The 20 most inspiring papers on trauma recovery (or related mental health topics)

A few days ago I made an overview of the 20 most cited research papers on traumatic stress. And then came to the conclusion that what I’m really after is sharing a list of what you find the most inspiring ones (on trauma recovery or any related mental health topic)…

Which papers have made you really enthusiastic? Which articles have changed your thinking? Which publications do you re-read regularly?

We’ll have a #traumaresearch chat about these questions on Wed 28/Thurs 29 March (your local time). But an hour is short, not everyone is able to join, and it may be nice to start a little thread that informs the chat and remains available afterwards (it’s also possible that I’m just a little too curious to wait another week :-)). So please leave a comment with your favorite(s).

It doesn’t matter whether a paper is high-impact / often cited or not. The only thing that counts is that you are a fan. And if you have time, please tell us why you like it.

To start off (let’s aim for the 20 most inpirational papers): one of my favorites is the review by Salmon & Bryant on the influence of developmental factors on posttraumatic stress. I read it in the early stages of my PhD research and keep getting back to it because it’s so rich (and quite unique) in explaining how children process information, depend on parents’ coping behavior, and understand emotions in the context of trauma:

Salmon, K., & Bryant, R. (2002). Posttraumatic stress disorder in children: The influence of developmental factors Clinical Psychology Review, 22 (2), 163-188 DOI: 10.1016/S0272-7358(01)00086-1

24 thoughts on “The 20 most inspiring papers on trauma recovery (or related mental health topics)

  1. Hi Eva, great topic and great idea!
    Here’s mine:

    Breen, L. J., & O’Connor, M. (2009). Acts of resistance: breaking the silence of grief following traffic crash fatalities. Death Studies, 34(1), 30-53

    I read this article when I was looking for research that was challenging ever present belief that grief happens in stages and phases. What inspired me about this paper is that 1) its Australian 2) It brings to life that idea that people who experience traumatic grief are actively “resisting” those stage/phase/medical models of grief, and 3) It also brings to life the natural resilience that people have in the face of great trauma and loss. We so often underestimate this – and the idea that people are actively negotiating around these stage ideas…
    Here’s a link to the article:

    I have to also add this: While technically not an article, The Truth about Grief, by Rita Konigsberg – is one of the best reviews about grief around – it gets to the heart of how absolutely pervasive and unhelpful the the stage theories of grief have been.

  2. What a nice question to ask. And challenging to answer, because so many articles are inspiring. I have to think of Sack, W. H., Him, C., & Dickason, D. (1999). Twelve-year follow-up study of Khmer youths who suffered massive war trauma as children. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38(9), 1173-1179. doi:10.1097/00004583-199909000-00023. I think this is a landmark article, especially because it confronts us with the stochastic nature of PTSD course. Beautiful 4-wave prospective long-term follow-up data. The results described in a very transparent fashion. The sample was obviously treated carefully, and attrition across the 12 years was relatively low. The numerous articles that have been published about the sample touch upon a large number of relevant issues, such as development, acculturation, grief, depression, and resilience. Highly recommended.

  3. The paper which gave legs to my research is,

    Bremner, J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8(4), 445–461.

    Bremner presents a clear picture of the physiological effects of traumatic stress on the brain and was instrumental to my understanding of how my PTSD symptoms manifested. I highly recommend this paper for anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of how the biology of PTSD lends to a better understanding of the behaviors of PTSD sufferers.

  4. Thanks Kerrie, Geert, and Mark! Great to read why you liked these papers, I knew the study by Sack & al (should re-read it actually) but not the other two, am looking forward to reading them.

  5. I have struggled with an answer for many days. As my research has mostly entailed examining controversial aspects of PTSD, I settled on “Progress and Controversy in the Study of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder” written by Richard McNally and published in the Annual Review of Psychology (vol. 54) in 2003. Many other articles have challenged me as well (Rosen and Lilienfeld 2008; Spitzer, First, & Wakefield, 2007; North et al., 2009; McHugh and Treisman, 2006), but the McNally article stands above the rest for me. It not only provides an excellent introduction to many of the ongoing controversies, but also pushed me to critically examine many “knowns” about the disorder. For scientific knowledge to advance there must be ongoing critical examination of our beliefs and ideals and McNally showed me not how important this is, but how to go about doing it.

