to study infant crying and the prevention of shaken infant syndrome.

Marsha Linehan’s research and innovative therapy techniques were recently profiled in The New York Times. Her dialectical behavioral therapy, developed and tested with research funding from NIMH, has been effective in some difficult cases of suicidal and severely troubled persons who have not been helped by other types of therapy.

Laura Little was nominated for UW Distinguished Teaching Award in 2004. She serves as Assistant Chair for Curriculum for UW Psychology and faculty advisor for Psi Chi, the undergraduate Psychology honor society.

Geoff Loftus was selected for a four-year term on the NIMH grant review Study Section on Perception and Cognition and gave invited addresses at the University of Alberta and the WA State Trial Lawyers conference.

Alan Marlatt’s NIH Senior Scientist Award was renewed for a 5-year term and he gave over a dozen workshops and invited addresses in New Zealand, Canada, and the U.S. this past year.

Lois McDermott’s textbook Human Sexuality has been published in its fourth edition.

Bob McMahon’s Fast Track project was renewed by NIMH for another 5 years. He returned to the position of Director of our Child Clinical Program, presented invited talks and workshops in Sweden, Canada, and the U.S., and serves on expert panels on positive parenting and child conduct disorders in Australia and the U.S.

Andy Meltzoff serves as Co-Director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at UW, which he founded along with UW professor Pat Kuhl. He was selected recently to chair a special NIH grant-review study section.

John Miyamoto was invited to participate in a statistical workshop in Alicante, Spain. He is developing new courses, including one to teach graduate-level mathematics with applications in psychological research.

Sheri Mizumori was awarded a new NIH grant to study neural plasticity in the brain and was selected to chair the search committee for selection of a new chair of UW Speech and Hearing Sciences.

Sean O’Donnell spent part of his recent sabbatical studying social behavior, diversity, and ecological impact of army ants in the Ecuadorian rain forest, with support from the National Geographic Society. In the process, he and accompanying students found two new species of army ants. Sean serves as Secretary-Treasurer of the North American Section of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects.

Jaime Olavarria was selected to teach for the Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) Summer Institutes in 2003 and 2004. This program aims to motivate middle- and high-school students to undertake college study successfully.

Lee Osterhout gave invited talks on his research on brain activity accompanying language processing in France, Scotland, and the Netherlands during the past year. He serves as editor of the journal Memory & Cognition and as Chair of Graduate Admissions for UW Psychology.

Mike Passer has been awarded funding from the College of Arts & Sciences to incorporate more active-learning components and other improvements in a new version of Psych 101—our largest course, taken by about 3,000 UW students per year.

Jason Plaks was awarded grants from UW Royalty Research Fund to study lay theories of stability and control and from UW Simpson Center for the Humanities to study stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination.

Betty Repacholi is a member of the Society for Research in Child Development review panel on social and emotional processed in childhood. She presented a paper on individual differences in preschool children’s social understanding at the XI European Conference on Developmental Psychology in Milan, Italy.

Mike Rudd gave an invited talk on neurocomputational models of lightness perception at the University of British Columbia and participated in a workshop on color vision phenomenology at the annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness.

Gene Sackett received the Edgar A. Doll award at the July 2004 meeting of the American Psychological Association from Division 33 for “Outstanding Research and Sustained contributions to the Understanding of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.”

Joe Sisneros was recently featured in the Science Times section of The New York Times for his discovery of hormonal tuning of hearing, which may eventually lead to new treatments for persons with high-frequency hearing loss. The January 2005 edition of Discover magazine will list his accomplishment as one of top 100 discoveries in science in 2004. His first publication as a UW Psychology faculty member was a recent article in the prestigious journal Science.

Yuichi Shoda was recognized for Outstanding Contributions to Graduate Training by UW Psychology graduate students in May. He serves on grant-review panels for NIMH (Risk Prevention and Health Behavior) and NSF (Social Psychology Program).

Jane Simoni recently received funding for projects to study risk and protective factors associated with substance use among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-gendered adults; to study trauma, coping and health among HIV+ Native Americans; and to study stress and coping among stigmatized populations. She was also selected as a standing member of the NIH grant-review board on behavioral and social consequences of HIV/AIDS.

Ron Smith is beginning a term as the Director of Clinical Training for UW Psychology. He and Mike Passer have completed a new edition of their popular introductory psychology text. He and Yuichi Shoda have also completed a revision of the classic personality textbook by Walter Mischel.

Frank Smoll has conducted over 30 sport-psychology workshops over the past year on coach effectiveness training and parenting in sports.

Jessica Sommerville was awarded a UW Royalty Research Fund grant to study infants’ developing understanding of goal-directed action and gave an invited talk on infants as causal agents in detecting structure in action at Stanford University.

Lori Zoellner was awarded a grant from NIMH and Pfizer to study the effectiveness of cognitive/behavioral and drug treatments for post-traumatic stress syndrome. She serves as chair of the Committee on Adult Disorders and Psychopharmacology for a NIH grant-review panel and was nominated for the Chaim Danieli Young Professional Award given by the International Society for the Study of Traumatic Stress.