My name is Jennifer Persia and I am a junior majoring in psychology and minoring in neuroscience and modern Hebrew. I became involved with research at UNC through the Abramowitz Anxiety and Stress Lab. This year I have been working on the Mom2Be study, examining the course of perinatal OCD and how the gut microbiome may play a role. Additionally, I have worked on a team to develop and submit an abstract to the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) on the relationship between OCD, depression, and interpretations of intrusive thoughts. On campus, I am involved with the Mental Health Ambassadors club, and I have recently been elected Secretary of the Psi Chi National Psychology Honors society here at UNC. I aspire to complete my master’s degree in counseling or social work with the goal of working in the mental health field as a licensed therapist. In the future, I hope to provide empathetic and evidence-based therapy, with a focus on treating anxiety disorders.
This semester I am working as an intern at 3-C Family Services in Cary, NC. 3-C is a mental health private practice that offers diverse treatment options, diagnostic assessment, and medication management. Clinicians work with patients individually and within the family unit to improve outcomes for children with diverse mental health needs and goals. Clinicians on staff range in their training qualifications and interests, with specializations in DBT, CBT, creative exposures for anxiety disorders, social work, play therapy, and building social skills. Everyone on the staff brings unique strengths to the clinic, and during case conferences, they come together to help each other with challenges. Each week I participate in these conferences, and I was even encouraged to prepare my own presentation on current research into early-onset schizophrenia (EOS) to present to the clinical team. I have enjoyed learning about individualized patient care in such a cooperative and supportive setting.
My mentor, Dr. Lori Schweickert, is a board-certified psychiatrist and the Medical Director of 3-C Family Services. Dr. Schweickert has encouraged me to work on projects that serve both the interests of 3-C Family Services as well as my clinical interests. This has allowed me to engage with so many clinical learning experiences that I would never have received if not for the Karen M. Gil Internship program! I have had plentiful opportunities to conduct literature reviews on diverse and interesting topics including the potential clinical applications of polygenic risk scores (PRS), Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP), effective therapies for motion sickness, and impacts of calcium levels on premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
At 3-C Family Services, I have compiled databases for clinical use on Genomind pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic gene variations, and extended-release stimulant absorption rates. These resources can be used by medical providers as a resource for genetic and drug absorption factors that may be useful to consider when deciding which medications to prescribe. I have reviewed and synthesized patient data from previous care facilities, and provided this information to 3-C clinicians preparing to work with new clients. I have gained experience as a scribe during a patient intake session, and I was able to aid in exposure practice for a patient engaging in exposure therapy treatment for social anxiety.
One of the most exciting opportunities (of so many!) that I have had at 3-C so far has been developing an original research project to examine the impacts of fidget technology on attentional control and comprehension in children ages 6-13 with ADHD. Participants will be a referred clinical sample of patients at 3-C. I am serving as the principal investigator (PI) for this project in collaboration with Dr. Lori Schwieckert at 3-C and Dr. Steven Buzinski at UNC. Parents will complete a baseline assessment of their child’s ADHD symptoms over the last 6 months and then their child will be randomly assigned to either a fidget condition or a control condition. Participants will engage with two attention assessments, and we will examine the impacts of utilizing fidgets on their outcomes.
I began this research journey after reviewing previous literature on fidget impacts and noticing that there was little consensus on how they influence attention for better or for worse. Seeing this gap in empirical knowledge on such a relevant topic, I became eager to develop a plan to contribute new knowledge to teachers, clinicians, and parents about the importance of fidget sensory tools. I thoroughly enjoyed developing the experimental methods for this study, and I am looking forward to IRB approval to begin running participants and collecting data.
It is impossible to overstate the incredible opportunities that my Gil internship experience at 3-C Family Services has provided. I have developed a greater understanding of my passions within the mental health field, and it has been an absolute joy to play an essential supporting role for the incredible team of clinicians at 3-C. I am beyond grateful to Dr. Schweickert, and the talented and supportive clinical staff here at 3-C Family Services for all these incredible learning experiences. Another huge thank you goes to Dr. Buzinski and Emily Dolegowski for seeing the potential in me and accepting me into this talented Gil cohort. I am grateful for the opportunities this program has provided. As the semester continues, I am looking forward to continuing to learn and grow in my field and contributing to the growth of empirical psychological knowledge.