Faculty Mentors – Fall 2018 Admissions

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.

Below is a list of the specific faculty members who are interested in accepting one or more new students for fall 2018 admissions. 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.

Abbey Eisenhower, PhD

Our research team shares interests in the early preschool and school experiences, family factors, and relationships of children with developmental disabilities, disruptive behavior problems, and other developmental or behavioral risk factors. We are also focused on the early detection of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and reduction of health disparities.  I am interested in mentoring a graduate student who would like to complete a master’s thesis based on one of the below projects. 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 ABCD project through various clinical and research roles, and future grad students would be encouraged to be involved with the ABCD Study and/or Smooth Sailing Study in research and clinical capacities.

ABCD Early Screening Project

This study is aimed an improving rates of early diagnosis and treatment access for young children with ASD. In particular, we are focused on reducing health disparities in access to diagnosis and treatment among children from English learner, racial or ethnic minority, or low-income families. This study is a collaborative effort with a faculty member in the Clinical Psychology PhD. program, and Dr. Angel Fettig, a faculty member in the Early Education and Care in Inclusive Settings (EECIS) program, and other investigators; it originally emerged from graduate student Frances Martinez Pedraza’s dissertation and has now expanded with funding from HRSA and NIMH. By partnering with local Early Intervention (EI) agencies, we are examining whether a multi-stage, universal screening and assessment protocol for all E.I.-enrolled children ages 0-3 can reduce disparities in the rates and ages of autism diagnosis for young children and can increase access to high-quality, ASD-specific interventions for children from groups traditionally underserved by health care systems. We are also conducting a randomized, controlled trial of a brief, motivational interviewing intervention to increase parent-school engagement among families of children with ASD as they transition to the public school-based, special education system at age 3. 

Smooth Sailing

The Smooth Sailing Study, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, is aimed at understanding the transition to school for children with 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. After recently completing a longitudinal study of the early school period for children with ASD, we are now applying for funding to develop a program to train and prepare general education teachers to work effectively with students with ASD. Potential student projects within this study can examine our already-collected longitudinal data 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.

Other Studies

Other lab studies, including the School Transitions Study (STS) and the Child & Family Development Project (CFDP), have focused on the early developmental, socio-emotional, and contextual experiences of infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children experiencing poverty.

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Sarah Hayes-Skelton, PhD

My primary research involves examining the mechanisms and processes responsible for change in psychotherapy (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapies or CBT) for anxiety disorders, in other words, how and why treatments work. My long-term goal is to model how various treatment components interact to produce therapeutic change so that evidence-based treatments can be further refined to improve treatment outcomes.  I am particularly committed to enhancing the cultural-sensitivity of these treatments. I use experimental paradigms and treatment studies to examine common and unique processes and mechanisms of change across traditional cognitive-behavioral therapies and acceptance and mindfulness based therapies for anxiety, with a particular focus on social and generalized anxiety disorders.  I also have an active collaborations with Dr. Vivian Ciaramitaro in the DBS program within the UMass Boston Psychology Department to better understand the cognitive processes underlying social anxiety that may later inform intervention approaches. 

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 have recently completed a 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. 

Acceptance-Based Behavioral Exposure Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder

We are also beginning to collect data on an acceptance-based behavioral therapy for social anxiety disorder.  Within this protocol, we are particularly interested in the combined effects of decentering and exposure on treatment outcome.

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 collaborated 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.

Student Projects

Students on my research team have recently completed projects on:

  • The development of a self-report measure of decentering
  • Differences between individuals with and without social anxiety on the prevalence and believability of negative thoughts, decentering, and willingness in response to an anxiety-provoking lab task
  • Trajectories of anxiety and depression across treatment for GAD
  • The role of social cost and probability biases in social anxiety through online vignettes
  • The role of mindfulness in promoting social support in individuals with social anxiety 
  • Qualitative interviews with clients from our treatment study examining the kinds of experiences clients have following treatment
  • A case study of cultural sensitive adaptations to CBT for social anxiety
  • The role of the working alliance across treatment for GAD
  • Patterns of anxious arousal during our impromptu speech task across treatment responders and non-responders

I am interested in mentoring a graduate student who has a long term interest in studying anxiety and/or psychotherapy and is interested in a Master’s thesis that would complement our on-going lab work. We are a team-oriented lab and so it is expected that members of the lab will work collaboratively on projects.