  6. I am nearly 4 months into my phd, so very new to the trauma literature. However, I would say that the article that has been one of the more insightful readings is ‘Positive Adjustment to Threatening Events: An Organismic Valuing Theory of Growth Through Adversity’ by Joseph and Linley (2005, Review of General Psychology, 9, 262-280). The ability of the theory to account for alterations in subjective well-being and psychological well-being, thereby attending to PSTD and PTG respectively, is of great appeal. Furthermore, as someone who is increasingly orientated towards an interpretivist paradigm and narrative analysis, I find the theory compliments this and provides a concise yet flexible interpretation of the impact of trauma and how I might begin to understand the processes involved. Only time will tell how inspirational this article proves to be for my research.

    • Hi Laura, fantastic that you left a comment, I’m sure not many PhD students would feel confident enough after 4 months (PhD students, please feel welcome to join, would be great to hear about your thoughts and inspirations). I’m a fan of papers that help our theoretical thinking, curious to see what you will think in a couple of years!

      For all, I couldn’t find a free PDF (if you know of it, please leave the link), this is the link to the abstract:

  7. Thanks Eva for this challenge 🙂
    There are, of course very many important papers which makes it difficult the name the most important one. But I would choose a “very old” paper (you were probably not born when it was published….):
    Terr, L. C. (1991). Childhood traumas: an outline and overview. American Journal of Psychiatry, 148, 10-20.
    In this paper Lenore Terr, one of the pioneers of our field, divides childhood trauma into two basic types (type I vs. type II). This conception was and still is very important, both from a clinical and a research point of view.

    • Hi Markus, thanks for that! I appreciate you’re estimation of my age 😉 Terr’s paper is one of my favorites as well; it’s not only very informative, the style of writing is also very attractive.

      For all, Terr’s paper is available in a free PDF:

  8. Five Essential Elements of Immediate and Mid-Term Mass Trauma Intervention: Empirical Evidence. Stevan E. Hobfoll; Patricia Watson; Carl C. Bell; Richard A. Bryant; Melissa J. Brymer; et al. Psychiatry 70(4). Winter 2007. pp. 283 – 315.

    This article defines the essential elements needed in responding to the needs of individuals post-disaster. These concepts have been molded to form “Psychological First Aid” (NCTSN/NCPTSD)and the more recent intermediate/long-term intervention “Skills for Psychological Recovery” (NCTSN/NCPTSD). The article represents a major shift from critical incident reporting post-disaster to meeting natural hierarchy of human needs which include 1) a sense of safety, 2) calming, 3) a sense of self– and community efficacy, 4) connectedness, and 5) hope.

  9. I am a newly minted clinical counselor having served my internship and continuing as an employee in a no-fee agency serving teen and adult survivors of sexual trauma. My education offered little in the way of training for this type of work, so it has been my own initiative and suggestions from peers that led me to the articles I am suggesting. These choices may reveal my naivete in the field, which is why I appreciated the first collection of “influential” articles and look forward to the collection of “inspiring” articles.

    1. van der Kolk, BA, Pelcovitz, D, Roth, S, Mandel, FS, McFarlane, A, and Herman, JL. (1996). Dissociation, Affect Dysregulation and Somatization: The complex nature of adaptation to trauma. American Journal of Psychiatry, 153(7), Festschrift Supplement, 83-93.

    2. Shore, AN. (2001). The Effects of Early Relational Trauma on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation, and Infant Mental Health. Infant Mental Health Journal, 22; 201-269.

    These first two gave me a good foundation in the neuroscience of trauma and PTSD. I like to have as much information as possible, so while some therapists/counselors don’t care too much about the neuroscience, I find that it helps me make sense of symptoms. Being able to explain it simply to clients sometimes helps them feel less “defective.”

    3. Lamagna, J and Gleiser, KA. (2007). Building a Secure Internal Attachment: An Intra-Relational Approach to Ego Strengthening and Emotional Processing with Chronically Traumatized Clients. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, Vol. 8(1); 25-52. doi:10.1300/J229v08n01_03

    Click to access lamagna_gleiser.pdf

    While my overall theoretical framework is integral, my work with clients is a relational intersubjective model (derived from Kohut, Fosha, Stolorow, Orange, et al). This particular article, by students of Fosha, extends her Accelerated Experiential-Dynamic Psychotherapy to include work with parts (Schwartz, R), subpersonalities (Assagioli, R), complexes (Jung, CG), or ego states (Watkins & Watkins), however one conceives of these parts of the psyche that get split off in childhood trauma. I’ve found it useful.

