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Joanne Cacciatore has made it her life’s work to help people cope with the traumatic grief that comes from the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one.
Cacciatore received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Arizona State University with honors from Barrett Honors College in 2001. She had returned to school at the age of 30 after the unexpected death of her baby daughter.
“One of my children died. That catapulted me back into school. I was a single mom with four children 10 and under. Being at Barrett was a huge benefit in my undergraduate student career. For me it was important to set the bar high to test the limits of my capacity and scholarship. It helped me to be the best version of myself I could be in my studies,” she said.
“One of the greatest things Barrett taught me is I could do it. Yes, there was a lot of stress and I was tired, but I trusted myself. I didn’t feel like the busy life I had was a limitation. It was an inspiration. I wanted to show my kids that I could do it. I wanted them to know that if I could do it with four kids and being a single mom, they could do it too,” she added.
In 2004 she completed a masters in social work at ASU and in 2007 she received a doctorate with a focus on child, youth, and family trauma and death studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Since 2014, has been an associate professor in ASU’s School of Social Work. Her areas of research and practice include traumatic death and grief, culturally appropriate interventions, pediatric death, homicide, suicide, evidence based psychosocial interventions and mental healthcare, means of coping, bereavement-related psychopharmacology, social support and family systems, care farming, meditation, and mindfulness-based approaches to traumatic grief.
She is the author of Bearing the Unbearable: Love, loss and the heartbreaking path of grief, which won the 2017 Indies Book of the Year Award in the self-help category.
Cacciatore established the MISS Foundation, a non-profit volunteer based organization that provides counseling, advocacy, research and education services to families experiencing the death of a child. She also founded the Selah Carefarm, a 10-acre facility in Page Springs, Ariz. where people experiencing traumatic grief can go to heal and learn to cope in a natural outdoor setting. The care farm is a green, sustainable, substance-free and vegan community that offers grief counseling and health and wellness programs.
“A defining feature of trauma is a sense of aloneness and a lack of safety. People can come to Selah Carefarm to have space to consider their own trauma, anger and fear,” Cacciatore said.
Selah Carefarm is home to 30 rescue animals, including an abused Grand Canyon pack horse Cacciatore rescued and named Chemakoh. Visitors to the farm may interact with and help care for the animals.
“There’s hope infused in the relationship. People who feel lost and abandoned in the world find a connection to other living beings. It’s the ultimate existential crisis; how do we live in the midst of traumatic loss? If an animal who has experienced trauma and loss can survive, so can we. It’s a symbiosis of two beings – human and animal – and there’s some kind of magic in it,” Cacciatore said.