Dr. Berger has spent much of her life studying or treating trauma. Now she's training students to be trauma-informed practitioners.
by Kurt Gottschalk
Roni Berger, Ph.D., has spent much of her illustrious life either studying trauma or dealing with it. The Adelphi University professor lived through five wars before emigrating from Israel to the United States in 1990.
“When I was two years old, I experienced my first war,” she said. “That was the War of Independence. When I was 10, I was hiding under the staircase because there were no shelters during the Sinai war. In the Six-Day War, I was registering and reporting about soldiers wounded in combat.”
During the 1967 Six-Day War, and the Yom Kippur War six years later, Dr. Berger employed her social work skills to help war victims. She received her doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at the age of 48 and moved to New York.
“Living in Israel, trauma is in the air,” she said. “You learn to live with war and security threat as a fact of life.”
While much attention is given to various aspects of stress and trauma in both academic and popular literature, such texts usually focus on specific populations (for example, children) or experiences (immigrating to a new country, for example). With a wealth of professional and life experience behind her, Dr. Berger set out to challenge such particularization, looking to address trauma in an encompassing, cross-cultural way.
Along the way, she developed a proposal for a new course, Comparative Approaches to Social Work Research: Qualitative Methods, and when she couldn’t find a textbook, a colleague suggested she write it. That book, Stress, Trauma, and Posttraumatic Growth: Social Context, Environment, and Identities, was published by Routledge in March 2015.
Such collegial encouragement is a small part of the supportive atmosphere Berger says she values at Adelphi. The University where she has taught for the last 22 years supported research she undertook in Tibet, a sabbatical in Australia, Fulbright scholarships in Hong Kong and Israel and a consultancy with a school in Katmandu.
“What I love is the balance between commitment to good education and faculty scholarship,” she said. “I got a lot of support for my research, for my writing, for my developing courses. I could not be in a better place.”
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