James Topitzes, PhD

  • Professor, Social Work
  • Department Chair, Social Work

Dr. James "Dimitri" Topitzes earned his Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006. For several years both before and after earning his doctorate, Dr. Topitzes worked in a clinical social work capacity for Waukesha County's Department of Health and Human Services. In 2008, he joined the faculty of the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Since that time, Dr. Topitzes has conducted research into the long-term effects of child maltreatment and interventions aimed at preventing or treating early psychological trauma. In 2015, he developed the trauma screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment or T-SBIRT interview protocol and continues to implement and test it.

In 2013, Dr. Topitzes helped found the Trauma-Informed Care Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He served as the program director until 2016. Currently, Dr. Topitzes teaches a number of courses within the certificate program, including an innovative offering titled Community Building and Mindfulness. He also teaches trauma counseling courses to master’s students and the philosophy of science to doctoral students.

Dr. Topitzes values university-community partnerships as a vehicle to bridge the gap between social work research and practice. He maintains a close working relationship with several community collaborators to help improve direct practice programming. Based on such a relationship with partners at Children’s Wisconsin, in 2016 Dr. Topitzes helped launch the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being where he currently serves as the Director of Clinical Services.


  • Ph.D., Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2006
  • M.S., Social Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1999
  • M.A., Spirituality, Holy Names College, 1992
  • B.A., Psychology, Harvard University, 1988

Recent Grants:

  • 2023-2034: Marquette University and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's President and Chancellor's Challenge. $75,000 (Recipient: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University) Healing Adversity and Trauma through Conversation and Hope (HATCH). Role: PI.
  • 2021-2025: U.S. Department of Health Resources and Services Administration Behavioral Health Workforce Education & Training Program for Professionals. $1.8 mil. 1M01HP42004-01-00 (Recipient: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) YOSAT II. Role: Co-PI; PI: Lisa Berger.
  • 2021-22: Wisconsin Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Department of Workforce Development Contracted Services. $176,300. Milwaukee Equity Action Plan. Role: PI.
  • 2020-23: Medical College of Wisconsin Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin. $400,000. Integrating Trauma Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment to Enhance W-2 Case Management Services. Role: Consultant and Trainer; PI: Workforce Resource, Inc.
  • 2019-2021: Bader Philanthropies. Isabel & Alfred Bader Fund. $120,000. Trauma-Informed Employment Services I and II. Role: Principal Investigator.
  • 2016-2021: Wisconsin Partnership Program, UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Community Impact Grant. $1,000,000, PI: Conor Williams. Improving Health through Enhanced Work. Role: Academic partner lead evaluator and trauma counseling specialist.
  • 2014-2017: Youth-Oriented Substance Abuse and Trauma Counseling Training Program. Total Funds: $1,050,000. Source: Health Resources and Services Administration. U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services. Role: Co-Investigator and Trauma Counseling Specialist.
  • 2013-2016. SBIRT Training for Substance Misuse Program at UW-Milwaukee. Total Funds: $900,000. Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Role: Co-investigator and Trauma Counseling Specialist.
  • 2011-2013: Project Connect: Adapting PCIT to Foster Care. Total Funds: $300,000. Source: National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Role: Co-investigator and clinical director.

Professional Affiliations:

  • National Association of Social Workers
  • Society for Social Work Research

Select Recent Publications | Journal Articles:

  • Goldstein, E., Topitzes, J., Brown, R.L., & Jussel, A.B. (2023). Mental health among university employees during the COVID-19 pandemic: The role of previous life trauma and current posttraumatic stress symptoms: Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. 15(3), 536-545.
  • Chopp, S., Topitzes, J., & Mersky, J. (2023). Trauma-Responsive Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Behavioral Sciences13(6), 511.
  • Topitzes, J., Bacalso, E., Plummer-Lee, C.T., Jonas-Gordan, S., & Mersky, J. (2022). Trauma screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (T-SBIRT) implemented within TANF employment services: An outcome study. Journal of Social Service Research, 48(6), 753-767.
  • Mueller, D., Bacalso, E., Ortega-Williams, A., Pate Jr., D.J., & Topitzes, J. (2021). A mutual process of healing self and healing the community: A qualitative study of coping with and healing from stress, adversity, and trauma among diverse residents of a midwestern city. Journal of Community Psychology, 49(5), 1169-1194.
  • Voith, L.A., Topitzes, J. & Berg, K.A. (2020). The transmission of violence and trauma across development and environmental contexts: Intimate partner violence from the perspective of male perpetrators. Child Abuse & Neglect, 37, 329-342.
  • Goldstein, E., Topitzes, J., Brown, R. L., & Barrett, B. (2020). Mediational pathways of meditation and exercise on mental health and perceived stress: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Health Psychology, 25(12), 1816-1830.
  • Mersky, J.P., Topitzes, J., & Britz, L. (2019). Promoting evidence-based, trauma-informed social work practice. Journal of Social Work Education, 55(4), 645-657.
  • Goldstein, E., Topitzes, J., Bristler, J., & Brown, R. L. (2019). Addressing adverse childhood experiences and health risk behaviors among low-income, Black primary care patients: Testing feasibility of a motivation-based intervention. General Hospital Psychiatry, 56, 1-8.
  • Blair, K. H., Topitzes, J. & Mersky, J. P. (2019). Do parents' adverse childhood experiences influence treatment responses to parent-child interaction therapy? An exploratory study with a child welfare sample. Child and Family Behavior Therapy, 41(2), 73-83.
  • Topitzes, J., Mersky, J. P., Mueller, D., Bacalso, E., & Williams, C. (2019). Implementing trauma screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment within employment services: A feasibility trial. American Journal of Community Psychology, 64, 298-309.
  • Mersky, J.P., Topitzes, J., & Britz, L. (2019). Promoting evidence-based, trauma-informed social work practice. Journal of Social Work Education, 55(4), 645-657.
  • Topitzes, J., Grove, T., Meyer, E. E., Pangratz, S., & Sprague, C. M. (2019). Trauma-responsive child welfare services: A mixed methods study. Journal of Child Custody, 16, 291-312.
  • Topitzes, J., Berger, L., Otto-Salaj, L., Mersky, J. P., Weeks, F., & Ford, J. D. (2017). Complementing SBIRT for alcohol misuse with SBIRT for trauma: A feasibility study. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions 17(1-2), 188-215.
  • Mersky, J.P., Janczewski, C.E., & Topitzes, J. (2017). Rethinking the measurement of adversity moving toward second-generation research on adverse childhood experiences. Child maltreatment, 22, 58-68.
  • Topitzes, J., Pate, D. J., Berman, N. D., & Kirchner-Medina, C. (2016). Adverse childhood experiences, health, and employment: A study of men seeking job services. Child Abuse & Neglect, 61, 23-34.
  • Mersky, J. P., Topitzes, J., Grant-Savela, S., Brondino, M. J., & McNeil, C. B. (2016). Adapting parent-child interaction therapy to foster care: Outcomes from a randomized control. Research on Social Work Practice, 26, 157-167.
  • Topitzes, J., Mersky, J.P., & McNeil, C. B. (2015). Implementation of parent child interaction therapy within foster care: An attempt to translate an evidence-based program within a local child welfare agency. Journal of Public Child Welfare, 9(1), 22-41.

Curriculum Vitae