Post 1: Interning at the CARE Lab

My internship at the Cognition and Affect Research and Education (CARE) lab actually began in January, and I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to continue what started off as a spring position into the summer. The lab operates within the Behavioral Health Partial Hospital Program (BHP), which is an intensive day program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA for those seeking treatment for various mental health issues, including mood, anxiety, thought, and personality disorders. It uses a behavioral therapy approach that provides comprehensive, skills-based treatment aimed at reducing a patient’s symptoms, improving their functioning, and transitioning to outpatient treatment, with the average length of treatment being three to ten business days.

The BHP

Besides the program itself, the BHP conducts extensive research (of which the CARE Lab is a large part) to improve the understanding and treatment of psychiatric disorders. It uses an integrative approach where research informs clinical practice, and clinical practice informs research. The program’s research focus includes predicting who will respond best to treatment, understanding why the treatment works, and developing new and innovative interventions based on that information. Patient data is collected through daily computerized self-report measures and a diagnostic interview, and this information is used to inform individualized case conceptualization and treatment planning, as well as assess treatment outcome, symptom severity, and more. The CARE Lab, which is more specifically where my internship is taking place, conducts research to identify cognitive and affective mechanisms underlying emotional disorders, translate those findings into new treatments, and implement those treatments in real-world clinical settings.

One of the projects I’m most involved with this summer is a cognitive control training (CCT) study for urgency. Urgency is the tendency to respond impulsively to strong emotions, and it’s closely tied to cognitive control, or the ability to resist impulses and make decisions based on one’s goals. The main aim of the study is to investigate whether a CCT intervention, involving brief computer tasks to improve memory and self-control, is feasible in a clinical setting and accepted by patients, as well as whether it improves cognitive control and impulsivity. While I was in-person during the spring semester, I was running participants through the study sessions, but over the summer I have already started to help with some preliminary analyses and aggregation of data in R and SPSS, which helps move the study toward the full analysis stage.

Another thing I’ll be working on this summer is my own independent project. It will likely evolve over time, but as of now, it will be looking at the relationships between distress tolerance, current emotional state, and cognitive performance. I’ll use data collected from the CCT study (both self-report and task data) to investigate whether distress tolerance and current emotional state independently or jointly relate to one’s performance on cognitive tasks involving working memory, response inhibition, and cognitive flexibility. Currently I am just at the beginning stages of it, doing reviews of the literature to see what’s already been studied, but as the summer progresses, I’ll progress in this project too.

In terms of my goals for the summer, I have two main ones. First, I plan to get a PhD in clinical psychology and eventually become a clinical neuropsychologist, so I hope to gain career related skills and experience, especially first-hand through my own research project. Second, I want to hone my collaboration skills and work with, and learn from, experts in the field I plan to pursue. I have one-on-one meetings with my supervisor and will also attend lab meetings, so that, combined with the actual content of my internship, will give me plenty of opportunities to achieve both of these goals.

– Jenna Sandler

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