The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the “Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft” honour psychologists from Konstanz, Professor Thomas Elbert and Dr Maggie Schauer, with the Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker-Prize. The Academy recognises two outstanding researchers, who have made considerable contributions to the research and treatment of traumatic and stress-related disorders. They developed innovative treatments for mental functional limitations triggered by repeated life-threatening experiences. In particular, the Narrative Exposure Therapy helps traumatized persons to overcome their symptoms and regain their personal dignity; it essentially leads trauma survivors back to life. Elbert and Schauer observed how important mental health is for the active reconstruction of destroyed societies in areas of war and conflict. This help, however, has gained great importance also in countries – such as Germany – that offer protection to survivors of organised violence, war and torture. The Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker-Prize is awarded every two years to researchers who "have made a significant scientific contribution to tackling the great challenges facing society today". The renowned research prize is endowed with 50,000 euros.
For two decades, Maggie Schauer and Thomas Elbert have studied the consequences of traumatic experiences due to organized and domestic violence, war, torture and flight. The two psychologists simultaneously help trauma survivors and conduct research in the university's refugee outpatient clinic, in the laboratory and in the field in conflict zones. They created the Konstanz Centre of Excellence for Psychotraumatology and cofounded the organization vivo (“victim’s voice”, www.vivo.org) to support the protection and treatment of victims of violence and war refugees. They are also committed to preventing the so-called transgenerational transfer of traumas. Using molecular-biological and psycho-physiological examination methods, Thomas Elbert and Maggie Schauer have demonstrated that traumatic stress experiences not only result in psychological and physiological damage and challenges, but also affect the legibility and repair capacity of genetic material of the individuals concerned. This means that traumatic experiences may even affect the behaviour, thoughts and feelings of their descendants.
Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET) is a ground-breaking development created by Maggie Schauer and Thomas Elbert, together with their former student and now Professor Frank Neuner (University of Bielefeld). NET is a treatment method for heavily stressed individuals who have experienced massive and prolonged violence and abuse. The therapy focuses on situating traumatic experiences to a time and place. By doing so, the experiences no longer continuously surface in feelings and thoughts of the present. Under certain conditions, Narrative Exposure Therapy can also be carried out by trained laypersons and can therefore also be used in crisis areas where sufficient psychotherapeutic care is not available.
"Thomas Elbert's and Maggie Schauer's scientific work not only contributes to a deeper understanding of the consequences traumatic stress causes, but also actively contributes to reducing the distress of refugees of war and victims of organised and also of domestic violence", explains Professor Ulrich Rüdiger, rector of the University of Konstanz. "The Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker-Prize for Thomas Elbert and Maggie Schauer is a great acknowledgement of two outstanding researchers. At the same time it signals clearly how important research is for addressing current social problems, especially the refugees crisis", says Rüdiger.
Thomas Elbert is professor of clinical psychology and behavioural neuroscience at the University of Konstanz. He is one of the world's leading scientists in the field of psychobiology, investigating human dispositions towards the perpetration of violence, as well as in the area of mental health in conflict and crisis areas.
Maggie Schauer has directed the work with refugees and survivors of torture at the Konstanz Centre of Excellence for Psychotraumatology for 13 years. The internationally renowned psychologist is especially committed to practically implementing the findings of trauma and stress research for the benefit of all and to making this knowledge available to the public.
The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the “Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft” present the Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker-Prize to researchers who "have made a significant scientific contribution to tackling the great challenges facing society today". The prize is worth 50,000 euros and will be awarded in 2016 for the fourth time.