My First Week at CANDLab

My first week at Clinical Affective Neuroscience and Development Lab at Yale University was amazing. On my first day, after a 15-minute walk from my apartment through the beautiful buildings of the Yale campus, I arrived at the Psychology building on Hillhouse Avenue, a street so charming that both Charles Dickens and Mark Twain have described it as “the most beautiful street in America”. I went in and met the lab manager, Jason Haberman, who is a Brandeis alumnus, the graduate students and the interns. The lab environment was very nice, with two rooms for running participants and a waiting area, a common area for working, computers for the research assistants and graduate students, and the office of the lab manager. Everyone gave me warm welcomes, and introduced themselves. There were students from many different colleges and backgrounds; together to help understand the brain circuits underlying anxiety disorders to enhance the treatments for these disorders.

Psychology Building, Hillhouse Avenue

Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental illnesses, and very little is known about the brain circuits underlying these disorders. In these two months, I will be working on the lab’s main project: “Novel Mechanisms of Fear Reduction Targeting the Biological State of the Developing Brain,” which is funded by two grants received by Dr. Dylan Gee, my supervisor, the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award and a Brain & Behavior Research Foundation NARSAD Award. The project aims to examine the neural and psychophysiological mechanisms of safety signal learning. Learning of safety signals encompasses learning processes, which lead to the identification of episodes of security and regulation of fear responses. So to put it simply, safety signals inhibit fear and stress responses, and inability to produce these signals are related to excessive anxiety. This study adapts a paradigm used in animal studies to test the efficacy of safety signals across development in healthy children and adolescents and those with anxiety disorders.

My first week was a week full of training, and I learned a lot of exciting things. I got trained on building participant packets and binders, which included the clinical interview questionnaires that are used to scan for the various anxiety and other disorders that the participants might or might not have. Then, I learned about the questionnaires that are administered to the participants and their parents for different things like emotion regulation, anxiety, depression, resilience, and trauma exposure. Later in the week, I was trained on administering the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence, which is an intelligence test that we administer to all participants to make sure our subject pool has a an average or above the average IQ. The test takes 1-2 hours depending on the participant’s age, level of anxiety and other factors. It was my first time learning about WASI, and it was very exciting to see how a standard intelligence test is administered for different age groups. After the training, I administered the test to myself, and another intern later in the week. To be able to administer it to participants, I need to administer it to the lab manager successfully, observe a graduate student, score the test and discuss the scoring. I am looking forward to going through these steps and administering it to an adult participant, and eventually administering it to child participants.

Photo by: Rebecca Crystal

As a psychology major, I want to expand my knowledge of developmental psychobiology and psychopathology through understanding the current state and gaps of the clinical and developmental neuroscience literature. In the lab meeting, the clinical case conference and the journal club meeting that I attended this week, there were discussions on current projects, articles about related research on psychopathology and on cases of participants. It was amazing to be in these discussions with such knowledgeable students and Dr. Gee who is a very experienced researcher. I am looking forward to having these discussions every week, to improve my eloquence and discussion skills and to leading a discussion next week.

 My personal goal for this internship is to build on my existing communication skills with children, adolescents, parents, and adults. Through administering intelligence tests, helping anxious and non-anxious children, adolescents, and adults feel comfortable in the fMRI scanning environment,  and working directly with participants to ensure positive experiences throughout their participation, I hope to reach my goal of improving my communication skills with people in general.

 I have learned so much already in my first week and I can’t wait to learn more and apply my knowledge and training! It has been an amazing week and I’m sure the following weeks will be no less!

Selen Amado, ’18’

Midpoint Reflections at Harvard Lab for Youth Mental Health

 

Midpoint Reflections

 

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What summer looks like at Harvard!

Now that I am more than halfway done with my internship at the Harvard Lab for Youth Mental Health it is time that I reflect upon my work here so far! I have definitely become more comfortable with the working environment at the lab and feel like I am a helpful part of the research team.

After the initial excitement of starting out my internship, the next couple of weeks were a bit trying. There was a big push for data to be entered into Excel so a good portion of my time was devoted to data entry. After figuring out how to correctly code the data, I found the work to become monotonous after typing for several hours straight. On top of that I developed tendonitis in both of my wrists from typing too fast and incorrectly so I was a little bit disheartened. However, I remembered from the WOW advice given to me at the start of my internship that I should “embrace the grunt work” and try to look at the bigger picture of the work being done. I really took that guidance and applied it to my internship setting. I recognized that while the day-to-day typing was not the most glamorous job, that the results that came out of the study could really help children with mental health concerns.