  10. I think this is a really interesting and helpful article on possible psychological reactions in children, and their families, who have experienced a medical event (illness, injury):

    Kazak, A. E., Kassam-Adams, N., Schneider, S., Zelikovsky, N., Alderfer, M. A., & Rourke, M. (2006). An integrative model of pediatric medical traumatic stress. J Pediatr Psychol, 31(4), 343-355.

    This paper describes different phases following pediatric injury and illness and addresses goals of intervention. I also found the summary of assumptions underlying the model useful (the existence of a range of normative responses, the similarities accross illness and injury groups, the importance of a developmental an socio-ecological perspective, and understanding both competent and less functional reactions in families).

    Thanks Eva for this question, it’s really nice to read the opinion of others on their favourite paper!

  11. It’s so difficult to choose between the many articles. I’ve decided to focus on one that isn’t about innovative findings but one that illuminates how to find valid new findings.

    ‘Schnurr, P.P. (2007). The rock and hard places in psychotherapy outcome research. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 20(5), 779-792.’

    Though she is neither the first nor the last to talk about trials designs, I find it an easy to read article that discusses many key concepts in psychotherapy trial design. It’s a good help when you ponder about your own design and contains a ton of practicalities.

  12. You may also like these two favorites that were shared in the comments on the 20 most-cited papers:

    By Kay Walker:
    This paper is impressive and specific to trauma in indigenous Australians, a needy and important group. Laura M Hart1*, Anthony F Jorm1, Leonard G Kanowski1, Claire M Kelly1 and Robyn L Langlands2 (2009) Mental health first aid for Indigenous Australians: using Delphi consensus studies to develop guidelines for culturally appropriate responses to mental health problems. BMC Psychiatry, 9:47 doi:10.1186/1471-244X-9-47. (PDF:
    * Corresponding author: Laura M Hart
    Author Affiliations
    1 Orygen Youth Health Research Centre, Centre for Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
    2 School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand.

    By David:
    I find with my clients that they often have no conscious recollection of the traumatic events that encouraged their perceptions/cognitive processes/ behaviour patterns to become rigid, and I can certainly track my own pathology back to before the time I developed explicit memories.
    I believe the incidence of what Judith Herman characterises as Complex PTSD is a lot more common than is generally accepted (even by those affected), and I perceive a causal link between categories of trauma and clusters of maladaptive personality processes…
    (link to the book on Amazon:

  13. Dear all,
    My favourite paper will expose me as an absolute nerd, as it’s quite technical. It’s Steel, Z., Chey, T., Silove, D., Marnane, C., Bryant, R.A., & Van Ommeren, M. (2009). Association of torture and other potentially traumatic events with mental health outcomes among populations exposed to mass conflict and displacement: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of the American Medical Association, 302(5), 537-549.
    I like this paper because it’s illuminative on the whole discussion what mental health of asylum seekers and refugees is influenced by most: by traumatic events or by current stressors. Sample size is very high and the answer according to this meta-analysis is: torture and cumulative traumatic events form the greatest influence of refugees’ mental health.
    So, to anyone who’s interested in mental health for this population, I can really recommend this paper. And (coincidentally!) it’s Australian :).
    Best wishes to all and especially you Eva, Jackie

  14. The first study that’s on my mind is the elaborate study of Kai Erikson where he describes the individuals within their community before and after the massive Buffalo Creek disaster in 1972. He portrays the dynamics in a mountain community after a disaster, that are still relevant in disasters nowadays. For example in the introduction of the 2006 Edition he makes a comparison with the Katrina disaster.

    I realize that this is not a paper, however, it is a book that reads as a novel; maybe something for a long flight or a lazy holiday. This book was an eye-opener and an inspiration. For me it is one of the classics everybody who is working in a disaster struck community – doing research, in charge of the mental health programs, being a policymaker etc. etc.– has to read…

    Erikson KT. Everything in its path: Destruction of community in the Buffalo Creek Flood. 1976 (Edition 2006) NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

  15. Great list! Seen this was published, there could be some interesting reports on Havening for PTSD coming out?

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