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Articles in January 2016 Psychology of Violence

Six articles in the most recent issue of Psychology of Violence [Jan, 2016;  Vol. 6 (1)] arose out of The Virtues, Narrative, and Resilience Conference held at Sewanee April 14–16, 2015.  The Conference was sponsored by The Life Paths Research Program, which is funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.  The Principal Investigator of The Program is Dr. Sherry Hamby, Research Professor of Psychology at the University of the South and Director of the Appalachian Center for Resilience Research;  co-investigators are Dr. Victoria Banyard, Professor of Psychology at the University of New Hampshire and Dr. John Grych, Professor and Chair of Psychology at Marquette University.

  • After researching character development, narratives, and resilience in communities on and around the Cumberland Plateau, we wanted to share some of our findings and create further conversation.  This conference was designed to bring together researchers, policymakers, advocates, and community stakeholders with different backgrounds and expertise.
  • Participants have interests ranging from violence, narrative, resilience, to positive psychology.  These are areas that have much to learn from one another but have had limited crossover.  We hope this conference will be a source of learning and will lay the foundation for future collaborations.

Sewanee coauthors include Associate Director of Community Engagement Nicky Hamilton;  Process Coordinator for the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies Sabeth Jackson;  Project Manager of the Life Paths Research Program Elizabeth Taylor;  two alumni [Lindsey (Thomas) Roberts C ’11 and Matthew Hagler C ’13] and three members of the psychology department [Assistant Professor John Coffey, Research Professor Sherry Hamby, Assistant Professor Katherine Nelson].  Local participants include Rachel Brown, Librarian at the Franklin County High School, and Katie Goforth, South Cumberland Health Network.  Short biographic sketches of all participants –not just those publishing their work in the Psychology of Violence– can be found in the Conference Program.

Strengths, narrative, and resilience:  Restorying resilience research.  Pp. 1-7.     Sherry Hamby, Appalachian Center for Resilience Research;  Victoria Banyard, Univ. of New Hampshire;  and John Grych, Marquette Univ. 

  • Objective: To envision a path toward a more strengths-based approach to violence research, prevention, and intervention—a path that focuses on thriving and resilience.
  • Key Points: Both the content and the process of research need to change if we are to transform our efforts to understand and overcome adversity. Greater focus on strengths and the achievement of well-being despite adversity is 1 important avenue; focusing on the narrative and the power of story is another important path. However, merely shifting the focus of traditional research and scholarly efforts is not enough. At another level of analysis, the field needs communication across the fragmentary subdisciplines of social science (“silo busting,” as we informally call it). We must also do more to encourage experimentation and innovation with regard to research question and design, community–practitioner–researcher partnership, and approaches to dissemination. Implications: Existing challenges in innovation and experimentation call for trying new approaches. Specific suggestions for adapting conference formats are provided.
  • The commentaries in this special section offer feasible actions that could improve violence research, including incorporating measures of well-being in addition to symptoms as outcome measures; involving a wider variety of stakeholders in research design and dissemination; taking advantage of new insights from positive psychology and narrative research; and incorporating aspects of community and culture into research, assessment, prevention and intervention.

Seven reasons to invest in well-being.  Pp. 8-14.   Kathryn H. Howell, Univ. of Memphis;  John K. Coffey, Univ. of the South;  Gregory M. Fosco, Pennsylvania State Univ.;  Kristen Kracke, U.S. Dept. of Justice;  S. Katherine Nelson, Univ. of the South;  Emily F. Rothman, Boston Univ. School of Public Health;  and John H. Grych, Marquette Univ.

  • Objective: This commentary reviews current conceptualizations of well-being, examines explanations for the lack of attention to well-being research, and provides justification for investing research time and funding into well-being studies. Opportunities for integrating factors related to well-being into prevention and intervention programs are also outlined.
  • Key Points: Well-being may motivate people toward success, improve health and longevity, strengthen relationships, and boost the economy. Well-being can be enhanced in easy and inexpensive ways by incorporating facets of well-being into already-existing individual and systems-level intervention or prevention programs. Implications: Future research into this important construct should focus on objective means to assess and predict well-being, as well as strategies to enhance well-being across the life span. Investing more research time and financial resources into the study and promotion of well-being has the potential to lead to profound and enduring benefits to individuals, communities, and the larger society.

Building on youth’s strengths:  A call to include adolescents in developing, implementing, and evaluating violence prevention programs.  Pp. 15-21.   Katie M. Edwards, Univ. of New Hampshire;  Lisa M. Jones, Univ. of New Hampshire;  Kimberly J. Mitchell, Univ. of New Hampshire;  Matthew A. Hagler, Univ. of Massachusetts;  and Lindsey T. Roberts, Bowling Green State Univ.

