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College of Human Ecology

Nelson Goff updates trauma research project to explore how military relationships foster resilience

Monday, October 24, 2016

By Sarah Hancock

We know that trauma affects relationships, but how do relationships affect a person’s ability to function despite trauma? And how does that change over time?

Briana Nelson Goff, professor in the School of Family Studies and Human Services, is following up with 50 military couples she originally surveyed in 2005 to find out how couple, family and community relationships help military personnel recover from trauma. Survey results and interviews are yielding a wealth of data that Nelson Goff, with the help of undergraduate and graduate student researchers, is analyzing with the ultimate goal of helping those affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Nelson Goff’s research program merges the fields of traumatic stress and family systems studies and fills a gap in knowledge of the long-term impact of trauma.

“I have been researching trauma and PTSD for 25 years, specifically focusing on the impact on spouses and on the couple relationship,” Nelson Goff said.

“Having the opportunity to determine how this group of military couples from 2005 are doing now provides us with longitudinal data about what has happened over the past decade — are they still married, are they still in the Army, are they experiencing long-term effects of their combat experiences or are they doing well and are resilient? Answering these questions helps the broader field understand not only why social support for trauma survivors is important, but also how those people providing them support — often the spouse or caregiver — are also affected,” she said.

Finding the people she surveyed in 2005 hasn’t been an easy task. A University Small Research Grant in fall of 2015 helped Nelson Goff increase incentives for participants, and a crew of undergraduate researchers who are “good at finding people” have helped.

“We have some great teams working on the original data and also working on the new data we have gathered so far in the past year. I have included undergraduate students in our research since 2000, and they contribute immensely to the projects,” Nelson-Goff said.

Caroline Fuss and Laura Lyddon are two of those researchers. They have transcribed and coded interviews to help with studies of how trauma affects health and what healthy relationships can do to mediate such effects. Fuss, a sophomore in political science and pre-med from Overland Park, Kansas, and Lyddon, a senior in family studies and human services from Liberal, Kansas, say they’ve learned from the experience.

“You hear a lot about PTSD — it’s kind of a hot topic. I understand so much more about it and how it really affects people,” said Fuss.

Fuss added that her research has shown her that medicating those with PTSD didn’t solve problems, and that more holistic treatment methods that include medication and therapy may help affected individuals function.

“I think just taking that into the medical field when I get there will be helpful — to look at different ways to solve a problem rather than just medication,” Fuss said.

Lyddon, too, says research has helped her develop professional skills.

“I’m prior military, so I’ve seen some of this personally — how trauma affects people. Research has helped me expand my little viewpoint. I want to work in social work, and I will probably work in trauma in some way,” Lyddon said.

Lyddon will pursue a master’s degree starting next semester, and she appreciates knowing that the articles she uses in her studies are carefully researched.

“It’s good to see what happens and what goes into research before it gets compiled into an article. I understand the amount of time that goes into putting these things together — we have put thousands of hours into this project,” Lyddon said.

Those hours have paid off. Lyddon and Fuss have contributed to three research manuscripts, and undergraduate students will travel to a conference in November to help present their results. Nelson Goff’s research group has been productive recently; the group has used both the original and follow-up military couples data to produce seven manuscripts and five presentations at national conferences this fall with undergraduates as co-authors or presenters.

Nelson Goff’s project is also supported by Academic Excellence funds from the Office of the President and the Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost.

This article was posted on Monday, October 24, 2016, and is filed under College News, Family Studies & Human Services, Institute for the Health and Security of Military Families.