ABCT Lifetime Achievement Award Address


Saturday, November 18 | 12:30 AM – 1:30 PM

My Adventures in the Traumatic Stress Field: Lessons Learned and Thoughts about the Future


Saturday, November 18: 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM


Presented by:
Dean Kilpatrick, Ph.D.,

Professor of Clinical Psychology, Medical University of South Carolina, Director, National Crime Victims Research & Treatment Center, Director, National Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center

Participants earn 1 continuing education credit


Dr. Kilpatrick obtained his Ph.D. degree from the University of Georgia and is a Distinguished University Professor at the Medical University of South Carolina where he has been a faculty member since 1970. His primary research interests include measuring prevalence and mental health consequences (e.g., PTSD and related disorders) of exposure to sexual violence, violent crime, mass violence, disasters, and other potentially traumatic events.

His research team has conducted numerous projects on these topics funded by grants from the NIH, VA, CDC, National Institute of Justice, and Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). His 400-plus publications have more than 59,000 citations, and his h-index is 120.

He was Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Traumatic Stress, founding member of S.C.’s first rape crisis center in 1974, founding Director of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center since its establishment in 1977, founding Director of the OVC-funded National Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center in 2017, and Director/Co-Director of the Charleston Consortium Psychology Internship Program since 1982.

He served on three Institute of Medicine/National Academy of Sciences Committees and was involved in revisions of the PTSD diagnosis for DSM-IV, DSM-5, and DSM-5TR. He is Chair of the S.C. Crime Victims’ Advisory Board and Past President of ISTSS and the SC Psychological Association.

He received the United States Presidential Award for Outstanding Contributions to Victims of Crime, the U.S. Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus Allied Professional Award, lifetime achievement awards from ISTSS, Ending Violence Against Women International, and ABCT, and South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Palmetto.

He is particularly gratified by the Charleston Consortium Psychology Internship Program having received the ABCT 2015 Outstanding Training Program Award because this reflects the amazing contributions to behavioral and cognitive therapy that hundreds of former interns have made over the past 51 years.


Categories: PTSD, Public Policy, Violence/Sexual Assault

Keywords: Mass Violence/Gun Violence/Terrorism, Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

All levels of familiarity with the material.


“My involvement in the traumatic stress field began 49 years ago in 1974 when I helped establish a grass roots rape crisis center in Charleston. The field of traumatic stress did not exist; the PTSD diagnosis was six years in the future, and this work was far from the mental health, public health, and public policy mainstream.

Today, the traumatic stress field is as mainstream as you can get, and I have been privileged to be a participant-observer in the field’s challenges and triumphs as it developed. Much progress has been made in understanding the scope, nature, and mental/behavior health consequences of exposure to a broad range of potentially traumatic events (PTEs) and in developing effective interventions. However, there still is a lack of public awareness about these issues and of sufficient public policy support to provide access to the types of information, interventions, and help that survivors need.

In this presentation, I will describe key lessons learned based on my own research, clinical, media, and public policy adventures in the field, and I will offer some thoughts about how to best address the challenges of today as well of tomorrow. My adventures have taken me from the research lab to the clinic, from volunteer nonprofits to professional organizations, from the National Press Club to the National Academies of Sciences, and from testifying at Congressional hearings to being honored by the President at the Rose Garden.

Lessons learned are: 1) good research is key to past and future success; 2) research alone does not generate the changes we need in public awareness and public policy; 3) working with news media to disseminate research information can improve public awareness about traumatic stress and survivors’ needs, which is critical to achieving needed public policy changes; 4) success is a team sport that requires collaboration with many partners; and 5) nothing happens without dedication, persistence, high frustration tolerance, hard work, and a lot of help from your friends.

I will summarize several key findings from our research, describe how they were used to increase public awareness and influence public policy, and conclude with thoughts about relevance of this for improving clinical training and practice.


At the end of this session, the learner will be able to:
    1. Describe advantages of epidemiological research studies in the traumatic stress field for producing information relevant to clinical practice, public awareness, and public policy.
    2. Identify three reasons why publishing or presenting research findings at professional meetings is generally not sufficient to increase public awareness or influence public policy in the traumatic stress field.
    3. Discuss ways in which to utilize relevant research findings with news media, professional groups, nonprofit organizations, and policy makers to achieve changes needed to improve services for our clients.


