Intergenerational consequences: New social work faculty member aims to transform cycles of trauma with responsive strengths based approach

Trauma and maltreatment tend to be repeated within families across generations. Very often, parents involved in the child welfare system have their own history of unhealed trauma that has not been addressed. For too long, child welfare systems have used a putative approach that fails to recognize the role of parental exposure to interpersonal, historical, and systemic forms of trauma. Wayne State University School of Social Work Assistant Professor Lisa Panisch (photo declined) is working to increase provider access to strengths-based, trauma-responsive approaches that can help create positive changes in these cycles of adversity.

Panisch studies the intersections between individual-level factors such as developmental neurobiology, mental health, and family functioning with macro-level influences such as systemic and historical oppression to gain an in-depth understanding of trauma and its consequences throughout the lifespan and across generations. “It is important to understand how a history of trauma impacts parents during the perinatal and early postpartum period, along with the subsequent implications for parent-child attachment. Previous parental trauma can affect the behavioral health and development of infants and children.”

Becoming more educated about trauma allows us to truly listen to others, to hear and respect the value of their lived experience, and to interact with them in a more compassionate manner. A trauma-responsive approach is strengths-based by nature, respects the intrinsic value of all people, and enhances all forms of interpersonal relationships, including between intimate partners and friends, parents and children, clients and clinicians, students and teachers, and executives and employees, just to name a few. - Social Work Assistant Professor Lisa Panisch, PhD

Prior to becoming a faculty member at Wayne State, Panisch was a National Institute of Mental Health T32 postdoctoral research fellow with the Department of Psychiatry’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Suicide at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She earned her Doctor of Philosophy from the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin in 2020, her Master of Social Work from Florida State University, and her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of North Florida.

Panisch’s research uses a transdisciplinary approach to investigate how trauma can be transmitted through generations of a family and the interventions meant to stop this cycle. She will be tapping into experts from across campus including Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, the Psychology Department, the College of Nursing, and the School of Medicine. “I also intend to build partnerships with child welfare agencies at both the state and county levels in order to help reduce disparities and promote a strengths-based framework that acknowledges and addresses the intersections of interpersonal/family violence, historical trauma, and systemic oppression when working with marginalized and vulnerable children and families.”

“I wanted to live and work in an area where both the university and local residents were committed to investing in positive growth, development, and support for the surrounding community. Coming to Detroit and Wayne has been a perfect fit.” Panisch was also drawn to the School for its unique Dual-Title Master's in Social Work and Infant Mental Health, which provides a deep understanding of the complex determinants of health and the scientific methods necessary to operate in an interprofessional environment addressing health disparities and urban health challenges. “I especially look forward to teaching and mentoring students across the School. I specialize in researching trauma-focused interventions meant to promote parent-child attachment and well-being, particularly with trauma-exposed, vulnerable parents who are currently involved or at high risk for involvement with the child welfare system. As a faculty mentor in the Social Work Student Research Community, I will be able to provide students with the opportunity for hands-on community-based research experience in this complex ecosystem.”

Rooted in an urban community, the School acknowledges that Detroit has a unique set of challenges and opportunities that offer lessons and insights for social work practice in agencies and organizations in diverse urban environments. The urban context provides rich and compelling experiences that aid in developing professional competence and prepare students to uphold the core values of the social work profession. “I appreciate that the School acknowledges how trauma in the urban context – experienced at both individual and systemic levels - influences not only the users and consumers of social work services but also students and practitioners of social work. We can use it to transform our approaches to social work service provision, teaching and learning, and even organizational policy and design.”

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