York professor, students earn awards for leading trauma research

Osgoode teams take first and second at Canadian National Negotiation Competition

York University psychology Professor Robert T. Muller and three students in the Trauma & Attachment Lab were recognized at the 36th annual meeting of the International Society for the Study of Trauma & Dissociation (ISSTD) with two distinct awards for their work in trauma research.

Written Media Award

Robert T. Muller
Robert T. Muller

Muller was honoured with the 2019 Written Media Award for his recently published book, Trauma & the Struggle to Open Up: From Avoidance to Recovery & Growth (2018, W.W. Norton). ISSTD is the top international scientific organization for the study of complex trauma.

A highly prestigious honour, the Written Media Award is given for the year’s best written work on the scientific study of trauma or dissociation. It is typically awarded to those who have produced and developed cutting-edge clinical or theoretical work in the field of complex trauma.

Muller is a professor in the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health. He directs the Trauma & Attachment Lab, where research is focused on understanding how to better help victims of trauma in treatment.

His book examines trauma, relationships and strategies for recovery, and guides readers through the intricacies of trauma therapy. It was composed through the lens of attachment theory and draws from Muller’s clinical experience and research.

Using a relational, integrative approach in the book, Muller presents strategies for clinicians to help pace the process of opening up. He points to the different choices therapists can make in navigating the relationship between therapist and client, and highlights that these choices have a strong impact on outcome.

Top Poster Award

Students from Muller’s Trauma & Attachment Lab were honoured at the ISSTD meeting with the award for Top Poster for their project “Clinical applications of the Adult Attachment Interview: Findings from a group-randomized study.”

The student recipients are: Kristina Cordeiro and Laura Goldstein, graduate students in the Clinical Development program, and Meghan Oliver, an undergraduate student in the Psychology program. The study was led by co-principal investigators Muller and Mirisse Foroughe, York U alum and clinical psychologist at the Family Psychology Centre.

Meghan Oliver and Kristina Cordeiro with their awards (absent from photo: Laura Goldstein)

The poster was a presentation of research that examines the clinical use of the adult attachment interview (AAI). The AAI was originally developed for research purposes, but has been widely adapted in clinical practice. This study was the first to investigate whether using the AAI in combination with therapy may enhance the process and outcomes of therapy.

In this study, 243 parents seeking support for a child with significant mental health concerns participated. Parents attended a two-day emotion-focused family therapy (EFFT) group intervention and were randomly assigned to either receive the standard EFFT treatment or an AAI-enhanced treatment. Parents were followed for one year, filling out questionnaires before and after treatment, and again four, eight and 12 months later.

Findings showed that on its own, EFFT is a powerful intervention; however, parents who completed the AAI before treatment reported that their child’s mental health symptoms continued to improve significantly months after the EFFT intervention. Evidence points to the AAI performing like a catalyst, preparing caregivers for therapy and the hard work of supporting their child after treatment. This is the first study to provide support for the claim that administering the AAI has clinical benefits for clients.

The study is part of a larger clinical investigation underway in the Trauma & Attachment Lab at York, led by Muller in collaboration with Foroughe.

The winning authors have been invited by ISSTD to submit this work for publication.