Traumatic Stress

Research Overview

Most Australians will experience a traumatic event during their lifetime. While most will recover, many will go on to develop posttraumatic psychopathology including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety disorders and Substance Use Disorders. In addition to this, many develop subclinical symptoms that impact on their functioning and wellbeing. Our program of work is dedicated to improving outcomes for trauma survivors.

Our evidence-based research examines the mental health effects of trauma using a range of methodologies. Our five pillars of research focus on epidemiology, phenomenology, intervention, knowledge translation, and veteran and military mental health. Our research contributes to the understanding of trauma and how it impacts on individuals and communities, and develops cutting-edge interventions that target posttraumatic mental health problems and other negative effects of trauma.



  • O’Donnell, ML, Forbes, D. (2019) Innovation in mental health treatment for Veterans and personnel in high-risk organisations. Advancing the Centenary of Anzac Centre. $1,500,000. State of Victoria, Department of Premier and Cabinet
  • O’Donnell, ML., Lau, W., Gibson, K. (2020). Early Detection and Intervention to Optimise the Mental Health of Frontline Workers. $1,700,000. icare foundation
  • Cowlishaw S, Sbisa A, Freijah I, Kartal D, Couineau A, Phelps A, Forbes D, O’Donnell M. Informing responses to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in military or veteran populations and the Canadian context. Value (Period): $270,000 (2020-21).
  • O’Donnell, M.L, Lau, W., Kartal, D., Arjmand, A., & Forbes, D. (2020). Transdiagnostic sleep intervention for veterans delivered by telehealth (TIRED) – An Australia-Canada collaboration. Canadian Centre of Excellence on PTSD. $80,000.
  • O’Donnell, ML., Cowlishaw, S., Lau, W. (2020). Improving emotional wellbeing in Victorian rural and regional bushfire survivors. $250,000. State Trustees Foundation.
  • Lau, W., O’Donnell, ML., Gibson, K. (2020). Trialing an early intervention to improve psychosocial health for ambulance workers. $160,000. Ambulance Victoria.
  • Dell, L., O’Donnell, ML., Forbes, D. (2020). Early intervention to promote emotional health and wellbeing in Australian Defence Force members. $250,000. Department of Defence.
  • Forbes D, Metcalf O, Cowlishaw S, Varker T, Hinton M, Murphy SA, Qian T, & Lamb, K. (2020). Developing a Just-In-Time-Adaptive-Intervention for problem anger. NHMRC Ideas Grant (2021 – 2025). $690,123.
  • Metcalf O, Van Hooff M, O’Donnell M, Sadler N, Varker T, Cowlishaw S. (2019). Gambling problems after military service: Prevalence and links with anger, aggression, and violence in the Transition and Wellbeing Research Program (TWRP). Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. $48,100.
  • Varker, T., Metcalf, O., Cowlishaw, S., Forbes, D. (2019) Improving understanding of the relationship between anger, aggression and suicidality in serving and ex-serving ADF members. $50,000. Defence Health Foundation.
  • Varker, T., O’Donnell, M., Phelps, A., Forbes. D. (2020) Understanding Evidence: A Framework for Guiding the Use of Evidence in Decision Making”. $94,000. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
  • Gibbs L, Ulubasoglu M, Tekin E, Nursey J, Cesur R, Ireton G, Cowlishaw S, Cobham V, Forbes D. School staff support after major emergencies. Funder: Teachers Health Foundation. Value (Period): $400,000 (2020-22).
  • Cowlishaw S, Couineau A, Forbes D, Tarzia L, O’Dwyer C, McCarthy J. Understanding encounters with Intimate Partner Violence among veterans and family members in Open Arms services (Stage 1 extension). Funder: DVA Applied Research Program (ARP). Value (Period): $48,448 (2020-21).
  • Cowlishaw S, Phirri J, Couinea A, Metcalf O, McGregor K, Suomi A. Responses and readiness to address Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in Gambler’s Help services. Funder: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. Value (Period): $97,200 (2020-21)
  • Thomas S, Randle M, Daube M, Balandin S, Cowlishaw S, Kairouz S, Cassidy R. The big gamble: An interdisciplinary study of the normalisation of gambling. Funder: Australian Research Council (ARC). Value (Period): $259,229 (2019-21)
  • Cowlishaw S, Couineau A, Forbes D, Tarzia L. Improving responses to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in mental health and family support services for the veteran community in Australia. Funder: Defence Health Foundation. Value (Period): $49,991 (2019-21)
  • Feder G, Williamson E, Szilassy E, Gilchrist G, Cramer H, Bailey J, Carey J, Hollinghurst S, Cowlishaw S, Debbonaire T, Hegarty K, Howard L, Hester M, Ziebland S, Peters T. Reaching Everyone Programme of Research on Violence in diverse Domestic Environments. Funder: NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research. Value (Period): [GBP] £2,526,320 (2016-22).
  • Sadler, N., & Dell, L. (2020). Stigma and help-seeing amongst emergency service workers with subthreshold mental health symptoms. Emergency Services Foundation. $49,900.
  • Dell, L., Forbes, D., O’Donnell, M., Sadler, N., Lawrence-Wood, E., McFarlane, A., & Jones, K. (2020). The Early Intervention Subthreshold Presentation Investigation. Department of Defence. $299,025.
  • Dell, L., Sbisa, A., & Forbes, D. (2020). Extending the RESTORE prolonged exposure trial. Department of Veterans’ Affairs Applied Research Program, $284,230.
  • Forbes, D, O’Donnell, ML, Phelps, A, & Dell, L. (2018). Moral Injury Outcome Scale Development. $545,000. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Research Opportunities

