Faculty & Staff
The Clinical Psychology PhD Program at UMass Boston uses a clinical research apprenticeship model. Each first year graduate student apprentices with a clinical faculty member who will serve as research mentor and advisor to the graduate student. In order to match the clinical research interests of each graduate student with those of a faculty member, we would greatly appreciate if you could provide information as to which areas of clinical research interest you the most.
- Alice Carter, PhD
- Nickki Dawes, PhD
- Abbey Eisenhower, PhD
- Sarah Hayes-Skelton, PhD
- Heidi Levitt, PhD
- David Pantalone, PhD
- Jean Rhodes, PhD
- Lizabeth Roemer, PhD
- Karen L. Suyemoto, PhD
I am interested in studying young children at risk for problems in social and emotional functioning. There are three projects that students could easily become involved. Ideally, students will both contribute to the larger projects and develop their own independent projects within the larger projects. These independent projects most often become the focus of the Master's thesis and Dissertation research.
The first is a representative, longitudinal birth cohort study of children whose parents first completed a series of questionnaires about their 1- to 3- year olds' social-emotional, behavioral, and language development. We have recently obtained funding to follow these children in Kindergarten to Second grade. The current assessments include parent, teacher, and child reports about social-emotional and behavioral functioning as well as diagnostic status. Survey parent-report data have been collected from approximately 1300 parents who provided information on their children's social-emotional and language functioning as well as a variety of demographic characteristics, parenting stress, family functioning, social support, and parental affective symptoms. In addition, comparable information was collected about approximately 200 children who were referred for early intervention services based on developmental delays in language, motor, or adaptive functioning. In addition, videotaped home visits were completed in which parents were asked to interact with their child, and the child was administered a developmental assessment, a mastery motivation task, and a communicative competence task. Students can be involved in developing projects that utilize the observational data and/or the parent report information within the existing data set. Approximately 90% of families have now been followed longitudinally and a subset of children, enriched for psychopathology and language problems will be assessed in depth (e.g., parent-child interactions, direct/interview assessments of parent and child psychopathology).
The second project involves families with a child at genetic risk for Tourette syndrome or Obsessive Compulsive disorder by virtue of having a parent or older sibling with the disorder. The focus of yearly assessments in this project is on attention and executive functioning, visual-motor functioning, social-emotional and behavioral adjustment, and psychiatric symptoms and disorder. Students would have the opportunity to evaluate children, interview parents, and participate in planning and conducting data analyses in this ongoing longitudinal study.
A third possible project involves studying the reliability and validity of diagnostic assessment in infants and toddlers. A project is currently underway with an early intervention center in the Boston area to examine the impact of a variety of instruments designed to assess social-emotional functioning and communicative competence in children suspected of Pervasive Developmental Delays and Autism who are between 14-23-months of age.
Currently, my research interests include understanding how organized youth programs - school and community-based - can complement primary contexts of development, such as the home and school, in efforts to promote positive development (e.g., effective emotion-regulation skills, low-levels of health-compromising behaviors) in socioeconomically disadvantaged youth.
My research interests and goals are guided by a prevention/promotion framework for working with at-risk populations of youth.
A specific focus that is driving current research activities involves working to understand the factors and processes that promote youth’s psychological engagement in organized programs. This interest is grounded in the theoretical and empirical literature suggesting that youth are more likely to benefit from an activity (or internalize the experience) when they are psychologically engaged in the activity.
I am currently in the planning stages for a research project that will involve examining the processes whereby youth become psychologically engaged in organized program activities. I’m specifically interested in examining the extent to which developing a personal connection to program goals is a mechanism for becoming psychologically engaged. Other primary study goals will include developing and exploring methods for identifying when the personal connection occurs, and what facilitates the process.
Two other major interests will be the foundation for subsequent, related projects: (1) The intersection of youth programs with schools, and (2) How certain youth programs might offer supports that would prevent and remediate mental health problems/interpersonal difficulties for at-risk youth.
I am looking for a student who is excited about the potential to study how the contexts of youth programs – school or community-based - can influence positive development in the children and adolescents that participate. Students without a specific research interest will get support in developing one, but a general interest in the setting is required.
Our research team shares interests in the early school experiences, family factors, and relationships of children with developmental disabilities, disruptive behavior problems, and other developmental or behavioral risk factors. I am interested in mentoring a graduate student who would like to complete a master’s thesis based on one of the below projects. Our lab is team-focused, and research team members are expected to work together on the lab’s collaborative projects; for instance, all of our current lab members are actively contributing to the Smooth Sailing study through various clinical and research roles.
The Smooth Sailing Study, funded by a 3-year grant from the Institute of Education Sciences, is aimed at understanding the transition to school for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This study is a two-site effort with Dr. Jan Blacher’s research team at the University of California Riverside.
