The University of Denver's International Disaster Psychology Program has a sober mission: tackling the human costs of man-made and natural disasters such as wars, hurricanes and widespread disease.

The program, started in 2004, extensively trains PsyD and master's students in cross-cultural trauma issues. Then it sends them to international sites to work in a "train-the-trainer" manner with workers who help affected people-victims of genocide in Bosnia, for example, and children with AIDS in South Africa-who often are traumatized themselves, says Elaine D. Hanson, PsyD, JD, the program's founder and academic director. The approach helps to maximize the reach of psychologists' training, she notes.

The program also gives students perspective on cross-cultural diversity, says Hanson, who supervised students on site.

"It not only adds to their academic understanding," she says, "but to the depth of their clinical practice."

The National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology (NCSPP) selected the program to win its annual innovation award at the council's midwinter meeting in January.

Meanwhile, other PsyD programs are demonstrating innovative work in areas including terrorism policy, poverty and violence, and homelessness:

  • The new Stanford University-based Center for Interdisciplinary Policy, Research and Education on Terrorism. Opened in March, the center's mission is to translate behavioral-science knowledge on evil, fear, terrorism and political violence into useable policy, says James Breckenridge, PhD, center associate director. It will include fellowships for psychology graduate students who want to examine clinical practice issues as they relate to terrorism or who want to examine broader issues such as the politics of fear or the use of political violence. The program is an outgrowth of the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology-Stanford PsyD Consortium, which has been training clinical psychology graduate students to understand and respond to terrorist attacks since 2002 (see the February 2004 Monitor).

  • A new focus at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago. In an effort to apply Alfred Adler's socially oriented mission to modern times, the school undertook a curriculum overhaul, set for this fall, says Frank Gruba-McCallister, PhD, the school's vice president of academic affairs.

Faculty-including instructors in sociology, political science, urban planning and law-will now help grad students apply psychological theory and research to poverty, violence and discrimination. The result, Gruba-McCallister says, will be students trained in the model of becoming a "socially responsible practitioner."

  • The Wright Institute's Collaborative Practica Program. Based on Wright's mission to serve the underserved, the program provides student and supervisory resources to agencies serving these populations. In one project, students' Social Security disability assessments for homeless people resulted in so many favorable funding decisions that the number of required assessments dropped dramatically in favor of direct payments, says Gilbert Newman, PhD, Wright's director of training. The concept is a win-win, Newman adds: Populations get services they would not otherwise receive, and students get research and training opportunities they would otherwise not have.

-T. DeAngelis