  • Objective: To review the challenges and potential benefits of involving adolescents in the development and delivery of prevention programming.
  • Key Points and Implications: Adolescent violence prevention programs are typically designed and delivered by adults in school-based settings. However, research has highlighted a number of problems with the effectiveness and sustainability of adult-designed prevention models. In this commentary, we consider the possibility that program effectiveness might be improved if innovative, evidence-based prevention strategies could be developed to help guide adolescents in developing and delivering prevention materials themselves. To inform our discussion, we surveyed 14 adolescent peer leaders about their experiences developing and delivering violence prevention in their schools and communities. Using their input, we critically review the limitations of adult-delivered prevention, discuss the potential benefits and challenges of involving adolescents in designing and delivering violence prevention content, and suggest a number of future directions for researchers and program developers.

Bridging the gap between research and practice by strengthening academic-community partnerships for violence research.  Pp. 27-33.   Nicole P. Yuan, Univ. of Arizona;  Tommi L. Gaines, Univ. of California San Diego;  Lisa M. Jones, Univ. of New Hampshire;  Lindsey M. Rodriguez, Univ. of New Hampshire;  Nicky Hamilton, Univ. of the South;  Kelly Kinnish, Georgia Center for Child Advocacy, Atlanta.

  • Objectives: This commentary seeks to highlight the benefits of community-based participatory research (CBPR) and promote its use in the violence field. Community perspectives remain underrepresented in the CBPR literature despite the emphasis on equitable partnerships and shared ownership in the research process.
  • Method: Informal interviews were conducted with 10 community partners to understand their perspectives on using and participating in research.
  • Results: Several recommendations for strengthening academic-community research partnerships emerged from the community partners’ responses. They were: (a) conduct research that is useful to communities, with a focus on evidence-based practices and cost-benefit analyses; (b) involve community partners early in the development of research questions to ensure that local needs are addressed; (c) engage in frequent and open communication and maintain transparency about research goals and roles and responsibilities of each partner; (d) provide benefits to communities during the research process to promote professional development and build capacity; and (e) disseminate findings quickly, using outlets accessible to communities, and translate into strategies for practice.
  • Conclusion: Although the recommendations require significant investments of time and resources by all partners, use of CBPR can contribute to increased development of innovative and sustainable violence prevention programs, services, and policies that are uniquely informed by scientific evidence and community expertise. By emphasizing partnerships with communities, CBPR helps to reduce the gap between research and practice and facilitates the inclusion of community strengths and resilience as valuable components of violence prevention and intervention.

Key roles of community connectedness in healing from trauma.  Pp. 42-48.   Katie Schultz, Univ. of Washington;  Lauren Cattaneo, George Mason Univ.;  Chiara Sabina, Penn State Harrisburg;  Lisa Brunner, National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Lame Deer MT;  Sabeth Jackson, Univ. of the South;  Josephine V. Serrata, Georgia State Univ.

  • Objective: Connection to community has been identified as a protective factor in the experience of trauma, but many interventions have acted inadvertently to ignore or not account for the potential for disruption to connections within communities. We examine the role of community connectedness in relation to healing from individual and community experiences of trauma, drawing from culturally specific interventions that give a central role to connection.
  • Key Points: Connection to community matters for those who have experienced trauma, yet many interventions do not build on or in some cases disrupt positive connections to community. This commentary examines Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native communities for examples of this disruption and how those communities have responded with culturally specific interventions to increase community connections. The mechanisms through which community connectedness operates in these examples include accountability, community norming, and belonging and identity.
  • Conclusions: Researchers and practitioners must consider how interventions impact community connectedness, and increasing capacity for connection should be targeted in healing efforts. We suggest more theorizing on the mechanisms that potentially enable community connectedness to buffer the effects of trauma and implications for intervention. Community-informed efforts have the potential to be more effective and sustainable in reducing the impact of trauma on families and societies.

Narrative writing exercises for promoting health among adolescents:  Promises and pitfalls.  Pp. 57-63.   Elizabeth Taylor, Univ. of the South;  Ernest N. Jouriles, Southern Methodist Univ.;  Rachel Brown, Franklin County High School, Winchester TN;  Katie Goforth, South Cumberland Plateau Health Network, Altamont TN;  Victoria Banyard, Univ. of New Hampshire.

  • Objective: The purpose of this commentary is to summarize potential benefits and issues in the use of narrative writing exercises with adolescents. Tips for implementing narratives as a health promotion and prevention strategy in schools and other types of therapeutic settings are also presented.
  • Key Points: Narrative writing exercises have consistently demonstrated positive results at the universal prevention, targeted prevention, and intervention levels. Researchers have theorized that narratives are effective as they help individual’s process thoughts and emotions surrounding adverse events, and are a way to promote positive thoughts about the self and broader ways of thinking. The Laws of Life essay program is an example of an established narrative program that is used nationally in school settings. We present hands-on information and recommendations as to the how to implement a narrative program and cautions to consider.
  • Conclusions: Evaluations of narrative writing exercises have yielded many positive findings, but many important questions remain. It appears that narratives potentially help those at risk for violence or troubling behaviors, but more research in the context of the violence field is needed.