Christine A. Courtois is best known for her pioneering work in understanding, diagnosing, and treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in survivors of sexual abuse, particularly incest. Beginning with her graduate studies and continuing throughout her career, she has been groundbreaking in her commitment to the well-being of the patients she serves and to the expansion of knowledge about dissociative disorders and PTSD. She is presently in independent practice in Washington, D.C.
Courtois received her Ph.D. in counseling from the University of Maryland Department of Counseling and Personnel Services in 1979 after completing her internship at the University of Maryland Counseling Center in 1978-1979. Her dissertation (Characteristics of a volunteer sample of adult women who experienced incest in childhood or adolescence) and her volunteer work with rape crisis centers during her graduate training marked her article into the area of sexual abuse and its aftereffects.
After receiving her Ph.D., Courtois moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she held a staff counselor position at Cleveland State University. On her return to Washington, D.C., she served as a staff counselor at the counseling center at the University of Maryland, as a counseling psychologist at the U.S. General Accounting Office’s Counseling and Career Development Center, and as a staff psychologist at the Women’s Medical Center of Washington, D.C. In 1983, Courtois moved to independent practice in Washington, D.C., where she maintains her own practice, with associates, focused on individual and group time-limited and long-term counseling and psychotherapy; clinical supervision and consultation; and international, national, regional, and local training and consultation services on a variety of mental health and organizational topics.
In addition, beginning in 1989 and continuing until 2007, Courtois was a cofounder (along with Joan Turkus) of and clinical consultant for an inpatient dedicated treatment unit for individuals traumatized by abuse and experiencing posttraumatic and dissociative disorders. The original unit (Abuse and Dissociative Disorders Recovery Unit) was founded in 1989 at HCA Dominion Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia. In 1991, the unit was moved to the Psychiatric Institute of Washington (Washington, D.C.) as The Center: Posttraumatic Disorders Program, and a partial hospitalization program was added. Principles of enhancing strengths and empowerment, drawn from Courtois’s training in counseling psychology and feminism, serve as the foundational principles for the program.
Although Courtois’s primary commitment has been to the highest quality of her own treatment for survivors of trauma (particularly sexual trauma and incest), she also maintains a deep commitment to both scientific and scholarly understanding of sexual assault and its aftermath and to education and training for practitioners, researchers, and theorists. As she has been in the practice arena, Courtois has been tireless and prolific in her contributions in these arenas.
Courtois has written three books on incest and sexual abuse. Healing the Incest Wound: Adult Survivors in Therapy was published by W. W. Norton in 1988 with a paperback edition released in 1992 and a Chinese translation in 2002, reflecting the remarkable longevity and impact of this groundbreaking work and making it a classic in the area. In 1993, she published Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse: A Workshop Model, and this was followed in 1999 (paperback in 2002) by Recollections of Sexual Abuse: Treatment Principles and Guidelines, again published by W. W. Norton. In addition, she has published two special issues of journals (The Counseling Psychologist: Victimization and Its Aftermath with James O’Neil in 1988 and The Journal of Traumatic Stress, special section on complex trauma, with Bessell van der Kolk in 2005) and numerous book chapters and articles on trauma, traumatic memory, sexual abuse, incest, and recovery with multiple publications every year since she received her doctorate. She has an extensive history of service on editorial boards and as an ad hoc reviewer as well.
Courtois’s commitment to education and training is reflected in both her contributions to scholarly literature and her faculty appointments, which include positions at the Smith College School for Social Work, Harvard Medical School, and Georgetown University. Recently she has worked with the Maryland Psychological Association to develop a Post Doctoral Institute on Trauma and Dissociation. She gives many talks and workshops annually, nationally and internationally.
Courtois’s contribution to the profession through volunteer service in professional organizations is no less noteworthy. She has held numerous appointed and elected positions with the International Society for the Study of Dissociation (ISSD), the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), and the Society for Counseling Psychology (Division 17) of the American Psychological Association (APA) as well as other appointed positions with the APA, other professional associations, and numerous community organizations.
Courtois’s commitment, dedication, and contributions to the field have been recognized many times over. She is a Fellow of APA Divisions 17 (Society for Counseling Psychology), 29 (Psychotherapy), 35 (Psychology of Women), and 42 (Psychologists in Independent Practice) and the ISSD. The awards she has received have been significant. In 1996, the APA presented her with one of its premier awards, the Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Applied Psychology as a Professional Practice. She has received the John Black Award (1995) and the Section for the Advancement of Women “Woman of the Year” award (1994) from the Society for Counseling Psychology. The ISTSS awarded her the Sarah Haley Award for Clinical Excellence in 2003, and the ISSD awarded her the Cornelia Wilbur Award in 2001. She was elected a Distinguished Practitioner in Psychology of the Psychology Academy of the National Academies of Practice in 1998.
- Courtois, C. A. (1988). Healing the incest wound: Adult survivors in therapy. New York: Norton.
- Courtois, C. A. (1993). Adult survivors of child sexual abuse: A workshop model. Milwaukee, WI: Families International.
- Courtois, C. A. (1999). Recollections of sexual abuse: Treatment principles and guidelines. New York: Norton.
- Courtois, C. A., & O’Neil, J. (Eds.). (1988). Victimization and its aftermath [Special issue]. The Counseling Psychologist, 16(4).
- Courtois, C. A., & van der Kolk, B. A. (Eds.). (2005). Special section on complex trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 18(5).