January 16, 2009
than 25 percent of children are exposed to some form of trauma by
their 18th birthday. Ten percent of youth are psychically abused
and approximately one-third of girls and one-ninth of boys
experience some form of sexual assault. A significant amount of
these children will develop post-traumatic stress symptoms and/or
In September 2001, as a response to the vast number of children who
suffer from traumatic stress, St. John’s University Psychology
Elissa Brown, Ph.D. created the PARTNERS program
(Preventing of Adverse Reactions to Negative Events and Related
Funded by a grant from SAMHSA
(Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the New York State
Office of Mental Heath and private donors, the PARTNERS program, a
research-based organization in St. John’s Center for Psychological
Services, trains staff to evaluate and treat distressed children
and adolescents, while simultaneously helping families cope with
symptoms from interpersonal violence, sexual and physical abuse,
disasters and terrorism.
is my vision to serve children, families and communities who are
suffering from some form of trauma and concurrently evaluate every
step of our services, says Dr. Brown.” It brings research to a
clinical program and brings clinical experience and innovation to
According to Dr. Brown, a licensed clinical psychologist, PARTNERS
differs from other service-delivery programs due to its research
and evaluation component. By training professionals across the
country on counseling best practices, she has accumulated an
impressive referral system ranging from Child Protective Services
to New York Public Schools to federal agencies.
The PARTNERS project incorporates a widely studied, three-phase,
short-term therapy ranging from 12-20 sessions. Scientific research
shows that short-term therapy is proven to effectively alleviate
the long-term symptoms associated with traumatic stress.
To treat the 200-300 families in PARTNERS, Dr. Brown developed the
“5-C’s” approach: coping with stress, decreasing
conflict within families, increasing a children’s
confidence in themselves, their skills and their
strengths, helping children communicate better, and
dealing with life challenges. Children receive coping
skills to handle their mental and physical symptoms, including
excessive worry, social isolation, aggression, aches and pains, and
heart palpitations, while caregivers are given parenting skills for
coaching children in dealing with their trauma. The result is a
cohesive family unit where issues are addressed and resolved.
“We know through multiple clinical trials that short-term
preventative care decreases behavioral aggression and increases the
odds of long-term success,” Dr. Brown says. “This type of therapy
has been tested successfully as a short-term treatment.”
Although faced with challenges, Dr. Brown is justifiably proud of
the program and its service to the community. Her commitment to
direct services to those in need, research, evaluation and
mentorship exemplifies St. John’s Vincentian mission.
In 2008, in collaboration with the Office of Victims of Crime, a
federally funded agency, Dr. Brown was given a $75,000 grant to
develop a public awareness campaign targeting Chinese and Latino
residents in Queens, who as co-victims are dealing with stress and
bereavement in homicide-related incidents.
The objectives of this campaign are to aid communities within the
East Asian and Latino community who would otherwise not receive
proper services, to develop community boards to disseminate the
information, and to learn how to better treat members of the
community in a palpable, feasible and effective way.
“We as professionals know what to do, it’s a matter of how do we
get treatment to communities who due to ethnic or cultural
differences are uncomfortable coming to our center?” Dr. Brown adds
that “we need the communities to tell us how.”
St John’s graduate Colleen Lang, Ph.D, a PARTNERS Clinical
Coordinator, who manages referrals, coordinates evaluations and
counsels clients also notes the difficulty they face with the lack
of funding needed to effectively support the families they treat
within the program.
“The mission of our program is logistically and financially hard to
carry out,” Dr. Lang adds. “However, the structured therapy we
provide is a wonderful way of training clinicians and implementing
treatment necessary to families and communities that seek our
Sarah Gogel, LMSW, a Development Coordinator and Clinician, credits
Dr. Brown’s multidisciplinary approach to therapy as an additional
benefit to the program’s success.
“We want to improve a necessary program and fill the gap for
residents who are unable to receive treatment---therefore we
incorporate social workers, psychology students, and graduate
students at the center,” Gogel says.
Prospective students who are interested in earning a graduate
degree in psychology should have some research or clinical
experience in the field, and courses in mental health problems and
social behavior. However, when seeking potential applicants
for the program, Dr. Brown looks for more than a high GPA ---she
seeks students with a degree of professionalism---and a sense of
“I am trying to grow junior researchers but the stories can be
heart-breaking and it’s difficult to do this type of work without
an outlet, without a passion for the field and a passion for your
clients,” Dr. Brown continues. “I have a superb staff and a strong
support team of professionals.”
Almost 25 graduate and undergraduate students and five
post-doctoral fellows are affiliated with the PARTNERS program at
St. John’s. Students are able to obtain real-life experiences
in advocacy, counseling and research. Many graduate and
doctoral fellows work with Dr. Brown to write manuscripts and
present at professional conferences. Undergraduate students obtain
mentorship, participate in research, and gain hands-on experience
in their field of study.
“I want students to follow what interests them intellectually and
socio-politically, to think about the role you want in this world,”
explains Dr. Brown. “I love the fact that I can be a researcher,
teacher, therapists and an advocate—those are my roles in this
world and I love doing them simultaneously in a way that
As a public-service program, PARTNERS’ primary challenge is lack of
funding. With counseling and research an essential part of
treatment, its function relies heavily on grants and gift-giving
contributions to maintain staff, continue research and evaluations
and, most importantly, provide resources to underserved families
coping with the implications of post-traumatic stress.
PARTNERS has made strides in providing adequate counseling
treatment to children, families and the community, yet there is
still work to be done. The program seeks additional benefactors who
are passionate in continuing its mission to serve the disadvantaged
and restore the lives of families. As a contributor to the
program, sponsors will receive membership packages detailing how
their gift has contributed to the development of the
“There are many ways people can help besides the financial aspect.
Partners are always welcoming new ideas and new form of support
towards its ultimate success,” Dr. Brown says.
For further information or to become a supporter of PARTNERS,
contact Sarah Gogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.