Trauma, including abuse and exposure to violence, is common with 50-60% of U.S. adults experiencing at least one trauma in their life. Trauma is also a leading contributor to mental illness and is associated with a range of conditions such as PTSD, anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse.  

Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences conducts a broad range of trauma-related research that spans across age and developmental stages. Learn more about our work with children, teens and adults below. 

Members of the child trauma research team meet to discuss a project
Members of the child trauma research team meet to discuss a project.

For more than 20 years, the Child and Family Trauma Program has conducted rigorous program evaluation, quality improvement efforts and research focused children and families affected by trauma.

Preventing Child Maltreatment

Family Connects is a brief universal, postnatal nurse home visiting program developed by Duke faculty to prevent child maltreatment. Results from two federally and private foundation funded randomized controlled trials indicate reductions in maltreatment reports and emergency medical care through age 60 months, along with improvements in maternal distress, home environments, and quality of out-of-home child care. A rurally-focused quasi-experimental study yielded similar results. Family Connects is being implemented and studied in more than 30 communities nationwide.

Treatments for Child Traumatic Stress

Studies of dissemination and implementation of evidence-based treatments for child traumatic stress integrate training to high levels of intervention fidelity with implementation science methods (e.g., learning collaboratives) to promote quality and sustainability, led to NC General Assembly funding for measurement-based evidence-based treatment training statewide with outcomes similar to those attained in randomized controlled trials (e.g., traumatic stress symptoms, parenting improvements, treatment access and utilization).

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

The largest and most sustained federal funding ever for child trauma impact, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, is coordinated by the UCLA-Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress; Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences faculty and staff provide technical, collaboration-enhancing assistance to 140 funded centers evaluating trauma-informed interventions and practices to improve nationwide standards of care.

Advances have been communicated to the broader research community, policy makers, and the general public. Quality improvement data have demonstrated (to name just a few key findings):

  • Network-wide positive trauma treatment outcomes and psychosocial functioning
  • Relationship of trauma to service typologies in/across child serving systems
  • Predictions of treatment engagement in diverse child populations
  • Child abuse and trauma exposure frequencies and synergies to psychiatric symptom outcomes

Military Families

Department faculty are investigators for the Millennium Cohort Family Study, a longitudinal study of military families. Findings have highlighted the interplay of military service, parent and family functioning, and child emotional and behavioral problems.

Faculty & Staff

Click on a faculty member's name above to view their profile, including their grants and publications.

Our research group primarily investigates the contributing causes, impacts and treatments of trauma exposure, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and comorbidities. Our current research explores topics including:

  • Genetics
  • Traumatic events
  • Suicide and suicide prevention
  • Self-injurious behavior
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Anger management
  • Cardiovascular outcomes
  • Insomnia

We also explore effective treatments across multiple symptom domains. Once developed, PTSD and its treatment are often complicated by comorbid behavioral health problems, addictions, psychiatric disorders, physical health problems, sleep disturbance and anger/aggression. We investigate innovative treatments to address these problems using targeted psychotherapy and mobile health technology.

With the ultimate goal of developing and implementing innovative behavioral interventions to reduce maladaptive health behaviors (e.g., smoking)—particularly in high risk medical or psychiatric patients—the group examines mechanisms associated with health outcomes and at risk groups. Techniques and approaches used by the laboratory include:

  • Mobile health applications for behavioral change
  • Ambulatory monitoring of physiology and behavior
  • Behavioral interventions including smoking cessation, alcohol reduction, marijuana reduction and physical activity
  • Technology to provide interventions for individuals outside the hospital environment (e.g., telephone and telehealth-based care)


Click on a faculty member's name to view their profile, including their grants and publications.

Participants in the BSC during a work session prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Building Trauma-Informed Schools

In early 2019, faculty members and support staff from the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress and nearly 70 participants from across the country initiated the Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Trauma-Informed Schools.