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Peer Relations Lab, located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Department of Psychology and Neuroscience


Featured Lab

We asked each of the UNC Peer Relations Lab’s graduate students:

  • What is your area of research interest?
  • How has ABCT been helpful to you?
  • If a student were thinking about joining ABCT, what activities would you recommend they get involved in?

Leigh Spivey, M.S.

  • I study the mental health needs of transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) youth, specifically focusing on which TGNC youth could benefit from gender-affirmative psychological interventions and why.
  • ABCT has provided opportunities for me to disseminate my work through multiple outlets, and has been a great resource for professional networking.
  • I would highly recommend that students get involved with a SIG if possible! That is a great way to get connected with other folks in the field who share your clinical or research interests.

Sarah Owens, M.A.

  • Examining menstrual cycle fluctuations in multi-level predictors of suicide risk and suicidal behavior in adolescents.
  • ABCT has been important in helping me connect with other students and faculty in my areas of interest and learn about cutting-edge advances in methodology to improve my own work.
  • I would highly recommend presenting a poster at the annual conference and attending any presentations of interest to broaden their understanding of evidence-based interventions.

Maya Massing-Schaffer, M.A.

  • Understanding the impact of peer experiences on suicidal thoughts and behaviors in adolescence
  • ABCT has been helpful for networking and staying in touch with former colleagues.
  • Students may enjoy attending the ABCT conference and connecting with others who have similar research and clinical interests.

Gabriella Alvarez, B.A.

  • I am broadly interested in exploring how social stress related to sociocultural factors (e.g. discrimination) alter biological processes that increase risk for non-suicidal self-injury, depression, and suicide in adolescents.
  • Although I am still learning about ABCT, it has been wonderful to learn about all of the resources available to trainees, practitioners, and researchers committed to advancing evidence-based clinical care.
  • I plan to get involved in ABCT by joining the list serve and attending the next convention in Atlanta!
  • I would strongly encourage students to get involved in ABCT, particularly by attending the annual conference and submitting an abstract of their own research to present. While the ABCT list serve and webinar series are great as well, attendance at the conference is a unique opportunity to meet potential mentors and gain valuable inspiration for future research ideas and clinical practice.”

Matt Clayton, B.A.

  • I am broadly interested in the adolescent transition and how this developmental period is associated with increases in risk for depression, self-injury, and suicide, particularly in a peer context. I am hopeful that my basic science research on these topics will one day inform future interventions in both research and clinical settings.
  • ABCT has connected me to a uniquely cultivated network of researchers and practitioners who are committed to applied research and advancing the field of clinical psychology. At a professional level, this has provided me excellent opportunities to network and learn from relevant and sometimes disparate bodies of research in the field.
  • I would strongly encourage students to get involved in ABCT, particularly by attending the annual conference and submitting an abstract of their own research to present. While the ABCT list serve and webinar series are great as well, attendance at the conference is a unique opportunity to meet potential mentors and gain valuable inspiration for future research ideas and clinical practice.”

Mitchell J. Prinstein, Ph.D., ABPP

Mitch is the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research examines interpersonal models of internalizing symptoms and health-risk behaviors among adolescents, with a focus on the unique role of peer relationships in the developmental psychopathology of depression, self-injury, and suicidality. Mitch’s research has been continuously funded by several NIH institutes and private foundations for 20 years, and his work has been published in over 140 peer-reviewed publications. He has written or (co-)edited 10 books, a set of encyclopedias on adolescent development, an undergraduate textbook on clinical psychology, a series of graduate textbooks in clinical child and adolescent psychology, two professional development volumes, and a mass-market book on the science of popularity. He is a past-Editor of the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, a past-President of the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology, and a past-President of the Society for Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. He currently serves on the APA Board of Directors. Mitch has received several national awards recognizing his contributions to research (e.g., APA Society of Clinical Psychology Theodore Blau Early Career Award), teaching/mentoring (ABCT Mentor Award), service (CUDCP Beverly Thorn Outstanding DCT Award), and the professional development of graduate students (APAGS Raymond D. Fowler Award).

The UNC Peer Relations Lab examines interpersonal predictors and correlates of psychopathology among children and adolescents, with a focus on adolescents’ peer relationships. Based in a developmental psychopathology framework, our research is designed to understand normative developmental processes in peer relations (including research on peer popularity, friendship, peer victimization, peer influence, and adolescents’ interpersonal behavior on social media) as well as risk factors for maladaptive developmental trajectories with a focus on depression, health risk behaviors, and nonsuicidal and suicidal self-injurious thoughts and behavior. Over the past decade, and in collaboration with several other labs, our research has increasingly integrated research on social processes, psychopathology, and biophysiological markers of behavior. For instance, recent work has examined HPA, cardiovascular, epigenetic social stress responses associated with trajectories of self-injurious behaviors, as well as neural markers associated with heightened susceptibility to peer influence towards health risk behaviors. Many of our most important and innovative contributions have come from an outstanding group of trainees, their hard work, and outstanding ideas.

How do you stay current with developments in the field, both research and practice?

For many years, it was possible to stay current by serving on an NIH study section, and as an associate editor and editor for journals in the field. Recently, I have relied instead on electronic releases of journals delivered by email, attendance at conferences, and the coordination of specialty conferences (in collaboration with Dr. Eric Youngstrom) that bring together some of my idols to discuss future directions for the field.

What conferences do you regularly attend and why?

I go to three conferences every year. The ABCT conference helps me connect with the broader field of clinical psychology, catch up with collaborators and friends, and hear about new research directions, especially on self-injury. I am excited about ABCT’s increasing focus on developmental psychopathology research beyond the study of anxiety disorders. I attend SRCD/SRA for an outstanding showcase on developmental psychopathology research. Last, I attend APA each year to offer professional development talks and professional service to the field.

How long have you been a member of ABCT?

I have attended 26 consecutive ABCT conferences as a member.

How has ABCT helped you professionally?

ABCT offers a terrific forum to learn about the breadth of evidence-based clinical psychology assessment and treatment. With representation from many of our field’s strongest doctoral and internship programs, it is an outstanding place for trainees to become exposed to current trends in the field and have access to our most prolific scholars and renowned practitioners. I am so grateful to ABCT for the chance to present alongside scholars I have looked up to for years, and to help my students present their work.

How do you see the future of ABCT for both you and your students?

Back when ABCT was AABT, the advancement of evidence-based practice was central to its mission. The yearly convention was not only a must-attend event to learn about other psychologists’ work, but also an annual summit to set a common agenda and work together towards the promotion of a science-based discipline that had the greatest potential to help the people we all intended to serve. ABCT has since grown, as has our field, and our ability to work as a collective, advocating for evidence-based psychology as one voice has become more difficult. Thus, I am excited that ABCT is an active and generous member of CAAPS (the Coalition for the Advancement and Application of Psychological Science, to help continue its original mission in partnership with a dozen other associations that have joined together to promote and ensure the future of psychological science.

Are your students members of ABCT? If so, what has been most useful for them?

Most all students and many alumni from our doctoral program at UNC attend ABCT each year as members. The opportunities to present research and for networking are outstanding!

For prospective students:

I wish that more professional development resources were available to students interested in pursuing a career in clinical psychology. Based on the proportion of admitted students to applicants, gaining admission to a clinical psychology PhD program is more competitive than any other type of graduate program in the United States. To help students make wise choices and increase their likelihood of success, I recommend a careful review of, written by the DCTs of most clinical psychology PhD programs in our country. I also have some uncensored professional development advice available on my website (

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