Academics

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.

Below is a list of the specific faculty members who are interested in accepting one or more new students for fall 2017 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.

Tahirah Abdullah, PhD

I am looking forward to working with a student with overlapping research interests who can thrive in a collaborative environment, is able to think critically and creatively, and is ready to execute projects in a developing research lab.  

The overarching goal of my research program is to improve recovery for Blacks with mental health problems. This goal is rooted in the recognition that Black Americans are not a monolithic group and many cultural factors may bear on mental health outcomes and the effectiveness of standard interventions. My current approach involves a focus on better understanding (1) the relationship between sociocultural factors and mental health outcomes, (2) African Americans’ mental health treatment experiences, and (3) mental illness and treatment stigma.

Mental health outcomes

My research examines the ways in which sociocultural factors such as race, ethnicity, generational status, experiences of racism and cultural values predict mental health outcomes (e.g., coping, alcohol use, self-esteem, and mood and anxiety disorders).

Currently, my team is collaborating with Dr. Karen Suyemoto’s research team on a study examining the relationship between experiencing racism, mental health, and coping strategies for people of color. We are particularly interested in the role of resistance and empowerment in response to racism and ways these factors may impact the relationship between racism and mental health and coping.  

Mental health treatment experiences

An additional related research interest I have is gaining a more complete understanding of Blacks’ mental health treatment experiences in an effort to improve them. I am in the early stages of developing a mixed methods study in collaboration with Dr. Jessica Graham at Salem State University to better understand treatment experiences of Blacks who seek therapy and examine the factors that may play a role in discontinuation of therapy after one or two sessions versus remaining engaged in therapy for longer.   

Decreasing mental illness and treatment stigma

My research has also focused on gaining a more thorough understanding of mental illness stigma and its predictors for Blacks in the US. A future study within this line of research may be a qualitative study to determine the stigmatizing beliefs about mental illnesses and mental health treatment that are most common for African Americans as well as the role that cultural values may play in perpetuating and buffering against stigmatizing beliefs. The long-term goal of this research is to develop quality anti-stigma interventions.

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Alice Carter, PhD

My research his focused on young children at risk for problems in social and emotional functioning. Typically, my students are interested in early emerging psychopathology and/or autism spectrum disorders (ASD).  For the 2016/2017 academic year I am especially interested in students who are interested in early identification of autism spectrum disorders.  A commitment to serving underserved children and families, including those who may miss opportunities for early detection and intervention services would be ideal. My hope is that an incoming student would become involved in a project that is currently funded by HRSA and NIMH.  Collaborating with Abbey Eisenhower, PhD, a faculty member in the Clinical Psychology PhD program, Angel Fettig, PhD, a faculty member in the Early Education and Care in Inclusive Settings program, and, Chris Sheldrick, a faculty member at Tufts New England Hospital, we are implementing a two-stage screening process in three early intervention programs and offer diagnostic assessments to families whose children screen positive on the second stage assessment.  We are also evaluating the use of a brief motivational interviewing intervention to encourage engagement with preschool services following the transition from early intervention (Part C) services to special education services. Along the way, we hope to validate the Screening Tools for Autism in Toddlers for use in Spanish. 

Ideally, involvement in this project could lead to a more independent project that could become the focus of a Master's thesis and/or Dissertation research project.  The specific nature of this project would evolve through our collaborative thinking. My work with students studying young children with ASD has focused on measures and methods to improve early detection and to address health disparities in early detection, examining the impact of raising a child with ASD on parenting stress and family functioning, and improving parent-child interactions as a mechanism to optimize children’s developmental progress. I have also been working on visual attention studies that employ eye tracking technologies to document an autism advantage in visual search, with Zsuzsa Kaldy, PhD and Erik Blaser, PhD colleagues in our new Developmental Brain Sciences program.

My mentoring style involves encouraging students to develop their own scientific voice -- informed by clinical practice.  I work best with students who are self-motivated, organized, and excited about psychological theory and scientific methodology. 

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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 Smooth Sailing study 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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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; sexual and gender 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 investigators from public health, medicine, and social work. I am currently collaborating with investigators at The Fenway Institute on a variety of NIH-funded research projects, including testing an intervention to enhance coping with various forms of discrimination and reducing medical mistrust for HIV-positive Black men who have sex with men (with Dr. Laura Bogart, Harvard Medical School), and an intervention to reduce problematic drinking and improve health behaviors of HIV-positive men who have sex with men engaged with medical care (with Dr. Christopher Kahler, Brown University). 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 (with Dr. Courtenay Sprague, UMass Boston); and foundational intervention development work to develop an intervention to increase sexual knowledge and prevent sexual victimization among high- adults on the autism spectrum (with Dr. Susan Faja, Harvard Medical School). Previous research experiences have included other projects on HIV prevention for sexual minority men, and HIV medication adherence for 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, LGBT health and mental health, substance abuse, discrimination/stigma, and 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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Liz Roemer, PhD

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, as well as other stress-related difficulties,

such as the impact of chronic racist experiences. 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 (in collaboration with Sarah Hayes-Skelton). Future studies will examine therapist training and adaptations for different settings, with a particular emphasis on health promotion, and prevention and intervention efforts with people from marginalized and underserved backgrounds. My research team has recently developed a brief, single session adaptation of our treatment and we are exploring its effectiveness with the diverse student body at UMB. In collaboration with Karen Suyemoto and her team, we are developing a multi-session workshop on coping with racism; we plan to examine its effectiveness soon.

Students working with me use a range of methodologies, including experimental paradigms to investigate the mechanisms and consequences of avoidance or acceptance/mindfulness of unwanted emotional responses, correlational and longitudinal designs to examine mechanisms of change and buffering/protective factors, and intervention/prevention studies to examine ways to promote well-being and valued living among individuals exposed to stress. Our lab shares a strong commitment to social justice.

Current/recent projects of my students include:

* A correlational study of mindfulness, emotion regulation and empathy, coupled with an experimental study of the effects of mindfulness on empathy across difference.

* A randomized controlled trial examining the efficacy of an online acceptance-based behavioral stress management intervention.

* A correlational study of mental-health related beliefs and stigma and barriers to treatment among veterans, coupled with an experimental investigation of a brief intervention to reduce stigma and promote positive mental health related beliefs in this population.

* A correlational study of the role of systemic (external) attributions for racist experiences and acceptance of emotional responses in coping with racist experiences among people of color.

* An experimental study of the effects of emotional suppression and emotional acceptance on attention.

* A longitudinal investigation of experiential avoidance as a common mechanism of change across an acceptance-based behavioral therapy and applied relaxation for generalized anxiety disorder.

* An experimental study of the effects of values clarification on racial stress among Black Americans.

* An experimental study of the effects of mindfulness on stress responses to a racist scenario among Black Americans, coupled with a correlational investigation of the mediating role of internalized racism in the relationship between racist experiences and anxiety symptoms, and a qualitative exploration of reactions to racist experiences and a mindfulness intervention 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 and health promotion. We are also interested in resiliency and identifying ways of helping people to live meaningful, fulfilling lives, particularly within the context of systemic inequities and discrimination. Several lab members also have a growing interest in dissemination and implementation. We are a large, active lab – students who work with me are expected to work as part of the lab team throughout the year and to mentor an undergraduate research assistant each year. Collaborative research studies are strongly encouraged and students help one another with their projects. We also collaborate with Dr. Sarah Hayes-Skelton on many of our projects, so interested students should also read her mentoring description. Please visit my webpage for more information.

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