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The Couples and Intimate Relationships Lab, located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
We asked each of the Couples and Intimate Relationships Lab’s ABCT student members:
- 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?
Kimberly Pentel, M.A.
- My research focuses on developing and evaluating couple-based treatments for relationship distress and individual psychopathology. I especially enjoy tailoring empirically supported therapies for specific disorders and populations and critically examining treatments to ensure they are sensitive and accessible for historically underserved groups. For my dissertation, I am developing and pilot-testing a culturally tailored couple therapy for same-sex female couples, drawing upon the cognitive behavioral couple therapy (CBCT) model and sexual minority stress literature. As a next step, I aim to develop a broader framework for clinicians to strategically tailor empirically supported therapies for underserved couples.
- Fundamentally, ABCT is my professional home. Through SIG membership, I have found networking opportunities and developed a few collaborations. Through the SIGs, I learn about ABCT programming most relevant to my interests, and can strategically design a convention agenda to learn about cutting edge updates in those areas. The annual convention is a valuable opportunity to present at a national forum and learn how to communicate one’s work to a broader audience. I enjoy asking questions to leading scholars and connecting in-person even if we live in different states or countries. Finally, in addition to the more traditional programming, I appreciate ABCT’s professional development programming (e.g., focused on internship, postdoc, work-life balance, women in leadership).
- I highly recommend joining one to two SIGs, including joining their email list and annual SIG meeting at the convention. It is also incredibly valuable to seek out experience in various speaking roles at the ABCT convention, including serving as symposium speaker, symposium chair, roundtable moderator, or poster presenter. If opportunities arise, chairing a symposium or moderating a roundtable may be especially rewarding since this includes determining the learning objectives and scope, pulling together presenters, and really taking the lead in a certain content area.
Danielle Weber, M.A.
- Broadly, I am interested in how we better understand and improve the functioning of committed romantic relationships. Within this broad field, I am particularly interested in couples wherein one partner is experiencing significant psychopathology and the role that partners play in the maintenance or alleviation of those symptoms. I am also broadly interested in how emotions are experienced within couples; more specifically, how partners may sometimes be an asset and at other times a detriment to how individuals recover from emotional distress in the moment. I am also interested in couples undergoing significant environmental stressors, such as being separated geographically (long-distance relationships) or experiencing discrimination and prejudice (same-sex couples).
- ABCT has allowed me to expand my knowledge base by attending engaging and innovative research presentations at the conventions, refine my own skills in presentations by affording me the opportunity to present my research at conventions, and expand my professional network at these conventions.
- I think that presenting as part of a symposium and presenting posters have been an invaluable part of my professional development. Presenting in a symposium is a wonderful way to inform people studying similar work and can really help get your work out there in a meaningful way. Presenting a poster is also a wonderful opportunity to learn how to describe your research concisely and to interact with your audience. I’ve had people help me think about my research in different ways based on these discussions. I’ve also started a collaboration with a person presenting a poster a few posters away! I also have had a great experience being a part of the Couples SIG at ABCT and getting to know more people within my specific field. I also serve as a graduate student member of a committee so have the chance to interact with researchers in different areas and levels of their careers. So, in summary, I recommend presenting in whatever way you can, joining the SIG that most closely matches your interest, and joining a committee if you can.
Alexandra Wojda, B.A.
- I am interested in the ways in which environmental stressors play a role in relationship functioning. My primary areas of focus include acute and chronic stressors, including relationship traumas (e.g., intimate partner violence) and poverty. With respect to both, I am curious to understand the extent to which these stressors affect interpersonal processes (e.g., emotion co-regulation, dyadic coping), overall relationship health and resilience, and treatment gains within couple therapy. Over the course of my career, I look to broaden my work from basic research to the realm of treatment development, and test new and existing culturally sensitive interventions that target relationship distress and mental health in low-income communities.
- ABCT has shaped my work as a graduate student researcher in terms of content and process. With respect to content, my attendance at conference events and engagement in intellectually stimulating discussion with colleagues have made me think deeply about the applications of others’ work to everyday clinical practice. Inevitably, it has also inspired additional research questions and considerations, exposed me to new research and clinical methodologies, and encouraged me to continue to consider intersectional issues in my own clinical work and research. Comparatively, with respect to process, presenting my own research at ABCT (and observing the presentation styles of others) has allowed me to hone my oral presentation skills and learn effective ways to convey scientific findings. Ultimately, I have found both sets of skills to be invaluable in the formation of my own independent research program.
- First, as students consider their areas of research interest, it might behoove them to join Special Interest Groups (SIGs). Within these, they may have opportunities to build their professional networks and attend pre-conference events. Some of these events might even present opportunities to receive brief mentorship from researchers at different stages of their career as well as chances to give a brief talk on their own research. Second, students might want to present a poster: Doing so will offer further opportunities to engage in intellectually stimulating discussion with others, exercise presentation skills, and perhaps even initiate collaborations with other colleagues. Finally, I encourage students to attend symposia that might fall outside of the purview of their primary research interests-you never know what might spark another enthralling research question! Thus, taken together, I believe all of these wonderful opportunities at the ABCT convention can support a young researcher’s intellectual and professional growth.
Emily Carrino, B.A.