The transition to formal schooling is a crucial milestone for all children, and children with ASD face particular socio-emotional and academic challenges. Our goal is to identify factors that promote a successful socio-emotional adaptation to school for young children with ASD. In particular, we examine relationships with teachers and, in turn, children’s development of language and literacy skills over time. Ultimately, this study will lead to the development of an intervention to facilitate these children’s social and academic success during the transition to school.
We are actively assessing participating families during 2011-2012 and will enroll the second cohort of families starting July of 2012, following each cohort over a two-year period. Potential student projects within this study can focus on children’s social, emotional, and behavioral adjustment, language and literacy skills, family factors, children’s relationships with teachers, or relationships between parents, teachers, and other providers. Students can also gain clinical experience by conducting child assessments and parent interviews.
School Transitions Study
Our team is currently completing our third and final wave of data collection for the School Transitions Study. Working with local Women Infants & Children (WIC) clinics, we are assessing 78 families of children ages 3-5 years experiencing poverty, including 68% recent immigrant families, as children proceed through preschool and kindergarten. We are examining school, child, and family characteristics that promote positive socio-emotional adaptation to school and academic development for economically-disadvantaged children. Recent student projects have examined parents’ and children’s exposure to potentially traumatic events (Hillary Hurst, 2010 entering class), parent-child relationship quality (Marisa O’Boyle, 2009 entering class), and parents’ reading strategies in relation to children’s academic development (Shaun Glaze, Family Therapy graduate student).
Family and Child Development Project
In collaboration with Dr. Alice Carter’s research team, we are surveying 230 low-income families of young children ages 0-5 years to assess parents’ perceptions of their children’s emotional and behavioral development and perceived need for intervention services. This project provides an opportunity to examine a range of risk and protective factors facing young children living in poverty.
The majority of my current research focuses on psychotherapy for anxiety disorders, particularly cognitive-behavioral and acceptance- and mindfulness-based approaches. I am particularly interested in the processes and mechanisms responsible for therapeutic change. In other words, I am interested in how and why therapy works.
Within this larger interest, there are several types of projects that are in different stages of development:
Mechanisms of Change within CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder
We are conducting an ongoing treatment study examining mechanisms of change within a standard group CBT for individuals with social anxiety disorder. Within this study, there is a particular focus on the combinations of specific mechanisms and processes of change such as the role of decentering (the process of seeing thoughts or feelings as objective events in the mind rather than personally identifying with them), emotional processing, and the working alliance. In addition to the primary data being collected, there is also the potential for additional projects stemming from this study. For example, the video recordings of sessions could be coded for additional mechanisms of interest.
Analogue Studies of Treatment Mechanisms
Another line of research utilizes experimental paradigms to examine potential treatment mechanisms in lab-based analogue studies. For example, a recently completed study examined the role of decentering in both a mindfulness and a cognitive restructuring manipulation for an analogue sample of individuals with public speaking anxiety.
RCT for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
I also collaborate with Liz Roemer and Sue Orsillo on a study comparing an acceptance-based behavioral therapy to applied relaxation for individuals with generalized anxiety disorder. Within this larger, randomized controlled trial, I am particularly interested in the common and distinct mechanisms of change across the two treatments. I am interested in mentoring a graduate student who would like to do a masters thesis stemming from one of these projects and who has a long term interest in studying anxiety and/or psychotherapy. We are a team-oriented lab and so it is expected that members of the lab will work collaboratively on projects. For example, currently everyone on the team is playing some role in the social anxiety treatment study described above.
You can learn more about my research by visiting my website. Students in my research team usually focus upon one of the following two areas of research:
Psychotherapy Process and Outcome Research
My lab has been focused upon factors that seem to be important across different psychotherapy orientations, such as silences, emotions, values, and resistance. In this research we most often adopt one or more of these methods: (1) Process coding system research in which we look intensely at how a psychotherapy process unfolds across sessions. This method allows researchers to see how that process (e.g., types of silences) shifts across the therapy and within different client groups. (2) Qualitative research in which we interview clients or therapist to learn how they experience different psychotherapy processes (e.g., resistance). This method allows researchers to step inside the heads of client and therapists and to access experiences that are rarely talked about in session but may significantly influence the therapy outcome. Current projects in this research include the investigation of a 5-factor model of change within a psychotherapy dataset -- looking at variables such as client curiosity, the creation of moments of difference, and the symbolization of new experiences — as well as a corresponding outcome measure development project.