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Manual for MATCH therapy used in studies

Furthermore, I was trained in the meta analysis project which is more hands on and utilizes some of the knowledge I have gained from previous neuroscience and psychology classes. The meta analysis is a paper that the PI (principal investigator) puts out every couple of years that examines many previously published studies. It is a way to streamline all the data that exists in youth psychotherapy approaches. There are many different criteria a paper must meet to “pass” through the screening process so my job has been to read the paper and code for different research elements. It is extremely interesting to read about all the current work being done, and I feel like it has really enhanced my internship this summer.

Links to previous meta analyses

I think that while my classes at Brandeis have prepared me for this internship, working is pretty different from university/academic life. I’ve noticed that I am much more tired after working in the lab for a couple hours, versus taking classes and participating in extracurricular at Brandeis. Sitting in front of a computer requires energy in a very different way than I would have originally thought! However, as the weeks continued I noticed I became more adjusted to a working schedule and it didn’t feel as overwhelming. I have also noticed that working in a research lab is not as much about what you know but how well you work with others. Key skills are thinking on your feet, problem solving, and multitasking. Collaboration is essential to being able to accomplish anything in the lab.

Overall I feel that my weeks working at the Harvard Lab for Youth Mental Health have given me a greater understanding in what research in a clinical psych lab looks like. While I am not sure if I would pursue a career solely in research, I can see myself being happy working as a research assistant after graduation and gaining more skills in the field. I am excited to finish out my internship and continue to develop professionally.

Melissa Viezel ’17

Summer’s End at McLean Hospital

As September approaches, my summer work at the Behavioral Health Partial Program at McLean Hospital is coming to a close. I have accomplished a lot this summer and was involved in some incredible projects. As I reflect on my learning goals, I realize that I managed to fulfill all of them. My main goal was to form a greater understanding of research in the realm of clinical psychology and within a treatment setting. Throughout the summer I was involved in many research projects where I learned how to research a topic, form a research idea, organize data, and write up results in a publishable research paper.  For my main project, I was able to research the predictors of suicidality in patients with psychosis. This project is ongoing, but I have completed the introduction and am currently working on the methods for this paper. This project has provided me with immense insight into the research process. However, I am not only grateful to be involved in this project, but I am also grateful to have worked at the BHP where the research is focused on treatment outcome in a naturalistic setting. Last week, I had a chance to observe group therapy, where group leaders teach patients skills in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). I had the task of completing fidelity scales, or scales I created based on group protocols. After selecting a specific set of therapy groups, we created fidelity scales from the important aspects of the protocols. Then, I sat in on these groups and marked when the group leader spoke about an important topic necessary for the patients’ understanding of the specific skill. Having a measure of treatment fidelity ensures that the patient is provided with the intended treatment. These scales can also be used for research purposes, allowing the BHP to confirm that the patient is really being taught CBT and DBT skills. Sitting in on therapy provided me with a greater understanding of how CBT and DBT are extremely important for the rehabilitation of those batting a range of mental illnesses. Watching patients’ engagement and listening to their stories and ideas made me realize how important this treatment is to their overall well-being, and I am extremely lucky that I was given the chance to witness patients’ learning and healing.  Therefore, besides my research projects, I was really able to understand the therapy provided to the patients at the BHP, which helped to broaden my clinical knowledge.

The entrance to McLean. http://asylumnotes.wordpress.com/tourism/mclean/
The entrance to McLean. http://asylumnotes.wordpress.com/tourism/mclean/

I will use all of my research knowledge I have acquired at the BHP as I begin my thesis project as a senior at Brandeis. This knowledge will not only help during the rest of my time at Brandeis, but as I continue in a clinical and research career. During this internship, I have recognized that my passion lies within the clinical field of psychology. I am eager to learn more about different types of therapies and treatments for mental illnesses, and I am excited to learn more about clinical research in the future.

As a student with a passion for clinical psychology, I encourage other students interested in this field to explore and learn as much as possible about different illnesses, treatments, and research. I highly recommend pursuing an internship, since it allows students to narrow their interests. An internship will help confirm whether or not clinical psychology is the right career path. It may also provide insight into whether or not the student is interested in conducting research, providing treatment, or both. I would highly suggest looking into an internship at McLean Hospital. Not only is it the #1 psychiatric hospital in the nation with the best treatment programs and incredible research, but it is also a place to meet and connect with so many people with a strong passion for clinical psychology. I have learned so much from working with the clinicians and researchers at McLean, and they have inspired me to keep working towards the career I want- a career in clinical psychology.

