Million dollar grant received for trauma research

By Marissa Novel

Trauma, especially in children, hides in deep, unknown areas of the mind. Social work graduate students will soon enter a program designed to uncover specialized treatments for this issue.

Twenty-three students in the School of Social Work master’s program will receive a $10,000 stipend for 16 weeks of half-day training sessions on therapy for youth affected by trauma in January.

The fellowship is part of a three-year, $1.18 million Behavioral Health Workforce Education Training award Dhrubodhi Mukherjee received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Mukherjee, associate professor and undergraduate program director for the School of Social Work, said the program, designed to create and test curriculum, will primarily focus on treating trauma in children, adolescents and adults ages 18 to 25.

“Trauma can be caused by direct brain injuries, and trauma can be very psychological in nature,” he said. “The symptoms of trauma mimics the symptoms of mental illness, so something such as depression can be a chronic mental illness or can be a temporary manifestation of trauma.”

Mukherjee said it is important for social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists to differentiate between medical and traumatic mental illness.

“If children are experiencing trauma, it’s better to address that. Especially children who have domestic violence, sexual abuse and child abuse situations,” he said. “Trauma needs to be identified and resolved at the beginning rather than having that person live a traumatic life for a long period of time.”

Mukherjee said one of the program sessions directed toward younger children will include play therapy, which often results in children mimicking traumatic experiences during playtime.

“You let the children play and you see the content of the way they’re playing,” he said. “You can see it clearly when they reenact trauma because memory of trauma is visual, it’s never encrypted as words or as voices.”

Mukherjee said it is also important to include transitional youth, or young people 18 to 25, in research rather than only populations 18 and younger.


“This transitional youth is a very important, very critical population we don’t have much research on,” he said. “These are the people who are going through a lot of identity issues and economic issues, and suicide rates are highest among them.”

Mukherjee said he conceptualized the program before applying for the grant and he will help train students and evaluate data collected in spring. He said the fellowship will increase to 29 students next year and 33 the final year.

Nikole Justice, a graduate student from Freeman Spur, said she is planning on entering the program and is looking forward to the training opportunities it offers.

“I’ll be graduating in May, and being able to graduate with this program, I’ll be able to show potential employers that not only do I have experience with curriculum, but I have training and have been able to implement the curriculum in the training,” she said.

Justice said while working at the treatment center Gateway Foundation Alcohol Drug Treatment experienced working with traumatized youth.

“The need is there and just because we’re a rural area, doesn’t mean it’s not here,” she said. “I think a lot of rural places aren’t educated as well as others so this brings in that source of education and training that we may not have otherwise.”

Downstate Illinois was the only region in the state whose child intake into the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services positively increased from 2000 to 2010 according to data collected by Dana Weiner, a policy fellow of Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Elaine Jurkowski, interim director of and professor in the School of Social work, said the program can positively affect the Carbondale community.

“There will be a huge turnover of people who work in childhood and family services in the next five years,” she said. “Our vision is that we will help prepare that next wave of the workforce.”

Jurkowski said many rural communities have large populations of untrained professionals.

“At this point, we get a lot of people coming back to do their master’s work because agencies can get paid more money for delivering services that are specialized,” she said. “But there’s a real lack of child psychiatry in the area, and a real lack of understanding of children’s mental health issues in rural communities in general.”

Jurkowski said the university has received many grants in the past, this being the largest. She said she has reviewed grant applications from other schools for other programs before, and many aspects of SIU’s application set it apart from other schools.

“We’re doing this in partnership with the School of Medicine and they have a very strong training record in this area,” she said. “We also have two very large grants from the Department of Children and Family Services.”

Jurkowski said the two grants, designed to help kids from dangerous, impoverished areas and provide foster care training, amount to $8 million. She said they have given the university a good track record in grant handling, which influences being accepted for future awards.

Jurkowski said out of the 30 grants and 500 eligible schools, the university and Jane Addams College of Social Work at University of Illinois Chicago were the only Illinois schools to receive the grant.

Mukherjee said the project launch introducing the program and its trainers will be at 5:30 p.m. at the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center on Nov. 6.

Marissa Novel can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @marissanovelDE or at 536-3311 ext. 268.