- My main interest centers around understanding how sociocultural factors (i.e., gender, sexuality, and minority stress) influence psychopathology and relationship functioning. Specifically, I am interested in intervention development for underserved couples, with an eye towards LGBTQ+, long-distance, and low-income dyads. I am also broadly interested in dissemination of evidence-based couple therapies, including expanding the reach and modalities of therapist training and supervision.
- ABCT has been invaluable to my development as a clinical scientist thus far, both in inspiring me to share my research and engage with others’ work in a collaborative, engaging way and in building a scientific community. When I first attended ABCT’s annual convention as a post-baccalaureate member, I had the privilege of meeting many scholars whose work I had admired from afar-an experience that energized me to think from new perspectives, contextualize my research ideas, and increase my sense of belonging as a psychological researcher.
- I recommend attending and immersing yourself in the annual ABCT convention as an early researcher, if possible. Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are also a great way to meet people in your research areas, forge connections and collaborations, and start to build a scientific community for yourself.
Don Baucom, Ph.D.
Don Baucom is Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). He currently is in his 44th year as a faculty member in academia and continues his passion for the multiple domains of his professional life: conducting research on couples, training and supervising doctoral students and other professionals around the world in conducting couple therapy, teaching classes on both the graduate and undergraduate level, and being an active clinician himself.
Our Couples and Intimate Relationships Lab engages in the “full life cycle” of understanding, treating, and disseminating knowledge regarding relationship distress. This involves conducting basic research in the laboratory and real world regarding functional and dysfunctional couple interaction patterns (e.g., difficulties regulating high levels of emotion); based on these findings and clinical observation, developing and evaluating new couple-based interventions for couples in numerous contexts (e.g., relationships in which one person has psychopathology, same sex couples, etc.), and disseminating efficacious treatments to clinicians in the real world through writings, extensive workshops, and ongoing clinical supervision.
How do you stay current with developments in the field, both research and practice?
As behaviorists, we believe there is no substitute for actively engaging fully in what you want to understand. Therefore, all members of the Couples and Intimate Relationships Lab engage in research and clinical activities with couples in an integrated fashion on an ongoing basis. We run a couple clinic for UNC; this includes all of us in the lab who are doctoral students and beyond, where our lab members are trained clinically at an intensive level, develop important research questions for formal inquiry, and train and supervise other therapists as well. We believe it is crucial to learn from others, so we collaborate in our research and clinical training with investigators from several other universities in the United States, as well as many other countries. These collaborations keep us open to recognizing the diverse ways that couples conduct their lives throughout the world and beyond the walls of academia. Of course, we read the current research and clinical literature, and believe these written accounts come to life and have meaning most clearly when we are immersed in the real-world phenomena on an ongoing basis.
How long have you been a member of ABCT?
I joined ABCT in the early 1970s while a graduate student and have attended the conventions regularly since that time.
How often and why do you attend the ABCT convention?
I attend ABCT every year, missing only once since joining in the early 1970s. Outside of my own university, it has been my academic home where I continue to learn, share ideas, and get together with old friends and develop new relationships. ABCT has become a major gathering place for couple researchers from around the world, so attending the convention provides a unique opportunity to gather with top people in the field and listen to and learn from younger scholars as they expand our thinking. Whereas the formal program is excellent, much of the value of the convention happens outside of the established agenda. It is an annual time to meet with colleagues from around the world and to reconnect with former students in a real, three-dimensional space, not on a flat screen. And it is what I would call an “intellectual jam session” where we play with new ideas, move current projects along, and almost always develop new collaborative efforts.
How has ABCT helped you/your lab professionally?
In addition to the above, the ABCT conference is a place where students meet and interact with their future colleagues from other labs and meet former lab members from UNC; have an opportunity to share ideas and pick the brains of other established researchers; take the lead in developing symposia and round tables, and presenting their own ideas through giving talks (after passing the lab presentation practice at home where the fine points of presenting years of work in a 12 minute presentation are mastered!). Being part of a top-notch CBT organization allows us to step back, put our work in perspective, recognizing where our work fits into the field, hopefully feeling affirmed in the process and energized to continue to grow and move forward with our thinking.
Does your lab have any traditions? Does your lab do anything together for fun?
In all reality, I think we have fun every time we gather. I believe academia, research, and clinical work are demanding, so if it isn’t fun, I don’t think we can continue it for decades. So fun is a way of interacting and approaching all we do. In addition, we do plan special activities outside of our meetings, and much of it seems to include food! So we have lunch together at a lovely dining facility on campus, dinners at my home and also hosted at the homes of students. This year we have initiated a fall retreat day locally where we will “think great thoughts” and play; we’re also planning to initiate retreats in the mountains of North Carolina. And the ABCT convention is one of those fun times as well, including an annual lab dinner. The fun is the people, and that can happen any time, any place.
What advice would you give prospective trainees (in general, or to those applying to your lab specifically)?
Recently our clinical program had a lunch speaker who had been our former Director of Clinical Psychology at UNC and had continued to become Department Chair, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Provost, and finally President of a major university. When asked for her advice, she responded, “I have no nuggets.” I believe most broad, generic nuggets are like fool’s gold and not worth much. I’ve learned only to give advice to individuals when they actively seek it, and then we’ll figure it out together – ’til then!