This research project is available to PhD students, Honours students, Post Doctor Researchers to join as part of their thesis.
Please contact the Research Group Leader to discuss your options.

Research Publications

TOP 5 publications

O’Donnell ML., Lau W, Chisholm K., Agathos J., Little J., Terhaag S., Brand R., Putica A., Holmes A., Katona L., Felmingham, K., Murray, K., Hosseiny, F., Gallagher MW. (2021). A pilot study of the efficacy of Unified Protocol for Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders in treating posttraumatic psychopathology: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Traumatic Stress.  PubMed

Cowlishaw, S., Metclaf, O., Varker, T., Stone, C., Molyneaux, R., Gibbs, L., Block, K., Harms, L., MacDougall, C.,vGallagher, C., Bryant, R., Lawrence-Wood, E., Kellett, C., O’Donnell, M.L., Forbes, D. (2021) Anger Dimensions and Mental Health Following a Disaster: Distribution and Implications After a Major Bushfire. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 34, 46–55. PubMed

Varker, T., Jones, K. A., Arjmand, A.H., Hinton, M., Hiles, S. A, Freijah, I., Forbes, D., Kartal, D., Phelps, A., Bryant, R. A., McFarlane, A.C., Hopwood, M., O’Donnell, M., (2021) Treatment dropout from guideline recommended psychological interventions for posttraumatic stress disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, 4, p.100093.

O'Donnell, M.L., Lau, W.,, Fredrickson, J., Bryant, R. A., Bisson, J., Burke, S., Busuttil, W., Coghlan, A., Creamer, M., Gray, D., Greenberg, N., McDermott, B., McFarlane, A. C., Monson, C., Phelps, A., Ruzek, J. I., Schnurr, P. P., Ugsang, J., Watson, P., Whitton, S., Williams, R., Cowlishaw, S., & Forbes, D. (2020). An open label pilot study of a brief psychosocial intervention for disaster and trauma survivors. Frontiers in Psychiatry.  PubMed

Metcalf, O., Stone, C., Hinton, M., O’Donnell, M., Bryant, RA., Hopwood, M., McFarlane, A., Forbes, D., Kartel, D., Watson, L., Freijha, I., Varker, T. (2019). Treatment augmentation for posttraumatic stress disorder: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Science and Practice.

Research Projects

For project inquiries, contact our research group head.

Faculty Research Themes


School Research Themes

Neuroscience & Psychiatry

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact Professor Meaghan O'Donnell

Department / Centre

Psychiatry , Phoenix Australia Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health

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