2014 Texas Tech Integrated Scholar
Director of the Institute for Child and Family Studies
Professor of Human Development and Family Studies
College of Human Sciences
As an Integrated Scholar and professor of human development and family studies, Jeffrey Wherry hopes that his work will improve the lives of children and families who have had to face traumatic experiences. Wherry directs the Institute for Child and Family Studies, and he primarily works with abused children in the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Clinic at the TTU Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC). At TTUHSC, Wherry holds appointments as a clinical professor in the departments of psychiatry and pediatrics. His research tests functional magnetic resonance imaging technology in an effort to understand how the brain responds to trauma. Of special interest is examining how emotions and memories correspond for children suffering from post-traumatic stress. In addition to providing a setting for his research, the ACE Clinic offers space for Wherry to supervise graduate students as they meet with children and their families. He also oversees students at the Children’s Advocacy Center of the South Plains. Outside of clinical settings, Wherry leads seminars and workshops that focus on abuse-related issues, as well as online training for professionals who handle child trauma and abuse in Texas. Moreover, Wherry serves numerous organizations at the national, state and local levels, and works on university committees.
Learn more about Integrated Scholar Jeffrey Wherry in this question-and-answer session.
What are your research objectives and interests?
My research objectives are to understand the symptomatic presentations of abused children in the context of how many of these mechanisms, which produce symptoms, are “hard-wired” responses activated by the fight-or-flight response and influenced by a variety of circumstances, learning and moderating variables. A related interest is the challenge of systematically training disciplines during graduate and professional school that become involved in working with abused children. A well-kept secret is that across the U.S. and across the globe, there is no systematic exposure to a curriculum that addresses child abuse, despite a prevalence rate of sexual abuse by age 18 of 1-in-4 women and 1-in-6 men.
How do you feel your research impacts the globe?
The training and research that I do have the potential to impact the globe. Recently, academic and clinical visitors from Iceland visited Lubbock and were shown examples of child abuse projects in Lubbock, Dallas and Austin. Along with a talented graduate student and Student of Integrated Scholarship, Lindsay Huffhines, we have assisted our Icelandic colleagues in implementing a study of social support as related to child abuse in Iceland. Interestingly, such efforts have the potential to spread across Europe. Several years ago, visitors from Iceland observed the CAC model as practiced in Texas and implemented the model in Iceland. Norway and Sweden copied the model, and now the European Union is seeking to implement a similar model for serving abused children and their families.
What types of service projects have you been involved with?
I have had the good fortune to serve as a consultant, trainer, program evaluator, researcher or clinician in many agencies in the Lubbock area, including: Children's Advocacy Center of the South Plains, Women’s Protective Services, Children’s Home of Lubbock, Texas Boys Ranch, the Buckner Transition Center, Covenant Children’s Hospital and the YWCA. Through the support of the Department of Pediatrics at the TTUHSC, I have been fortunate to work with talented students and to create a clinic for traumatized children—the Adverse Childhood Experiences Clinic.
Some of the more traditional service activities on campus have included being a service learning fellow, a member of the Teaching Academy and a member of the university IRB Committee.
What are you currently working on?
My interest in symptomatology, diagnosis and assessment is now “front and center” in the world of child abuse. There is growing recognition that good treatment, even evidence-based treatment, benefits from a good evidence-based assessment. Just as a surgeon would request an imaging study of an injured knee before doing surgery, so should a therapist evaluate the condition of the client. The field of trauma and mental health is increasingly recognizing this.
I am also a “student” of the functional magnetic resonance imaging technology and the potential for greater understanding of the connections between centers of the brain and how these relationships might be expressed symptomatically. In turn, a better understanding of these complex interactions in the brain may lead to better treatments for children who have been traumatized.
Where do you find your inspiration?
The children and families who survive and thrive after sexual abuse and traumas that are unspeakable.
What advice do you have for new faculty members about balancing the components of Integrated Scholarship—teaching, research and service—in their careers?
Good luck! It is hard and a challenge. To students, don’t try and change the world with your thesis or dissertation. Graduate first, and then go change the world. As you seek to balance the components of research, service and teaching, seek the same balance in your personal life. Too many professionals of every discipline sacrifice their families for their profession. Try to make every effort count for service, teaching and research. Start a lab or clinic, supervise students in that endeavor, and collect data for presentation and publication as you go about your work.
After bouncing from major to major as an undergraduate, I determined that working with and helping children was the path I wanted to take. A few majors later, I settled on psychology but never imagined myself as an academician, let alone a researcher. However, my graduate training grounded me in the scientist-practitioner model and fueled my curiosity. Soon, I was publishing with faculty and enjoyed the process of inquiry. My subsequent interest in child abuse was not planned, since in 1982, child abuse was seldom recognized, and there were no evidence-based assessments or treatments at the time. However, the variety of symptomatic and functional presentations intrigued me. Hopefully, I have honored the children and families with whom I have worked by sharing the lessons that they helped to teach me.
B.S. & B.S.Ed., Psychology, Abilene Christian University (1977);
M.S., Psychology, University of Texas at Tyler (1979);
Ph.D., School Psychology, University of Southern Mississippi (1982)