This is the latest in a series of interviews with APA Books authors and editors. For this interview, Andrew Gifford, Development Editor at APA Books, interviewed Casey T. Taft of the National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System, and Boston University School of Medicine.
Casey T. Taft, Ph.D. is a staff psychologist at the National Center for PTSD in the VA Boston Healthcare System, and Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Taft was the 2006 Young Professional Award winner from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the 2009 Linda Saltzman Memorial Intimate Partner Violence Researcher Award winner. He has served or is currently serving as Principal Investigator on funded grants focusing on understanding and preventing intimate partner violence through the National Institute of Mental Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Defense, and the Blue Shield of California Foundation. Dr. Taft has published over 100 empirical papers and book chapters, chaired an American Psychological Association task force on trauma in the military, and consulted with the United Nations on preventing violence and abuse globally.
In addition to the book discussed in this interview, Dr. Taft is also the guest host of Intimate Partner Violence, a Psychotherapy Training Video available on DVD.
In your work with veterans suffering from PTSD, you managed to create something unique, as far as I know: a model for treating interpersonal violence (IPV) that addresses both perpetrators and victims. How did you come up with this idea? Could you tell us about the development of this model?
Our model is trauma-informed in that we account for and discuss the role of trauma throughout the entire assessment and therapy process. What we’ve found is that when we give space for the perpetrator to discuss prior traumatic events, not only does this help set the stage for developing a positive therapeutic alliance and enhance motivation, but it can be healing in and of itself. While our program is not a trauma treatment per se, we do have some evidence that those who receive the program are themselves healing from trauma while they’re also much less likely to inflict trauma upon others. The goal of our program is to stop the cycle of trauma, and we do that be increasing an understanding of trauma and its impacts, and really focusing on how our prior experiences influence how we interpret various situations and our relationship partners.
You’ve noted that many models of IPV treatment do not take trauma into consideration at all. What inspired you to change that, with your model?
Trauma-informed intervention is increasingly the standard of care for all kinds of problems that might lead someone to treatment, and it stands to reason that we should be doing the same with those who use violence in their relationships. In fact, trauma-informed intervention may be even more important with this population since more than half of those who engage in partner abuse have been abused themselves growing up or observed their parents abusing each other. While almost everyone in the partner violence field acknowledges high rates of trauma in this population, and there seems to be a growing belief that we should be educated about trauma, this hasn’t necessarily translated into specific evidence-based trauma-informed approaches. Especially when we consider that interventions to prevent and end intimate partner violence have not been particularly effective, and other research showing that trauma and PTSD are associated with violence through their influence on how we interpret our social worlds, this seemed like an obvious direction to go.
In your new book Trauma-Informed Treatment and Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence, you and co-authors Christopher M. Murphy and Suzannah K. Creech discuss the importance of a positive therapeutic process. Could you elaborate on what you mean by that phrase? What are some ways that practitioners can adopt a positive approach?
By positive therapeutic process, we’re referring to facilitating positive therapist-client relationships, motivation for ending the abuse, and engagement in the treatment process in general. Historically in partner violence intervention, there has been a tendency to downplay the importance of these factors, with intervention strategies that may be considered overly confrontational and shaming. This is unfortunate because when we’re working with a trauma-exposed population, they may have difficulty trusting and joining with providers. Therefore, taking a more alliance-enhancing and motivational approach may go a long way towards enhancing our ability to reach violent individuals and help them end their violence. In fact, my dissertation research from long ago showed that when we are able to build a positive working alliance and facilitate group cohesion, those who are in partner violence intervention are less violent and abusive to their partners after program completion.
The programs you’ve developed to end domestic violence in military service members have seen terrific successes and have been adopted by many hospitals and clinics. How do you feel, seeing your work take root in so many places?
It feels amazing, to be honest. So many people have worked really hard to get us to this point. We spent over eight years running randomized controlled trials where we developed our violence prevention programs and evaluated them. Ours are the first programs shown to be effective for this population through controlled trials so we truly believe we are onto something important with this work. To be able to then help with implementing these programs across the VA healthcare system and within the military is exactly what we were hoping for when we began this endeavor. Our vision for the next phase of our clinical research program is to do the same thing with a civilian population. We have every reason to believe that a trauma-informed violence prevention intervention would similarly work for a civilian population.
As a vegan, you’ve written about how you want to promote non-violence towards animals, and echo a similar message of positivity when it comes to our treatment of all living creatures. Do you see violence as a systemic problem in our society? Are there things we can do in our own lives to help prevent violence, whether on an interpersonal level or more broadly?
We know that when children are violent to animals, it’s a warning sign for problems with interpersonal violence down the road. Similarly, when we sanction unnecessary violence towards other sentient beings in any form, it promotes the view that violence is acceptable. I do see violence as a systemic problem in our society. Violence in many forms towards both human and nonhuman animals is all around us, and I believe that a pro-intersectional framework is required to understand that various forms of violence and injustice are all inter-connected, and all violence stems from the idea that some lives matter less than others, or that some are lesser. It’s quite amazing that all three of the authors for this book are vegan and share this pro-intersectional worldview.