    1. Overview

      a. Brief history of traumatic stress field.
      b. Definition of public policy and how it influences our ability to serve our clients and patients.
      c. Advantages of epidemiological research and examples of such research our team has conducted.
      d. Why publishing/presenting research finding to other researchers is not sufficient to increase public awareness/change public policy.
      e. Examples of using research finding to increase public awareness or change public policy incorporating selected excellent adventures.
      f. Lessons learned and thoughts about the future.

    2. Brief history of traumatic stress field.

      a. From nonexistent in 1974 to mainstream today.
      b. Relevant to many issues including survivors of war, disasters, violent crime, child abuse, serious accidents, exposure to toxic substances, terrorism, and mass violence.

    3. Definition of public policy and how it influences our ability to serve our clients and patients.

      a. Definition of public policy: “a system of laws, regulatory measures, courses of action, and funding priorities concerning a given topic that is promulgated by a governmental entity or its representatives. Public policy is accomplished through enactment of legislation, regulation, and funding priorities”. (Kilpatrick and Ross, 2001)
      b. Examples of how public policy influences ability to serve clients and patients (e.g., criminal laws against child abuse, IPV, and sexual violence; laws establishing crime victims rights including compensation and compensation for veterans; laws establishing eligibility and funding for mental health services)

    4. Advantages of epidemiological research and examples of epidemiological research our team has conducted.

      a. Advantages: Can provide population-based data documenting extent and nature of problem, treatment seeking, disparities in access to treatment, and normal course of resilience/recovery without treatment.
      b. Examples: List of major epi studies done by our research group.
      c. Overview of major research findings.

    5. Why publishing/presenting research findings to other researchers is not sufficient to increase public awareness/change public policy.

      a. “Civilians”, including policy makers, do not read our journals or attend our meetings.
      b. Even if they did, our professional jargon makes our work difficult to understand, and we rarely address public policy implications of our work.

    6. Using research to increase public awareness/influence public policy incorporating selected adventures:

      a. Examples: ( Crime victim research, CV Bill of Rights, and payment for rape exams; Rape in America Report, changes in National Crime Victimization Survey, and participation in RAND study of sexual assault/sexual harassment in military; America/SC Speaks Out surveys and SC Crime Victims Bill of Rights Constitutional Amendment.
      b. Adventures: National Press Club, National Academy of Sciences, Congressional Testimony, and trip to the Rose Garden.

    7. Lessons learned:

      a. Good research key but not sufficient.
      b. Research alone doesn’t generate needed changes in public awareness to change public policy
      c. Working with news media can increase public awareness
      d. Success is team sport, and thanks are due to many for their help and support.
      e. Nothing happens without dedication, persistence, and hard work.

    8. Thoughts about the future:

      a. Our profession cannot flourish without science and reason, and both are under attack; we must use them and defend them.
      b. Science and reason can help society address many of the vexing problems of the day but only if we increase awareness about the value of science and the implications of our findings. There are several ways we can do this.
      c. Society expects professionals to deal with tough issues and go the extra mile to do so. We need to learn how to meet this expectation while living healthy, balanced lives.


Recommended Readings:

Andrews, A. R., Jobe-Shields, L., López, C. M., Metzger, I. W., De Arellano, M. A., Saunders, B., & G Kilpatrick, D. (2015). Polyvictimization, income, and ethnic differences in trauma-related mental health during adolescence. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 50, 1223-1234.

Kilpatrick, D. G., Resnick, H. S., Milanak, M. E., Miller, M. W., Keyes, K. M., & Friedman, M. J. (2013). National estimates of exposure to traumatic events and PTSD prevalence using DSM‐IV and DSM‐5 criteria. Journal of traumatic stress, 26

(5), 537-547.

Rancher, C., Moreland, A. D., Smith, D. W., Cornelison, V., Schmidt, M. G., Boyle, J., … & Kilpatrick, D. G. (2023). Using the 5C model to understand COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy across a National and South Carolina sample. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 160, 180-186.

Reuben, A., Moreland, A., Abdalla, S. M., Cohen, G. H., Friedman, M. J., Galea, S., … & Kilpatrick, D. G. (2022). Prevalence of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder in Flint, Michigan, 5 years after the onset of the water crisis. JAMA Network Open, 5(9), e2232556-e2232556.

Zuromski, K. L., Resnick, H., Price, M., Galea, S., Kilpatrick, D. G., & Ruggiero, K. (2019). Suicidal ideation among adolescents following natural disaster: The role of prior interpersonal violence. Psychological trauma: theory, research, practice, and policy, 11(2), 184.