Plenary Lecture

Plenary Lecture

To Attribute, or not to Attribute, that is the Post-Traumatic Question

Assistant Professor Caleb W. Lack
Department of Psychology
College of Education
University of Central Oklahoma

Abstract: A significant number of persons worldwide will experience a traumatic event during their lifetime, be it natural (e.g., tornado, hurricane, earthquake) or man-made (e.g., terrorist attacks, sexual assault). The most common difficulty experienced after a traumatic event is some type of anxiety, with the group of symptoms typically labeled post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) being the most common among type. Related or secondary problems can include impairments in social, academic, or employment functioning, depression, and substance use. Although there are numerous evidence-based programs and therapies designed to alleviate PTSS, they are primarily delivered months, sometimes years, after the traumatic event, as only a small percentage of those persons exposed to a trauma will go on to develop clinically significant difficulties. Early identification of those mostly likely to develop significant difficulties has uncovered several variables that are predictive of distress, including preexisting startle sensitivity, coping skills, depression, and personality factors. The present paper will discuss the results of several quasi-experimental studies designed to examine the role of disaster-specific attributions in predicting current and future post-traumatic stress symptoms in both school-age children and young adults. Primary findings include very strong predictive power for attributions (between 36-74% of variance in PTSS symptoms depending on amount of time post-disaster), particularly those involving searching for the meaning behind the disaster, and this predictive ability was far above and beyond the types of coping skills employed, subjective exposure, or objective exposure to the disaster. The significance of these findings to potential identification of and intervention with persons after exposure to trauma will also be addressed.

Brief Biography of the Speaker:
Caleb W. Lack, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Central Oklahoma. A specialist in cognitive-behavioral therapy, he completed a predoctoral internship in Clinical Child/Pediatric Psychology at the University of Florida and earned his doctorate in clinical psychology from Oklahoma State University in 2006. He is the author of over two dozen scientific articles, books, or book chapters and has presented across the United States and internationally on a variety of topics, including the assessment and treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Tourette's Disorder, stress reactions to natural disasters, and evidence-based psychological practice. To learn more about Dr. Lack or download copies of his publications and presentations, please visit

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