Lauryn Gardner, ’15

My Work at the Behavioral Health Partial Program

The Behavioral Health Partial (BHP) Program is a treatment center at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA, for those battling a wide range of mental health issues, varying from mood and anxiety disorders to thought and personality disorders. Using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), the BHP offers group and individual therapy sessions to reduce patient’s symptoms and improve their functioning. On average, patients attend this day program for around 7-10 days and are often transitioning from inpatient care to outpatient treatment.

 The BHP conducts extensive research in order to study different mental illnesses and the effects of CBT and DBT. Each day, patients complete self-report questionnaires. This data is then used to assess treatment outcome, symptom severity, and many other factors. These questionnaires, along with clinical assessments, are essential for research at the BHP. Currently, I am helping with many research projects, including improving research databases and co-writing a research paper.

http://www.mclean.harvard.edu/news/staff/
http://www.mclean.harvard.edu/news/staff/

I secured this internship a year ago, spending only two months at the BHP last summer and mainly working on a treatment fidelity project. This summer, however, I am co-writing a research article that explores the predictors of suicidality in those with psychosis.  Currently, I am working on completing the literature search that will provide the background information for the article. I am researching the suicidality predictors that researchers have used in the past. From this, we can choose a number of predictors from our database to form our own model. These predictors will then be assessed for significance to see if they are notably correlated with suicidality in patients with psychosis. These predictors are taken mostly from clinical assessments and self-report surveys.

I am also working on a visual timeline that displays all of the measures ever administered at the BHP. In order to do so, I have to navigate the BHP database to find the dates of when these measures were administered and terminated. I am also involved with running depressed subjects in a cognitive biased modification (CBM) experiment. It is our hope that this CBM task will improve the automatic negative thoughts that often accompany depression. With this internship, I am gaining experience in a clinical setting by interacting with patients and clinicians.

In the first week, I have been working closely with the research coordinator and a post-doctoral fellow. I have learned how to navigate SPSS, databases, E-prime, and Excel while also learning how to begin a research project and complete a literature search. I am excited to continue with these projects and I am learning something new every day. I am hoping to deepen my understanding of the research methods used in psychology as well as experiencing the implications of such research in a clinical setting.

-Lauryn Garner, ’15

The Temporal Center of My Time at the Trauma Center

It’s been about a month since I first started my internship at the trauma center, and since then I have been exposed to many activities that have allowed me to work on my goals for this summer. Academically, I started the summer knowing I needed more experience doing clinical research in order to properly prepare myself for a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology later on. I have been able to measure my progress through the number of studies I have found, analyzed and included in my literature. So far this number has climbed to over 100 articles, and I am sure it will climb higher over the next few weeks.

The trauma center has given me opportunity to interact with professionals across the trauma field, from psychologists to fellow volunteers, to people working the public relations front. I am learning a lot about each of these sectors and how they interact to form a complete organization aimed at preventing, treating, and building resilience to trauma. I have tracked my progress in this area by the amount and length of interactions I have had with the various professionals at the Center.

My personal goals are probably the area where I have met with the most success so far. With such kind people, I see more and more why I love my time at the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma alone. For example, last week we held a fund raiser and I was assigned the role of “camera guy.” I knew a little about film, thanks to a class offered at Brandeis University, but I still had trouble with the technology. The ICTP staff’s response was immediate, and they offered not only help but feedback that was constructive and positive. They also drove me part-way back home, even though we finished our day’s work after 10:00 P.M. that night.

 

Photo Credit: Amos Nachoum

I think I am most proud of the fact that I have come to a place that affords me not only the type of career I want to have, but the type of individual I want to be: professional yet humble, conservative with evidence yet open-minded to creative ideas for trauma interventions. I have worked and wished for years for a place where I could find even one of these. Now that I have both, I feel that a serene sense of balance has taken over.

My work at the trauma center has helped me build new skills in storytelling through video, helped me improve my Hebrew, allowed me to work on research skills, honed my filming skills originally learned at at a class at Brandeis, and has bolstered my ability to pitch ideas. My improved Hebrew will also help me with my coursework, as I intend on taking at least one Hebrew course in addition to the amount required. My film skills will help me secure other ways of helping out at future events of the trauma center, and will also help me in searching for jobs that require a variety of skills. Lastly, to build a career in research, or even to give myself a voice in any campus, being able to effectively pitch and communicate my ideas will be an invaluable skill.

 

Photo Credit: Amos Nachoum

– Rocky Reichman ’13