Graduate students are publishing research with faculty members and serving as mentors to undergraduates through their engagement with the Acceptance, Mindfulness and Emotion Lab, one of several Suffolk University Psychology Department research laboratories.

Psychology Professor Susan Orsillo established the Acceptance, Mindfulness and Emotion Lab for two purposes:

  • To conduct research on the effectiveness of acceptance and mindfulness-based strategies in improving people’s well being and overall quality of life
  • To mentor students who are interested in pursuing a career in clinical psychology and related fields.

Developing treatments

Susan Orsillo“While our work is aimed at targeting a wide range of mental health concerns, our primary focus is on uncovering new treatments for anxiety disorders, which affect 40 million American adults each year,” says Orsillo. “Anxiety disorders, including chronic worry, social anxiety and panic, if untreated, can also lead to additional problems, such as depression, substance use, and physical illness.”

Orsillo and University of Massachusetts-Boston Professor Lizabeth Roemer have collaborated to develop a highly effective treatment.

“The research we are conducting suggests that over 80 percent of those people who receive the brief treatment we developed remain symptom-free up to six months after treatment is terminated,” says Orsillo.

A team of undergraduate and graduate students work together under Orsillo’s supervision in the Acceptance, Mindfulness and Emotion Lab. The undergraduates learn from their more experienced colleagues; in return the graduate students’ mentoring efforts enhance their own knowledge.

Student-faculty collaboration

In one recent project, The Mindful Way Through the Semester, Orsillo and graduate student Sara Danitz developed a workshop for incoming freshman and law students, teaching them skills to help with their transitions. Their research, published in the journal Behavior Modification (PDF), showed that students who participated in the workshop had less depression and placed a higher value on their education at the end of their first semester than a control group.

Graduate student Aviva Katz and a team of undergraduates engaged in a project called Acceptance-Based Behavioral Therapy (ABBT) for Social Anxiety. They examined the role that academic values play in helping students with a fear of public speaking to become more willing to engage in important but often anxiety-provoking activities, such as raising their hand in class or talking with professors.

In an ABBT for Procrastination project, graduate student Debra Glick studied the factors that make students likely to procrastinate and developed an online program aimed at reducing this behavior.

“Within the lab, I’m definitely learning to think critically about research and ways to make a contribution to help other people,” says Danitz, a student in Suffolk’s clinical psychology doctoral program and a therapist at McLean Hospital.

“The program offers so many opportunities, from research to presenting at conferences and collaborating with cutting-edge experts in the acceptance and mindfulness field,” says Danitz, who received her master’s degree in psychology from Suffolk in 2013.

Publications

Orsillo and Roemer have co-authored three books over the years. Their award-winning self-help book, The Mindful Way through Anxiety – Break Free from Chronic Worry and Reclaim Your Life, describes the step-by-step strategies used in ABBT. The technique helps people achieve a new level of emotional and physical well-being by becoming aware of anxious feelings and worries without letting them escalate.

Other published materials include Acceptance and Mindfulness-Based Approaches to Anxiety, a research-focused book, and Mindfulness & Acceptance-Based Behavioral Therapies in Practice, a how-to publication for therapists.