Vanier scholar seeks to understand the consequences of childhood trauma

Jackson Smith | PhD candidate, Psychology

Jackson Smith, a PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology, has been recognized with the prestigious Vanier Graduate Scholarship for his ground-breaking research in understanding the psychological, family relational, and economic consequences of multiple and repeated experiences of childhood trauma. The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship program is valued at $150,000 over three years and is awarded annually to highly qualified doctoral students who demonstrate academic excellence, research potential and leadership. 

Jackson’s research focuses on understanding the consequences of multiple experiences of childhood trauma and examining the factors that are important for children's and families’ responses to traumatic events. Jackson’s entry into this work was spurred by his own experience as a survivor of childhood trauma. While working in the mental health and addictions systems in Ontario and British Columbia, he was struck by the tremendous need for trauma-focused and family-oriented psychologists.

“With more than 1 billion children being victims of interpersonal violence annually, approximately 50% having multiple experiences of victimization, and nearly 90% of victimization occurring in the context of relationships with primary caregivers, developmental trauma can be considered a public health crisis.”

Jackson Smith, PhD canditate in Clincal Psychology

The primary goals of Jackson’s research are to examine how exposure to developmental trauma affects individuals' mental health andshapes family relational dynamics and to examine factors that increase the risk for negative outcomes as well as those that promote positive functioning in the face of adversity. The targeted and longitudinal nature of Jackson’s research highlights how the consequences of complex developmental trauma spread through individuals, families, and societies. These research findings will aid in the guidance of diagnostic considerations, individual- and family-level interventions, and policy directives. 

Prior to coming to the University of Waterloo, Jackson completed an undergraduate degree in psychology and global studies along with a master’s degree in community psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University before entering the workforce as a research consultant and working in the mental health and addiction systems. After spending several years in the workforce, Jackson decided to return to graduate studies and completed his Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology at the University of Waterloo and is now continuing in the PhD program.

When outlining why he chose to study at the University of Waterloo, Jackson highlights Dr. Dillon Browne’s work in the Whole Family Lab. “Dr. Browne is a leader in the field of family systems and childhood adversity and uses advanced statistical techniques to elucidate the complexities of family relationships in contexts of adversity.” Jackson also cites the strength of Waterloo’s clinical psychology program, stating, “I ultimately want to work with children, adolescents, adults, and families as a practicing clinical psychologist, and the life-span focus of this program is uniquely designed to provide the requisite training with all these populations.”

As a Vanier scholar, Jackson plans to build on the skills and knowledge he has acquired to become a leader in the field of developmental trauma. “I hope my research will contribute to the growing understanding of the wide-spread consequences of developmental trauma, including and beyond individual symptoms, and will serve to increase awareness about what individuals, families, communities, service providers, and policy makers can do to bolster their own and others’ ability to overcome adversity.”