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Research
We have focused upon the effects of heterosexism on GLBT people by studying anti-GLBT legislation and GLBT minority stress, which is stress that this population experiences on top of regular stress that all people experience. Also, we have interests in studying the meaning of gender within different GLBT cultures and how gender expressions and gender identities develop. In this line of research we usually adopt one or more of these methods: (1) Qualitative research in which we interview GLBT people or significant others to learn how they experience heterosexism or generate their identities. (2) Survey research in which we evaluate how heterosexism influences GLBT mental health and other experiences. (3) Intervention research in which we develop and implement interventions for this population. A current project studies how to prevent the transmission of HIV within African-American men who have sex with men.
Overall, my research in clinical health psychology focuses on how social and behavioral factors affect physical and mental health. Populations of interest include people living with or at high-risk for acquiring HIV/AIDS, sexual minorities, and victims of interpersonal violence—all members of socially stigmatized groups. Primarily, my work aims to address research questions about the prevention or cessation of risky behaviors (such as substance use & sexual risk taking) and the adoption of health-promoting behaviors (such as medication adherence & engagement with medical care). Given the high rates of stressful experiences in stigmatized groups, I have also developed an interest in testing the mechanisms by which previous stressful/abusive experiences are linked with later physical and mental health and functioning. One organizing framework that I have increasingly come to use in my HIV-related work is that of “syndemics.”
My research portfolio includes qualitative work, cross-sectional and longitudinal survey research, and intervention development and evaluation. My work is inherently interdisciplinary and, thus, I am as likely to work with clinical and social psychologists as I am with scientists from public health, medicine, and social work as well. I am currently collaborating with investigators at The Fenway Institute on a variety of NIH-funded research projects, including intervention development related to coping with discrimination and reducing medical mistrust (with Dr. Laura Bogart, Boston Children’s Hospital/HMS), reducing problematic alcohol use (with Dr. Christopher Kahler, Brown University), and reducing sexual risk behavior (with Dr. Matthew Mimiaga, MGH/HMS). Previous research experiences have included other projects on HIV prevention among sexual minority men and HIV medication adherence among patients starting or restarting antiretroviral therapy. Most recently, I completed a series of projects examining psychosocial factors related to the health of people living with HIV, focusing closely on lifespan interpersonal victimization using mixed methods.
I have been supervising doctoral students in clinical psychology since 2008. I have worked successfully with students to present at national conferences and publish peer-reviewed articles with me, as well as to collect their own data and present it on their own. In addition to excellence in research, they have been very successful by objective metrics in other areas (matching at top-choice internship sites, winning awards, receiving stellar teaching evaluations). I am so incredibly proud of them! I take my role as a mentor very seriously, and find tasks related to mentoring doctoral students to be some of the most rewarding parts of my job as a faculty member. Students who match best with me (a) have a strong academic preparation in the social sciences as well as research experience before applying, (b) are demonstrably interested in the content of my lab’s research (HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, LGBT health and mental health, interpersonal victimization; intervention development & testing using CBT/DBT techniques), and (c) are interested in pursuing a career that is primarily focused on conducting or assisting with the conduct of clinical research (vs. a primarily clinical career).
My research group is focused on two main areas: adolescents' mentoring relationships and young adults' responses to trauma and natural disaster. We are currently involved in in a range of research projects that address the role of both formal and informal mentors in vulnerable groups including children of prisoners, community college students, high school dropouts, and low-income children in after-school settings. We are also examining the life course of low-income parents who were exposed to Hurricane Katrina. Drawing from a unique panel dataset that follows individuals from more than a year before the hurricane to several years afterwards, they are documenting changes in the physical and mental health of study participants.
Hurricane Katrina Study: We are studying how a group of nearly 1,000 low-income, community college students from New Orleans are coping with the effects of Hurricane Katrina. In particular, we are looking at how the resources and capacities of these individuals--broadly defined to include their mental and physical health, prior involvement with drugs and risky behaviors, social networks (including mentors), and economic resources--influence coping in the aftermath of the disaster. The study is making use of pre-hurricane data that have already been collected, combined with a fourth wave of quantitative and qualitative data and biomarker data that were collected last year.
Web-based Mentor Training We are creating a series of interactive, multimedia web-based training modules covering key concepts and skills on topics such as common ethical dilemmas faced by mentors; establishing a positive personal relationship; helping young people develop life skills; interacting with children and families from a variety of cultural groups; and termination of the mentoring relationship.
School-based Mentoring We are drawing on data from two large random evaluations of SBM, the richest available source of information on this approach to mentoring, to address a wide range of questions pertaining to youth mentoring. In addition to detailed youth, volunteer, and match information (collected from youth, teachers and volunteers), the dataset contains extensive and largely untapped information on program characteristics (e.g., number of hours and timing of training, mentor-reported match support, meeting structure, parental involvement) as well as school and classroom information.
