Faculty

Kym Ahrens interests are in promoting positive physical and mental health outcomes in at-risk youth. Some of her past research has focused on the influence of adult mentors on the adult outcomes of youth in foster care and youth with learning disabilities. Dr. Ahrens is currently conducting a series of NIH-sponsored research studies focused on developing an intervention program to reduce risk of sexually transmitted infections including HIV among adolescents in the foster system.

Her research interests are in evidence-based treatments (EBT) for children and adolescents, with a particular focus on dissemination and implementation of EBT domestically and internationally. Her work has often focused on Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), with hybrid research designs that include both effectiveness and implementation questions. She has focused on adaptation of EBT for unique populations (e.g., foster care) and on training and supervision strategies to deliver TF-CBT and other EBT. Dr. Dorsey is a Principal Investigator on two NIH-funded randomized controlled trials (RCT) involving TF-CBT, both of which include implementation and clinical outcome research questions. The first, in Washington State, studies the role of supervisors in public mental health settings in supporting EBT with clinicians under their supervision. The second, in Tanzania and Kenya, is a RCT of TF-CBT using a task-shifting/task-sharing model in which lay counselors, with little to no prior mental health training, deliver group-based TF-CBT to orphaned children and adolescents, under close supervision by local supervisors, themselves supervised by TF-CBT experts.

Annette Estes interests include the development of quantitative phenotypes for genetic studies of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and changes in children with ASD throughout childhood. She also studies family adaptation and stress and the role of the family in promoting positive outcomes and reducing associated conditions in children with autism. Estes has recently begun studies with infant siblings and toddlers at risk for autism and is working to identify very early signs of autism risk and test the effectiveness of very early intervention.

Measurement; Analysis of change over time; Substance use and development of dependence

Pathways to Alcohol and Drug Use and Dependence, Stress and Coping, Developmental Psychopathology, Longitudinal Methods

Cari McCarty focuses on understanding risks and pathways to the development of depression in adolescence. Her research takes a preventive approach by identifying skills and competencies that may help young people cope more successfully with stress and negative emotions. She has developed a school-based intervention program “Positive Thoughts and Actions” which strives to help middle school students improve their relationships, school performance, and health behavior, with the ultimate goal of reducing the incidence of depression in young adolescents. Dr. McCarty is also interested in the role of emotionality in other problem behaviors of adolescence, including alcohol and substance use. 

Katie McLaughlin's research seeks to identify psychological and neurobiological mechanisms linking adverse childhood environments to the onset of psychopathology in youths using a variety of tools, including neuropsychological assessments, electrophysiology (e.g., measures of autonomic nervous system function, EEG) and brain imaging, including structural and functional MRI. Dr. McLaughlin has used these tools to study children and adolescents exposed to a wide range of adverse environmental experiences, including caregiver maltreatment, community violence exposure, institutional rearing, and poverty, and has identified a variety of neurodevelopmental mechanisms that underlie the relationship between adverse environments in childhood and the subsequent onset of mental disorders, including elevated emotional and physiological reactivity to stress, poor emotion regulation skills, executive functioning deficits, and disruptions in social cognition. 

Paula Nurius studies processes and effects of stress on youth and families, with special interest in combined and distinct contributions of adverse or traumatic experiences and chronic stress associated with social disadvantage. Populations include victims of violence, longitudinal tracking of at-risk youth into adulthood, links to health disparities such as adverse birth outcomes as a function of lifecourse stress, effects of adverse childhood experiences on later mental and physical health conditions, and stress effects of combat and repeat deployment on military personnel and their families. Focus is on basic as well as applied prevention-oriented research, assessing cumulative and distinct stressor effects on mental health and psychosocial outcomes, as well as the effects of protective factors in fostering resilience.