Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

ease the pain

Graduate Student Studies, Serves Victims of Chronic Pain and Trauma

Emily Sachs

Emily Sachs, GSAS ’07, is curious about pain and torture. What, she wonders, are their long-term emotional and physical ramifications on victims? And how can she help combat these issues?

As a former director of operations at New York City’s Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, she’s already familiar with how much victims struggle to overcome their ordeals, but believes more can be done to help patients find a greater level of peace.

“Chronic pain is complex and not easily treated by standard medical approaches like the way acute pain may be,” said Sachs, a Brooklyn native who grew up in Woodstock, N.Y., before earning her bachelor’s degree at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore. “Sufferers are often discouraged when medical interventions are unsuccessful.

“This is particularly true for minority patients who often suffer communication challenges, bias or even suspicion of drug abuse.”

She is currently writing her dissertation on the emotional and physical affects of trauma, drawing on data collected about political asylum seekers—and victims of torture and war trauma—in New York City.

“My dissertation looks at the impact of distress on the daily functioning of these individuals, and on their ability to complete the complex survival tasks of resettling in an urban environment.

“I think it is important to look at this very underserved population.”

While working at the Bellevue/NYU Program, she crossed paths with Barry Rosenfeld, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Fordham and a longtime program consultant.

Sachs and Rosenfeld collaborated on a number of projects, including one that took Sachs to Northern India, where she interviewed Tibetan refugees. While the work was admittedly intense, she didn’t have to shoulder the burden alone.

“Doctor Rosenfeld visited me twice to check in on the research,” she said. “He really supported me and helped me develop important skills.”

Later, at Rosenfield’s suggestion, Sachs enrolled in Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to continue her research, largely because of the faculty’s reputation for supporting students’ varied research interests.

“Fordham allowed me to explore different areas of research, make professional contacts and take advantage of the city’s state-of-the-art urban hospitals with very diverse patients,” she said.

In 2009, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences presented Sachs with the inaugural Marvin Reznikoff, Ph.D., Endowed Scholarship, which provides financial aid to psychology doctoral students who are in the final stages of their dissertations.

As she finishes her dissertation, she’s also completing her post-doc internship at the San Francisco Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, where she serves chronically underserved patients, within and outside the military.

“I requested a rotation in the Integrative Pain Clinic for veterans with chronic pain,” Sachs said. “It’s a true interdisciplinary team—two anesthesiologists, a physical therapist, a nurse and a psychologist—that works cooperatively on every case.

“I will be the first trainee to rotate through this clinic, and I consider it a great privilege.”

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