Dana Grote, Ph.D.
I attended a wonderful conference last Friday that was hosted by the Colorado Assessment Society called “Exploring the Landscape of Trauma with Psychological Assessment” that was presented by Judith Armstrong, Ph.D. Dr. Armstrong has worked for many years in the assessment and treatment of individuals with severe psychological trauma and dissociation. She contributed to the creation of the Adolescent Dissociative Experiences Scale (A-DES), Rorschach Trauma Content Index (TC/R), and the Dissociative Behavior Checklist (DBC-II).
Dr. Armstrong stressed that trauma changes the emotional and meaning systems of a person. She described protective factors that help a person deal with a traumatic event in the healthiest way possible, including having a supportive social network, “lucky” heredity, a healthy attachment history, and “approach coping” (i.e., the mentality that if you’re knocked off the horse, you get back on it). According to Dr. Armstrong, there are also risk factors that can hinder one’s ability to deal with trauma. These risk factors include pre-existing psychological problems (psychopathology), “unlucky” heredity, and “avoidant coping.” Avoidant coping occurs when there is denial about the traumatic event (e.g., “Everything’s fine…I’ve dealt with it”). Another risk factor is when the trauma becomes central to the person’s self-definition (i.e., the person views him/herself as a victim).
Dr. Armstrong mentioned the work of Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., who has been active in the area of posttraumatic stress since the 1970’s. Dr. van der Kolk talks about how “the body keeps score,” meaning that trauma resides in the body and that the body can “hold” emotions even when the mind cannot. A person can experience “body flashbacks,” such as experiencing shoulder pain while talking about being pinned down during a rape. Dr. Armstrong talked about trauma can lead to smaller cerebral (brain) size in children.
Something I found very interesting in Dr. Armstrong’s presentation is the notion of “traumatic wisdom.” She explained that a person who has been exposed to trauma can take what he/she learned from dealing with the traumatic event and put it into action in a positive way. For example, if love has been “turned off” in one area, say from neglectful and/or abusive parents, it can be “turned on” in a love for nature or animals. Moreover, the opposite of “survivor guilt” – “survivor pride” – can develop in that the person has a sense of confidence as a result of the trauma (e.g., “If I can make it through that, I can make it through anything”). I really liked a quote she mentioned (author unknown): “Happiness is not a state of being. Happiness is a state of overcoming unhappiness.” I thought this quote really summed up how many individuals arrive at a state of happiness following trauma.
Dr. Armstrong discussed how psychological assessment can be a teaching process for clients. She asks clients at the outset of an evaluation, “What is your most pressing question?” and “What are you afraid you will find out as a result of the evaluation?” She uses Therapeutic Assessment, which was developed by Stephen Finn, Ph.D. and his colleagues at the Center for Therapeutic Assessment in Austin, Texas. For more information about Therapeutic Assessment, please check out this website: www.therapeuticassessment.com.
Dr. Grote holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Colorado State University (1995) and Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Clinical Psychology from the University of Detroit Mercy (1998/2000). She is a licensed clinical psychologist who conducts psychological evaluations for clients with learning and developmental disabilities and psychiatric disorders. She also has experience in neuropsychology, cognitive rehabilitation, and working with clients with mild traumatic brain injuries. Dr. Grote is a native of Colorado and married with two children. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, skiing, volunteering, and spending time with friends and family.
E-mail Dr. Grote or call extension 104 for information about consultation services, learning disability and psychological evaluation, and therapy for people with disabilities.