Dr. Charles Figley, the Paul Henry Kurzweg Distinguished Chair in Disaster Mental Health, Professor and Associate Dean for Research in the Tulane School of Social Work, and Director of the Tulane’s award-winning Traumatology Institute, has been named the 2021 Distinguished Psychologist by the Louisiana Psychological Association (LPA).
LPA Awards Chair, Dr. Laurel Franklin noted that Dr. Figley has exhibited “…exemplary contributions to Psychology. We were especially impressed with the breath of your mentorship, clinical, and research endeavors in the area of trauma and trauma-related disorders.”
Dr. Figley has served as co-founder of two graduate programs at Tulane. He served as Founding Program Director of Tulane’s Master of Science degree in Disaster Resilience Leadership Program and as Founding Program Director of the City, Culture, and Community PhD Program.
“I was shocked and delighted to be named Distinguished Psychologist by the State Association,” said Dr. Figley. “Thank you so much. This is among the most welcomed and prized awards I have received. I am too old to cry but never too old to scream with delight!”
Included among his many accomplishments, Dr. Figley has served on the American Psychological Association (APA) Council of Representatives and on the Executive Council of APA’s Division on Trauma Psychology.
He has served on numerous editorial boards including for Family, Systems, and Health, Journal of Family Psychology, and Traumatology. He is founding editor of the Journal of Traumatic Stress, the Journal of Family Psychotherapy, and the international journal, Traumatology. He is also Founding Editor of the Book Series Death and Trauma, Innovations in Psychology, and continues to as Editor of the Psychosocial Stress Book Series.
He has published more 160 refereed journal articles and 25 books as pioneer trauma scholar and practitioner.
His Encyclopedia of Trauma was named as an Outstanding Academic Title for the 2013-2014 Academic year by Choice, a publication of the American Library Association. The work is an interdisciplinary guide, bringing together concepts from the humanities, all of the social sciences, and most of the professional fields, for understanding human responses to traumatic events.
His newest book is Psychiatric Casualties: How and Why the Military Ignores the Full Cost of War, co-authored with Mark C. Russell and published by Columbia University Press.
The authors write, “The psychological toll of war is vast, and the social costs of war’s psychiatric casualties extend even further.
Yet military mental health care suffers from extensive waiting lists, organizational scandals, spikes in veteran suicide, narcotic over-prescription, shortages of mental health professionals, and inadequate treatment. The prevalence of conditions such as post–traumatic stress disorder is often underestimated, and there remains entrenched stigma and fear of being diagnosed. Even more alarming is how the military dismisses or conceals the significance and extent of the mental health crisis.”
Dr. Figley’s Encyclopedia was one of the sources for Tulane’s “MOOC,” one of Figley’s many innovations at Tulane. An MOOC, sor Massive Open Online Course, is a trend in higher education that allows for online enrollment extending to other states and even other nations. Figley’s training invention was the first free course in the world about trauma, and the first MOOC for Tulane.
“It’s the first of its kind anywhere,” said Dr. Figley in a previous interview. “The original MOOC model was flawed. MOOCs were simply the traditional classroom structure…” They were often only videotaped lectures moved online and free. But, “They were boring, rigid, and rather inflexible,” he explained. “We chose to invent a new platform that would make it easier and more fun for students to use all platforms––ipad, smartphones, computers––to access all course material, when they wanted it, where they wanted it, and we made it much more interactive and engaging,” he said.
Dr. Figley has made training others a key element of his vision. He has regularly presented at the American Psychological Association and regional associations topics such as, “First Do No Self-Harm––Self-Care Strategies for Psychologists Working with Trauma Survivors,” “Compassion Fatigue and Promoting Regeneration in Psychologists” and “Stress Management skills and Developing a Self-Care Plan.”
“Burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and secondary traumatic stress reactions are frequently found among psychologists and others who deliver humane human services,” said Figley. “These problems are an indication of low resilience that can be corrected with proper training for workers and their supervisors. I love helping in this way,” he told the Times.
Dr. Figley enjoys, “A sense of satisfaction of informing psychology and helping psychologists. Also, I learn lots from practitioners struggling with critical issues never addressed by researchers,” he explained.
Figley’s book First Do No SELF Harm has garnered high praise, “… because it addresses–– finally––the high prices physicians and medical students pay in managing work-related stress,” he explained.
His work he has had far-reaching influence. In 2018 Dr. Figley and Reggie Ferreir, Director of the Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy, visited Puerto Rico to assess the status of the area after one year following landfall of the Category 4 hurricane, Maria. Reported by Tulane magazine, the two were working with the Foundation for Puerto Rico, a nonprofit organization, to promote economic and social development.
Figley and Ferreira helped assess the area’s needs in disaster recovery and mental health services, and also trained organizational leaders in disaster resilience and leadership for recovery.
He is a former professor at both Purdue University (1974-1989) and Florida State University (1989-2008) and former Fulbright Fellow and Visiting Distinguished Professor at the Kuwait University (2003-2004). In 2014 Dr. Figley received the John Jay College of Criminal Justice honorary degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa.
Dr. Figley notes on his website that he has many passions, among these is social justice with special focus on those overlooked: “This passion emerged in high school, continued during his service in the US Marine Corps, especially his war service in Vietnam where he worked with his high school in Springboro, Ohio to collect and ship several tons of school and hygiene supplies to his Marine unit in Da Nang for distribution to the children at the Catholic orphanage and school.
After graduation he spent considerable time as a volunteer and as a scholar to help war veterans cope with their mental health, disaster survivors, secondary trauma survivors, and others who experienced traumatic stress injuries. He continues his humanitarian efforts today, focusing inequities in the treatment of Native Americans, torture trauma survivors, and the elimination of on trauma stigma.”
Dr. Figley and wife Dr. Kathy Regan Figley own and operate the Figley Institute, a professional training company.