For the second year in a row, a Suffolk PhD student in Clinical Psychology has received a prestigious National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Stephanie Jarvi received this competitive award to further her research on self-injury and identity.

Importance of Identity

Jarvi’s research focuses on whether self-injury becomes part of a person’s identity in ways that increase risk for the behavior to continue over time. She compares this to people who run for stress relief (a positive coping mechanism) and then consider themselves “runners.” “Similarly, does self-injury become part of someone’s identity?” says Jarvi. “Do they see themselves as a ‘cutter’? And if they do, does it increase the risk of the behavior going forward?”

Jarvi, who expects to complete her PhD in 2017, has been studying this topic since she was an undergraduate. Her senior thesis was about self-injury. She also worked as a research assistant in the psychiatry department at Boston Children’s Hospital for three years as part of a suicide prevention program in Boston high schools.

“This grant provides funding to extend my dissertation to two years instead of just one,” Jarvi said. “It gives me the freedom to take the time to do it over a longer period of time, and in terms of the feasibility and scope of the project, it is now much larger because of the funding.”

Jarvi is part of the Psychology Department’s Adolescent Risk and Relationship Lab, which is directed by Dr. Lance Swenson, her advisor and the director of the Clinical Psychology PhD program. Along with their colleagues, the pair has published research on self-injury among lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals and self-injury and social contagion (the spread of the behavior among people).

Two in a Row

Jarvi is the second Suffolk clinical psychology PhD student in two years to receive this prestigious grant. In 2013, Julie Yeterian received the grant to support her dissertation work on the role of religion and spirituality in substance abuse treatment. Yeterian’s success inspired and encouraged Jarvi to pursue the grant as well.

Suffolk’s doctoral psychology program emphasizes original student research. “The two NIH dissertation grants—as well as a similar fellowship a student received from the Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada—are a testament to that,” said Swenson.

A Career Launching Pad

Not only will this grant enhance Jarvi’s dissertation, but it also aligns with her long-term career plans. “This project will create a body of research that will be a great launching pad for my career in the future,” Jarvi said. “I really like the idea of teaching, researching, and doing clinical work all at the same time, so I hope to obtain a faculty position in a college psychology department.”

She is already well on her way. After earning her master’s degree as part of Suffolk’s PhD program, Jarvi was hired as an undergraduate instructor. In addition to teaching, she hopes to continue her research on self-harm and identity, as well as related clinical work. She currently works at McLean Hospital—a mental health facility in Belmont, MA—three days a week doing group and one-on-one therapy.

“Stephanie has excelled throughout her graduate training in her coursework, clinical work, and research program,” Swenson said. “She is a gifted, driven scholar with an incredible work ethic and scientific curiosity. I have no doubt that she has an incredibly bright future and will make significant contributions to the field.”