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Research Projects in the Lab

With a longstanding interest in the social-cognitive basis of psychopathology across the lifespan, our lab's current focus is on understanding personality disorder Criterion A (self- and interpersonal function) as it relates to other aspects of personality pathology and psychopathology more general. These interests translate into several Assessment-focused studies which we describe below. We are also interested in interventions that may target Criterion A function in populations affected by personality pathology but also populations where attachment disruption occurred. This interest translates into several Intervention-focused studies which we describe below.


Mediational Intervention for Sensitizing Caregivers for Community-based Organizations (MISC-CBO)

(Project leaders: Bree Cervantes)

This R01 funded five-year study is a cluster randomized control clinical trial that will evaluate the effectiveness of a one-year mentalization-based intervention (MISC) in community-based organizations with caregivers who take care of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in South Africa. In this study, we are partnering with NGOs and 24 local Community Based Organizations to empower careworkers in their work with orphans. Our collaborators are Prof. Lochner Marais, Dr. Michael Boivin, Dr. Felicia Wu, Dr. Jessica Sales, Dr. Paulina Kulesz, Mr. Molefi Lenka, and Mr. Joe Serekoane.

Treatment Outcomes for the Adolescent Diagnosis Assessment Prevention and Treatment Center (UH-ADAPT)

(Project leaders: Madeleine Allman & Bree Cervantes)

Adolescence is a critical period for the development of psychopathology, and efforts to improve diagnosis, assessment, and treatment in adolescence are imperative to help to prevent long-term mental health difficulties. This study aims to improve mental health treatment for adolescents and young adults with emotional and interpersonal problems by collecting baseline and follow-up data following diagnostic assessment (abbreviated or comprehensive evaluation) and/or throughout the course and after completion of group therapy treatment. Our goal is to answer these research questions: 1) What is the relationship between social cognition, emotion regulation and psychopathology in our population? 2) Is outpatient group treatment aimed at addressing interpersonal and emotional dysfunction effective for adolescents and young adults? 3) What interpersonal and emotional mechanisms account for clinically meaningful change during and post-treatment? This research is conducted with youth and families at our lab’s adolescent clinic, the UH-ADAPT Center, which is directed by Dr. Sharp. Our research on the effectiveness of group treatment has also been supported by a grant from the American Psychological Foundation.

Identity Development in Teenagers

(Project leader: Nabeeha Asim)

Identity development is a central task of adolescence. During this time, as teens are expanding their social networks, thinking about their future, and building autonomy from their parents, psychological symptoms or extreme environmental stressors may disrupt the natural process of identity development. However, there is still lack of understanding about how this process goes awry; part of this reason is that there is no agreed upon way of measuring and assessing identity development as it relates to psychopathology during adolescence. This research project aims to explore a variety of methods evaluating adaptive and maladaptive aspects of identity development. A secondary component of this study is to provide information on the development of identity among typical adolescents and factors associated with healthy identity development. Collaborations for this study include Big Brothers Big Sisters, Ball High School, The Kinkaid School, and KIPP Connect. 

Radically Open DBT Biosocial Research

(UH project leaders: Kiana Wall & Eric Sumlin)

The purpose of this study is to test the biosocial theory of overcontrolled coping in a sample of adolescents and their parents. The study will first validate a novel parent questionnaire assessing parental caregiving styles theoretically thought to assess maladaptive parenting associated with overcontrol, and second, examine other caregiving styles that may perpetuate temperamental characteristics of overcontrol in adolescents in relation to coping outcomes, such as emotional inhibition and psychological inflexibility, and symptom presentations. This study is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Karyn Hall at the DBT Center of Houston, Lori Prado, LMHC, LPC-S, at the Center for Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapies in San Antonio, and Dr. Kirsten Gilbert at Washington University in St. Louis.

A Study of Self-Function in Young People

(Project leaders: Bree Cervantes)

Section III of the DSM-5 proposes an alternative model for conceptualizing personality disorders that moves away from traditional diagnostic criteria and emphasizes the more broad areas of self- and other- functioning. Deficits in these domains are prominent in individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder. This study seeks to utilize this new framework to examine the relationship between self- and other- functioning, features of Borderline Personality Disorder, and identity in college students.

Mediational Intervention for Sensitizing Caregivers (MISC) for mothers with borderline personality disorder

(Project lead: Kiana Cano)

In this study, which has been funded by a NIMH F31 awarded to Kiana Wall, we aim to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of MISC for use with mothers with BPD. This project will lay the foundation for the successful adaptation of MISC for use with this population.

Mediational Intervention for Sensitizing Caregivers (MISC) for Survivors of Domestic Violence

(Project leaders: Madeleine Allman) 

This R01 funded four-year study will test the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary outcomes of a one-year mentalization-based intervention (MISC) for mothers who have been victims of domestic violence. In this study, we are partnering with the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council to empower mothers in their relationships with their children. Our collaborators are Ms. Barbie Brashear, Dr. Julia Babcock, Dr. Julie McFarlane, Dr. Quenette Walton, Dr. Paulina Kulesz, Dr. Ernest Jouriles, and Dr. Cilly Shohet.


Mediational Intervention for Sensitizing Caregivers (MISC) in the context of reunification after separation due to migration

(Project leader: Carla Sharp)

Yet a further extension of our MISC work includes a study with Dr. Jodi Berger funded by UH Internal Seed grant program with the aim of evaluating the feasibility and acceptability of MISC for parents and children who were separated through migration and currently undergoing migration. We work very closely with The Alliance as our community-based partner.

Cultural Consensus Modeling for Suicide in Black Youth

(Project leader: Kennedy Balzen and Estefania Fernandez)

Research has shown that rates of suicide in Black youth are increasing, while rates in youth of other races are remaining stable or decreasing. Contemporary work in suicide theory, prevention, and treatment is informed using research conducted primarily in White samples. Because Black youth are underrepresented in the current literature, this health disparity may reflect cultural bias and the non-representation of factors that are likely to confer additional risk for Black youth. Thus, the purpose of this study is to utilize the methodology of cultural consensus modeling to evaluate risk factors for suicide in black youth ecologically, by drawing from the perspectives of black youth themselves. Our aim in utilizing this methodology is to give voice to a perspective that has been largely ignored and to show that contemporary conceptualization of suicide risk should be contextualized with respect to cultural vulnerability factors such as social injustice, racial discrimination, and minority stress.

Mediational Intervention for Sensitizing Caregivers (MISC) for formerly incarcerated mothers

(Project lead: Sophie Kerr)

The aim of this study is to assess the feasibility and acceptability of MISC for Black and Hispanic formerly incarcerated mothers and to identify targets for future adaptation of MISC for this population. The study uses a mixed methods design including quantitative surveys, qualitative interviews, and focus groups, and is informed by a Community Advisory Board.