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TC Doctoral Students in Clinical Psychology are Winners!

Lindsay Childress and Merav Gur are two of four doctoral students in the Clinical Psychology program who are either vying for or have received prestigious research awards. The students are all members of Assistant Professor, Lisa Miller's research team.

Childress, who is a doctoral candidate, was awarded the William James Award, which is funded by the Council on Spiritual Practices (CSP). The award is offered to encourage the scientific investigation of the facilitation of primary religious or spiritual experiences. Primary religious experiences are defined by CSP as "those involving direct perception of the sacred…" The award carries a grant of $1,500.

Childress is conducting research on spirituality and resilience in survivors of abuse among a sample of minority women.

Starting in September, Childress will be doing a one-year internship at the Baltimore Veterans Administration Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. There she will using a data base that has been put together by the Veterans Administration since 1998 to study women who experienced trauma, were abused, either sexually, physically, or both. The data base is made up of 279 women, ages ranging from 20-80 years-old, who are 60 per cent African-American.

"These women have already been measured from a clinical standpoint---from gynecological issues to past pregnancy history to screening for depression and anxiety.What we want to do is to go back to get information on whether they have undergone primary religious experiences and whether that has led to certain beliefs that are protective," said Childress.

"What we are hypothesizing," she added, is that we will find that women who are abused often engage in self-blame. If these women are religious they may think about it in terms of sin. That could very negative consequences. What we're hoping to find, even if they believe in sin, is the belief in God's forgiveness and love, which in theology is termed 'Grace.' We are looking toward the protection of Grace to be factor against some of the mental and physical problems of hypertension, depression and anxiety."

Speaking about the William James Award, Childress expressed surprise and felt that her rich data base was an important asset of her proposal.

Merav Gur, who has been working with Professor Miller on the Web site, "Teen Psych," an Internet referral system for adolescent girls in New York, was one of nine recipients of a $6,000 competitive award, the International Peace Scholarship, from the PEO Foundation. PEO assists international women do research that helps women and girls in areas of psycho education, education, and pyschotherapy.

Gur is an Israeli who has done her undergraduate work in the United States and is a third year doctoral student at TC.

In an interview with Gur she discussed why "Teen Psych" (http://teenpsych.com) is a much needed tool to assist adolescent girls. "Last year," she said, "I was doing group therapy for inner city adolescent girls in Harlem and Washington Heights. The one thing that came through loud and clear from that experience was that the girls would get pregnant, or would want to go on birth control pills, or were feeling depressed and anxious but were unable to ask for help. They were afraid to ask their parents. They were afraid that their school would not protect their confidentiality."

Gur added that, "I asked them, 'What would be helpful?' They said if information were on the Web they'd feel more comfortable. Since there are computer labs in the inner city schools and they were Web savvy the adolescent girls agreed that if they saw that a hospital would accept them, for no fee or a low fee, they'd be more comfortable with a Web referral service as a starting point."

After researching low cost clinics and tutoring programs for adolescent girls in New York City, Gur came up with a list of 50 programs as part of the Web site referral section of "Teen Psych" called "iteen." In the description of iteen the site says "It is as place for adolescents to identify feelings or situational problems which might be addressed by programs in their neighborhood. iteen also may be a useful resource for school guidance counselors." The searchable data base identifies a potentially useful referral to a neighborhood program that deals with mental health issues, eating disorders, pregnancy prevention, and college preparation, all at low cost.

Gur made the point that the Web site is also "psycho-educational "resource. According to Gur, "Many times adolescents have symptoms but don't know what they really mean. With the Web site they can read a bit about what it means to be depressed or what are the dangers of having a reading disorder. And if they believe they have a disorder, we have a interactive ways to figure out if they are depressed. They are able to click on to confidential referral programs and e-mail them directly."

"Let me make it quite clear," Gur said, "The Web site is not a replacement for professionals. We need therapists, teachers, and social workers. But we hope the web site will provide accessible information."

The two other awardees are Jennifer Jackson who is a current finalist for the Soros Foundation minority fellowship and Ciara Byrne who is another finalist for the William James Award.

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