Dr. Gregory R. Janson is a professional clinical counselor specializing in traumatology. His research includes areas such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bullying, domestic abuse, family life, and emotional maltreatment. Additionally, he is a forensic evaluator who frequently testifies as an expert witness in court to explain the intersections of counseling, psychology and the law in cases involving murder, kidnapping, pedophilia and more.
Janson is the former associate dean of students at Ohio University. During his two-year term, he helped found the Student Review and Consultation Committee, a campus behavioral intervention service to report and mediate the disruptive or concerning behavior of students. He continues to present and educate others on how to form and operate behavioral intervention teams.
Janson originally became interested in trauma research during his time as a therapeutic foster parent to children and adolescents with severe mental and emotional problems.
“I could see the impact of trauma and the failure of the system to identify and help these kids the way they needed to be helped,” he says.
Failures can come in the form of giving undesired behavior a pathological diagnosis instead of recognizing the history and context of the behaviors that often mandates a trauma diagnosis instead, Janson says. A child may receive a pathological diagnosis of being oppositional and defiant when acting out, but that conclusion frequently fails to look at the child’s history of traumatic experience, such as neglect and abandonment.
“When children and adolescents live in chaotic, unpredictable and dangerous environments, they develop protective behaviors and beliefs to enable them to adapt, no matter how maladaptive those behaviors might seem to others on the outside, looking in. Understanding behavior as a response to trauma can lead to looking at the child in a whole different light because those behaviors represent the very best the child can do under the circumstances.”
Janson says trauma is a poorly understood area, as society treats physical and emotional injuries differently.
“Our culture does a great job with physical injury, but when it comes to emotional and psychological injury, where we don’t see blood or pain, we are not well educated regarding what is needed to give — or receive — help,” he says. “Whether it’s a war veteran, a victim of sexual assault or a victim of bullying in a middle school, people don’t know how to help, and those in need of that help are often unwilling to accept it since it seems to make them even more weak or vulnerable.”
Additionally, unrealistic expectations for time needed to heal can cause pressure for the trauma sufferer — by and large, people are expected to “get over” traumatic experiences quickly. This is partly because witnessing other people’s emotional or psychological pain is uncomfortable, so people often feel the need to “bandaid” — to say and do things to fix another’s pain. Janson says that it is hard for many people to accept that trauma and loss create circumstances that cannot be “fixed.” Making meaning of the traumatic events we experience is hard work and at its heart, is a spiritual task, say Janson. “People underestimate the power of empathic listening and being present, without the need to fix or speak or struggle to somehow make things easier.
Janson continues to raise awareness about the impact of trauma through writing, teaching, counseling and presenting research. He is currently working with colleague Margaret King to publish a series of books on emotional maltreatment of children in elementary schools.