Youth-initiated Mentoring The Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM) model of the National Guard Youth ChallenNGe Program (NGYCP) is an innovative approach to mentoring with potentially far-reaching implications for serving our nation’s youth. Rather than be assigned a mentor, youth are encouraged to recruit mentors who are then trained and supported by the National Guard. This secondary analysis of data from a large-scale evaluation of NGYCP is providing a more in-depth understanding of this vital component.
Please visit http://www.rhodeslab.org/ for more information.
Our research focuses on understanding how individuals respond to unwanted emotional experiences in ways that ameliorate or exacerbate their difficulties, and applying this understanding to the treatment of anxiety disorders, particularly generalized anxiety disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. In collaboration with Sue Orsillo, I have developed an acceptance-based behavior therapy for generalized anxiety disorder that incorporates mindfulness strategies; we are examining predictors and mechanisms of change in this intervention, as well as the process of change. Future studies will examine therapist training and adaptations for different settings. We are also interested in examining common mechanisms across different treatment approaches, such as acceptance. Students working with me often use experimental paradigms to investigate the mechanisms and consequences of avoidance or acceptance/mindfulness of unwanted emotional responses.
Current/recent projects of my students include:
- An experimental study of the effects of mindfulness on extinction of fear learning.
- A questionnaire study examining the buffering effects of church-based social support on the relationship between racial discrimination and symptoms of anxiety.
- A longitudinal investigation of the relationships among mindfulness practice, development of mindfulness skills, and psychotherapy outcomes in the context of treatment of GAD.
- A qualitative study of the phenomena of emotional awareness and regulation among individuals from working class backgrounds
- A questionnaire study examining the mediating and moderating effects of difficulties in emotion regulation on the relationship between peritraumatic dissociation and subsequent dissociative symptoms.
- A questionnaire study examining factors (emotional support, emotional processing, posttraumatic growth) related to resiliency following exposure to inter-caregiver aggression
- An experimental study of the effects of values clarification on racial stress among Black Americans
Students who work with me may choose to do an independent project or collaborate with me or other lab members on projects already underway. A common theme across the work of the lab is an interest in experiential avoidance, difficulties with emotion regulation, and mindfulness as they relate to clinical problems. We are also interested in resiliency and identifying ways of helping people to live meaningful, fulfilling lives.
We are a large, active lab – students who work with me are expected to mentor an undergraduate research assistant each year and to work as part of the lab team throughout the year. Collaborative research studies are strongly encouraged and students help one another with their projects.
Please visit my webpage for more information.
Karen Suyemoto Research Team
The scholarship of our team focuses primarily on issues related to racialization and social justice, particularly for Asian Americans. Our projects reflect the following areas:
- Scholarship that examines racialized identities and ethnic affiliations, and the relation of these to development and mental health.
- Scholarship that explores ways of taking action to resist oppression related to social statuses such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. This includes resisting one's own oppression as well as contributing to resisting the oppression of others in spaces or statuses where one is relatively privileged.
- Scholarship that focuses on the co-constructed social meanings and psychological operationalizations of race and ethnicity.
- Scholarship that focuses on anti-racist and culturally sensitive education and therapy. It is important to us that scholarship not only helps us understand issues better, but also contributes to better service, education, and coaction with traditionally marginalized individuals. Thus, many of our projects and shared publications aim to influence educators and therapists in how they approach teaching, training, and interventions.
Current team projects include a quantitative intervention study examining the effects of Asian American Studies education on the racial and ethnic identities and mental health of Asian American students, a project exploring the colloquial meanings of race and ethnicity through a thematic analysis of open ended survey questions, and a grounded theory project examining the process of becoming allies. I am interested in mentoring a graduate student who would like to participate in one of these projects—or a closely related new project—for their Masters thesis and whose primary long-term research and professional goals focus on Asian American psychology and communities. Student involvement in these and other Team projects may include quantitative and qualitative data collection, analysis and interpretation, participating in interviewing, participating in thematic analysis of interviews and linking the qualitative and quantitative findings.
We are an active, community-oriented team. For example, grad students on my team frequently mentor undergrads or connect in various ways to Asian American Studies or Asian American community issues (teaching, organizing, mentoring). We frequently work together on team projects as well as our own.
Current student research projects include Vali Kahn’s dissertation project examining the influence of contextual social negotiations of personal and ascribed identities on identity development in multiracial and bisexual people; John Tawa’s dissertation project exploring the social relations between Black and Asian Americans; Tamim Mohammad’s dissertation project focusing on Muslim American identities and resisting racism/discrimination; Fanny Ng’s master’s thesis project examining relations between racial and ethnic identities, race related stress, and racial empowerment in Asian Americans; and Shruti Mukkamala’s developing interest in racial and ethnic identities and body image issues in Asian American women.
For more information, see our website.