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Post-traumatic psychology

A new Arts & Sciences faculty member comes to Drake with VA hospital experience

Wartime experiences can alter the course of one’s life. Such was the case for Steven Lancaster, who joins the Drake University College of Arts and Sciences faculty as assistant professor of psychology this fall.

It was Lancaster’s 2004 deployment to Iraq before his senior year of college that inspired him to switch the focus of his psychology studies from marriage and family counseling to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He served as a combat engineer, which involved working on construction projects, making sure the roads were safe and using explosives to destroy both old unexploded bombs as well as improvised explosive devices.

“I was struck by how people —even though they’re experiencing the same event—respond differently,” Lancaster says. “It changed the direction I went.” (Listening to his fellow guardsmen complain about spouses was also a motivating factor, he jokes.)

Lancaster later completed his graduate work at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and recently completed a one-year clinical position at the Minneapolis VA hospital where he provided services to veterans struggling with a wide range of mental health conditions.

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At Drake, Lancaster plans to continue researching questions related to PTSD: What helps predict who is going to grow, suffer or stay the same after a traumatic event? Is there something special about traumatic events, versus other stressful experiences, that contributed to lasting impact?

In addition to PTSD, Lancaster is interested in studying post-traumatic growth — a newer area of research that explores how traumatic events inspire resilience and personal improvement in some.

Lancaster will teach two classes this fall: Intro to Psychology and Abnormal Psychology, which will explore how society treats people who suffer from mental illness.

“I look forward to teaching classes in which students are able to learn more about themselves while they are gaining knowledge about the world around them,” he says. “I am also very excited that Drake has a number of wonderful opportunities for me to continue my research and to do so in a way in which I can involve a number of students. I have very much enjoyed collaborating with students in the past and look forward to continuing this as I begin at Drake.”

Drake’s six colleges and schools (plus Cowles Library) will welcome 27 new faculty members this year in disciplines ranging from pharmaceutics to rhetoric and librarianship. Get to know a few of Drake’s newest teachers through their answers to our brief questionnaire.