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Heidi Levitt, PhD

I am looking forward to admitting a new student next year.  I have three main programs of research: (1) psychotherapy research on the processes of change within sessions, (2) LGBTQ healing from heterosexist experiences, and (3) the use of qualitative methods in psychology.   On my website, I have a webpage called "For Applicants to the Clinical Psychology Graduate Program."   That webpage provides more explanation about these areas of research, describes likely upcoming projects for students, and outlines my approach to mentoring.   Please see that page at: 


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Paul Nestor, PhD

Commitment to the science and practice of psychology is the primary focus of our lab. We use a multimodal research approach that includes brain imaging, neuropsychological, and experimental studies aimed towards understanding social, cognitive, and affective bases of human experience. We conceptualize the brain as a social organ sculpted by both evolution and culture, and through which intellect, memory, imagination, and emotion are expressed and experienced.  Our studies examine individual differences in these abilities as well as how mental illness may alter these social-cognitive-affective experiences, and how recovery, resilience, identity and life narratives are influenced and formed by these abilities. Below are some recent studies completed in the lab (authors in bold are former or current lab members)

Neuropsychology of Social Development
  Our recent studies have focused on examining the neuropsychology of social development in healthy samples as well as in persons with schizophrenia.
• Nestor, P.G., Niznikiewicz, M., & McCarley, R.W. (2010).  Distinct contribution of working memory and social comprehension failures in neuropsychological impairment in schizophrenia. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 198, 206-212.
• Nestor, P.G., Klein, K., Pomplun, M., Niznikiewicz, M.A., & McCarley, R.W. (2010) Gaze cueing of attention in schizophrenia: Individual differences in neuropsychological functioning and symptoms. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 32, 281-288.
• Nestor, P.G., Nakamura, M., Niznikiewicz, M., Thompson, E., Levitt, J.J., Choate, V., Shenton, M.E., & McCarley, R.W. (2013). In search of the functional neuroanatomy of sociality: MRI subdivisions of orbital frontal cortex and social cognition. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8 (4), 460-467, doi:10.1039/.  scan/nss018.
• Nestor, P.G., Kubicki, M. Nakamura, M., Niznikiewicz, M., Levitt, J.J., Shenton, M.E., & McCarley, R.W. (2013). Neuropsychological variability, symptoms, and brain imaging in chronic schizophrenia. Brain Imaging and Behavior. 7, 68-76. DOI 10 1007/s11682-012-9193-0
• Nestor, P.G., Choate, V., & Shirai, A.  (in press) In search of the functional neuroanatomy of social disturbance in schizophrenia. To appear in Harvard University Press. 
Recovery, Recidivism, and Brain Plasticity

Our studies have also examined neuropsychological factors related to recovery and recidivism in persons recently released from incarceration.
• Beszterczey, S., Nestor, P.G., Shirai, A., & Harding, S. (in press). Neuropsychology of decision-making and psychopathy in high-risk ex-offenders. Neuropsychology

In addition, a recent dissertation by Anya Potter examined the relationship of a computer-based training program, specifically Posit Science Cortex™ with InSight DriveSharp™, and performance on neuropsychological measures and an on-road driving paradigm in a normal aging sample.
 Potter, A (2011). The ecology of cognitive training and aging. Dissertation Abstracts International
Forensic Mental Health

Since its inception, the lab has been interested in forensic mental health and forensic neuropsychology.  Below is a sample of our work in this area.
• Nestor, P.G. (2002). Mental disorder and violence: Personality dimensions and clinical  features. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159, 12, 1973-1978.
• Nestor, P.G., Kimble, M., Berman, I. Haycock, J. (2002). Psychosis, psychopathy, and homicide: A preliminary neuropsychological inquiry American Journal of Psychiatry,159,138-140
• Beszterczey, S., Nestor, P.G., Shirai, A., & Harding, S. (in press). Neuropsychology of decision-making and psychopathy in high-risk ex-offenders. Neuropsychology
• Nestor, P.G., (2013). In defense of free will: Neuroscience of criminal responsibility. Unpublished Manuscript. Laboratory of Applied Neuropsychology. University of Massachusetts Boston.

