Vanier Victory for Konstantinos Papazoglou

Image of Konstantinos Papazoglou and Judith Andersen
Monday, September 23, 2013 - 1:28pm
Carla DeMarco

Although Konstantinos Papazoglou has only been with U of T Mississauga’s Department of Psychology for one semester his graduate studies have started off with a bang. Very fitting for an ex-cop turned academic, now working with several police organizations to investigate the impact of trauma on the physical and mental health.

Just a few months after starting his PhD program at U of T this year, Konstantinos was awarded a prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). His proposal, “Promoting Resilience among First Responders: Culturally Sensitive Intervention Strategies for Positive Health,” is under the guidance of UTM Professor Judith P. Andersen. Prof. Andersen’s research examines the impact of adverse experiences on health and interventions by which to improve health and resilience to stress.

“With police officers these traumatic events are ‘complex’ because they could have repeated exposure to critical incidents, like life-threatening situations or intimate partner violence cases” explains Konstantinos, who says the next phase of the project will lead to improved interventions in the field in order to help officers cope with the effects of trauma.

Konstantinos is well acquainted with the potential pitfalls associated with policing, having started out his career as an officer. He served for nearly 14 years on the force in Athens, Greece, after graduating from the Hellenic Police Academy in 2002, and said it was psychology courses he took while at the academy that initially piqued his interest; he immediately saw connections that were applicable to the police field. He decided to pursue an undergraduate program in Psychology at the University of Athens, before completing a master’s degree in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness in 2010 at New York University (NYU).

It was a project at NYU that explored the impact of trauma on survivors of the Holocaust that marked a turning point in Konstantinos’ academic path.

Admitting to not having had much exposure to the Holocaust prior to the study, Konstantinos says that hearing firsthand about the survivors’ experiences had a profound influence. “It helped me to better understand what trauma is, and I started thinking about trauma in general, and then also about trauma experienced by first responders.” 

While many studies have chronicled trauma on victims and survivors, Konstantinos says its impact on first responders has not been thoroughly examined. For his current project at UTM, along with primary exposure he also considers secondary exposure to trauma, which entails officers who come to the aid of a victim or survivor of trauma, such as an abused child or the target of spousal abuse.

Konstantinos also incorporates a multicultural perspective to the study to explore how minority officers, including sexual minorities as well as racial minorities, experience exposure to traumatic events.

“Our hypothesis is that it is not only the trauma exposure, but also the discrimination that minority officers might experience within and outside the department,” says Konstantinos, noting that officers seeking help might face being stigmatized. “We hope to work with government organizations and appropriate divisions to develop policies that are culturally sensitive and would help alleviate the impact on minority officers, and help mainstream officers as well.”

Konstantinos and Prof. Andersen have established connections with local police organizations in Ontario and in Europe, including the European Police College, Finnish and German Police, and are looking to expand their collaborations in North America with organizations such as Buffalo Police Department, NY. Data from surveys and case studies they are working on will provide significant findings about long-term exposure to trauma. They have also been developing randomized clinical trials in order to study the efficiency of resilience-oriented training programs in helping officers handle the impact of trauma and severe stress on their mental and physical health. For this purpose, they have established a network of distinguished co-investigators (Michael Bagby, PhD, UofT; Peter Collins, MD, UofT and Ontario Provincial Police, Tayyab Rashid, PhD, UofT; John Violanti, PhD, SUNY Buffalo).   

They have garnered widespread attention with their research in academia and beyond. Along with the organizational network they have established, Konstantinos’ and Prof. Andersen’s work has been accepted for publication in trauma-related journals, and they were invited to present at the 2013 Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association held in August in Hawaii. They spent time in Finland in September training senior police educators and clinical psychologists from across Europe about severe stress and health. They will be presenting their research at the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences in Philadelphia in February 2014.

The prestigious Vanier scholarship will allow Konstantinos to continue his collaboration with Prof. Andersen, whom he says is an “inspiration” and a top scholar in the trauma field, and the award will provide funding to further pursue his studies in this field. His proposal ranked an impressive 3rd out of the 148 reviewed by the CIHR Selection Committee, and was one of only 56 fellowships offered across Canada.

“I feel so much happiness,” says Konstantinos on receiving the three-year scholarship. “It is such an honour to be recognized for the work I am doing.”