St. Anselm prof heading to Cyprus on study program

Sunday News Correspondent
December 29. 2012 10:12PM

Loretta Brady, an associate professor of psychology at St. Anselm College, was awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to work in Cyprus from January to June 2013. (COURTESY)
GOFFSTOWN - When Loretta Brady went to the New Hampshire State Prison for Women to do research, it sparked an interest that led to a doctorate, tenure and, this year, a Fulbright Scholarship to study psychology in Cyprus.

Brady, 36, is an associate professor at St. Anselm College. Her focus is on trauma-related substance-abuse care, and on New Year's Day she heads to Cyprus for six months to study the implementation of such care in that divided island nation.

"My goal for the project is to learn from a system of treatment that is more unified than ours and to evaluate the degree to which the system has applied knowledge about trauma-informed care to its services," Brady said.

Brady - one of about 1,100 Fulbright Scholars - isn't traveling alone to Nicosia, Cyprus' capital. Her husband will join her along with their five children and a nanny. All eight will be in Cyprus for the entire six months.

The trip will be the continuation of a career journey that began on Sept. 11, 2001.

Brady was in New York City when the terrorist attacks took place. Counseling NYU students who had witnessed the attack and lost loved ones, she gained a level of exposure to trauma that she couldn't have planned.

She also worked with combat veterans at the VA hospital in Albany, N.Y., some of whom suffered from post-traumatic conditions. One man had been in a horrific submarine accident, and because he had no way of dealing with his trauma, she said, he turned to drugs. Brady used the man's story to inform her treatment of him.

She said in recent years trauma-informed care has been expanding in the U.S., and she points to better outcomes, predominantly among female patients.

According to the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care, the aim is to change the paradigm from one that asks, "What's wrong with you?" to one that asks, "What has happened to you?"

Brady illustrated the idea with the hypothetical example of a woman under court order to attend AA meetings despite a background that would make attendance difficult, if not impossible.

"Let's say you were sexually assaulted and you're trying to stop drinking, but you had a DWI. And you go to AA, and it's a dark church basement, and there's a lot of men near the front of the door, and you find that you are not able to get yourself out of your car and into the building because you're so triggered by the thought that you don't feel safe."

She took the hypothetical case a step further: The woman skipped the AA meeting and didn't tell her probation officer.

"What the hell - you might as well drink," Brady said, describing the kind of mindset that perpetuates a destructive cycle.

Trauma-informed care, she explained, would look at this as a normal reaction to the underlying issue the woman is dealing with: the sexual assault.

Trauma-informed care, she said, would help "give that woman a set of tools that she can use to cope with the experience that she has when she pulls into the parking lot and sees a group of men."

Brady said not every substance abuser has a traumatic history, but for marginalized communities - including the poor, some minorities, the under-educated - the risk of traumatic life events is much higher.

"And then when we look at populations that are incarcerated, or we look at populations that have experienced homelessness, we see (trauma prevalence rates) of over 90 percent," she said.

Unlike in the U.S., where substance abuse and mental health are treated in separate systems, Brady said, Cyprus treats those issues in the same system. She thinks the same should be true here.

In addition to performing research in Cyprus, Brady will teach a psychology course at the University of Nicosia, the largest private university in a country of 1 million people.

Her goal is to bring her knowledge of trauma to different arenas, as trauma, she said, influences not only drug abuse but also an array of other personal and social problems. Consistent with this belief, she has a consulting practice where she works with businesses to boost inclusion and diversity in the workplace.

She resigned from a position at the Elliot Hospital Pain Management Center, however, to take the Fulbright sabbatical.

Asked where she hopes to be in 10 years, Brady said she'll still be at St. Anselm, where, she hopes to work toward "breaking the silos" that prevent interdisciplinary work from taking place.

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