Teaching Research Methods in Psychology
Lab members have a keen interest in teaching research methods, with undergraduate members often working as formal tutors for UMass Boston courses.   In addition, I recently co-authored the second edition of a text in research methods.
• Nestor, P.G. & Schutt, R.K. (2014). Research methods in psychology: Investigating  human behavior (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

Science and Clinical Practice
In the service of practice, our lab values and honors clinical training of its members, and doctoral students all complete externships as part of the UMass Boston Clinical Psychology Program.  In addition, I am a practicing clinical psychology, with specialty areas of neuropsychology and forensic psychology. I am a consultant to Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH), Committee of Public Counsel Services (CPCS), and in the past to the Capital Defenders (death penalty) in Connecticut, Georgia, and Arkansas.  I have been qualified as an expert witness in matters of competence to stand trial, Miranda competence, criminal responsibility, aid-in-sentencing, and involuntary mental health commitment.

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David Pantalone, PhD

As a clinical health psychologist, my research focuses on how social and behavioral factors affect the physical and mental health of specific populations. Populations of interest include people living with HIV/AIDS or those at high-risk for acquiring the virus, and sexual and gender minorities—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) in these populations. 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 in collaboration with my colleagues across disciplines, such as public health, medicine, and social work. I am currently collaborating on a variety of NIH-funded research projects, including: (1) an alcohol reduction intervention for heavy drinking HIV-positive MSM engaged in medical care; (2) a stimulant abuse reduction intervention for HIV-negative MSM at high risk of acquiring HIV; (3) a coping with discrimination intervention for HIV-positive Latino MSM; and (4) a study to recruit a large longitudinal cohort of the highest-risk HIV-negative MSM to determine HIV incidence, prevalence, and missed HIV prevention opportunities, including associations with modifiable individual-, network-, and contextual-level risk factors.  Other collaborations include a qualitative investigation of formerly incarcerated HIV-positive women in the U.S. South, which revealed high levels of substance abuse and trauma; and foundational intervention development work to develop an intervention to increase sexual knowledge and prevent sexual victimization among high- adults on the autism spectrum.

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 independently. 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 significant research experience before applying, (b) are demonstrably interested in the content of my lab’s research (HIV/AIDS, LGBT health and mental health, substance abuse, discrimination/stigma, interpersonal victimization; intervention development and 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).

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Jean Rhodes, PhD

As a community-clinical psychologist, I have been focusing on two distinct, but interrelated, programs of research:

(a) informal and formal mentoring in the lives of adolescents and young adults and (b) risk and protective factors in young adult survivors’ responses to trauma (most notably natural disaster and combat).

The overarching goal, instantiated in both programs, is to understand the role of social connections in the adaptive functioning of individuals and to specify the underlying processes by which these connections contribute to positive outcomes. To address this, Rhodes and her team explore how relational processes unfold across development and social ecologies. Although this work is grounded firmly in clinical, community, and developmental psychology, lab members’ approaches are interdisciplinary at their core, involving ongoing collaborations with sociologists, economists, and psychiatric geneticists from around Boston and beyond.

Current research projects include

  1. A comprehensive meta-analysis of youth mentoring interventions
  2. Studies of natural mentoring with the Ad Health data
  3. A multi-site mixed method studies of youth-initiated mentoring and mentoring for children of incarcerated parents
  4. A multi-disciplinary, 10-year follow-up of Hurricane Katrina survivors http://www.riskproject.org
  5. Post-traumatic growth in veterans
  6. The formation and influence of camper-counselor relationships

Professor Rhodes also provides research training to her graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, along with funding for assistantships, summer salary, and travel to professional meetings and statistical workshops. Her students’ rigorous work has been recognized both within and beyond the university including the Chancellor’s Distinguished Dissertation Award and the APA Division 27’s Dissertation of the Year Award. Many of her students now hold tenured or tenure-track positions at top national and international universities.

For further information, please look at my website:  http://www.rhodeslab.org/

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