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Psychologists Earn $6.6M Grant for Youth Violence Prevention Project

Psychology professors W. LaVome Robinson and Leonard A. Jason have earned a $6.6 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to reduce African American youth violence. The award is the largest research grant DePaul University has ever received. 

With collaborators including Chicago Public Schools and Rush University Medical Center, the Success Over Stress Violence Prevention Project strengthens ninth graders’ coping skills to deal with stress in order to promote resilience and prevent interpersonal violence and suicide. 
“In communities hard-hit by poverty and drugs, children witness violence and it leads to more violence. Children in these environments do what they do because they’re trying to survive,” says Robinson, principal investigator for the study. “We are giving children ways to minimize the likelihood they are going to be exposed to, participate in or experience violence.” 
Robinson has led Success Over Stress through two efficacy trials, with trained clinicians facilitating the 15-session course in CPS. This yielded strong results: 80 percent of students reported the course helped them meet their stress-reduction goals. NIMH is now funding this 5-year “real world” effectiveness trial, which will train social workers in CPS to deliver the course. This next step is critical for discovering methods to sustain and even expand this intervention model within school systems. 
“We’ve been talking about this for years and we’ve finally made it,” Robinson says. “It’s a very big deal to go from efficacy to effectiveness—very few researchers are able to do that. This wasn’t quick and dirty; it was slow and deliberate.”
Robinson and Jason, co-investigator on the study, have been collaborating at DePaul for nearly 40 years. 
“We often think about research, teaching and practice as being separate. But this is all three, and that is the best of DePaul,” says Jason, director of DePaul’s Center for Community Research. 
Evidence-based approach to stopping violence 
Robinson notes there are many programs to address youth violence, but few have been as rigorously evaluated as Success Over Stress. 
“People are asking ‘What do we do about gun violence? What do we do about school violence?’ There are a lot of people doing good work, but not a lot of empirically validated solutions. We aim to change that,” Jason agrees. 
In previous trials, researchers enlisted CPS students to help tailor the scenarios, names of characters and stressors to ensure the program would resonate with their peers. Students shared experiences common among African American youth, Robinson says, from being followed around inside a store and suspected of stealing, or being profiled by police on the street. 
“These children are trying to develop under enormous stress. Any individual with the right amount of stress will seek to cope with that stress,” Robinson says. “We help the children recognize stressors in advance, to anticipate the stressor and prepare for the stressor, so they don’t get overwhelmed and do impulsive kinds of things.”
According to Jason, it’s rare for researchers to go into the field and gather information from youth who will receive an intervention. He believes this program has potential for greater impact once it can get into the hands of more social workers in Chicago and beyond. 
“A lot of researchers come in and say, ‘We have the solution and know what’s best for you.’ Instead, we’re trying to augment the natural resilience the children already have,” he says. 
Education and collaboration, a ‘Vincentian approach’ 
With this and other grants, the researchers enlist undergraduate and graduate psychology students at DePaul to help deliver and evaluate the program. Working in the Center for Community Research has helped hundreds of psychology alumni gain entrance to graduate programs and launch their careers, Jason says. 
“That’s powerful. We are giving our students the credentials, training and experiences that make them marketable,” he says.
Alumnus Christopher Whipple contributed to the research during his graduate studies at DePaul and says he was impressed with how youth in the program would encourage each other. 
“Assisting with the implementation and evaluation of the Success Over Stress program helped me to recognize the capacity of youth to strengthen their peers and make lasting change in their communities,” says Whipple, who now teaches psychology at Penn State Harrisburg. 
Other collaborators on the project include Rush University Medical Center and Heartland Health Centers, which administer the school-based health centers in CPS. Co-investigators are Kate Keenan, professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago; Sally Lemke, director of community health clinics at Rush University Medical Center; and Donald Hedeker, professor of biostatistics at the University of Chicago. 
“Collaboration can be the best way to solve problems, and that is very Vincentian,” Jason says. 
Longtime collaboration a ‘shining example’
Much has changed at DePaul since Robinson and Jason began working together in 1980. Along with their colleagues, they have helped the community psychology program grow over the years to more than 700 undergraduate and 100 graduate students. The Center for Community Research opened in 2001, and faculty and students in the center have drawn some $39 million in research grants to the university. 
“This grant is a shining example of the cutting-edge, relevant research that occurs in our college,” says Dorothy Kozlowski, interim dean of the College of Science and Health. “Professors Robinson and Jason are leading the way, making significant contributions in their field and making a difference in the lives of children and families in underserved areas of Chicago.”
DePaul University has always valued a teacher-scholar model, which integrates innovative research into the education of the next generation, says Daniela Stan Raicu, associate provost for research. 
“This award is significant because it can be a catalyst for new opportunities for students to get engaged in research, for faculty to spearhead new interdisciplinary collaborations throughout the university, as well as for the Center for Community Research to draw further support for its important work,” Raicu says.​



Becoming a Great Mentor

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Defining Community Psychology


2019 (April 18). Leonard Jason, Academic Minute. Most people think of psychologists in very traditional ways.   http://bit.ly/LJasoAM

Psychologists are more than therapists.

Leonard Jason, professor of clinical psychology at DePaul University, examines the field of community psychology.

Leonard Jason is a professor of clinical and community psychology in DePaul University’s College of Science and Health. He’s also the director of DePaul’s Center for Community Research. A DePaul faculty member since 1975, Jason’s research interests include chronic fatigue syndrome and myalgic encephalomyelitis, recovery homes, school violence and methods for prevention, smoking and methods for prevention, media interventions, children and media, and community building. He’s an editorial board member for the Journal of Community Psychology, the Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, the Journal of Health Psychology, and Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health & Behavior. He’s the author of the 2013 book, Principles of Social Change. Jason holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Brandeis University and a doctorate in clinical and community psychology from the University of Rochester.


Defining Community Psychology


Most people think of psychologists in very traditional ways. For example, if you were to close your eyes and imagine one, there is a good chance you would think of a therapist.

My field is called community psychology, and it is a wonderful blend of psychology and sociology. It creates new roles and opportunities for psychologists by extending the reach of services to those who have previously been under-represented. It also focuses on prevention rather than just treatment of psychological problems and on actively involving community members in the change process. In a sense, we are like community organizers but specifically trained to be able to evaluate whether or not our social justice interventions are effective.

The field of community psychology focuses on preventing — rather than just treating — psychological problems. In fact, no condition or disease has ever been eliminated by focusing just on those with the problem. An impressive example of prevention occurred with community efforts to change the landscape of tobacco use over the past 50 years. Today, attitudes have changed toward tobacco use and there are substantially fewer smokers. Community organizations aided by community psychologists made important contributions to these efforts.

The community psychology approach shifts the power dynamic to a less hierarchical, equal relationship, as all parties participate in the decision-making process. Community members are seen as resources, who provide unique points of view about the community and the institutional barriers that might need to be overcome in social justice interventions.

Community psychology’s focus on social justice is due to the recognition that many of our social problems are created when resources are disproportionately allocated throughout our society, which causes social and economic inequalities such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment and crime.

It’s important that we as a society continue to look for transformative ways of solving social problems, and community psychologists are here to help.


Affordable solutions to a health problem


Click here to see Leonard Jason’s Oxford University Press Blog titled: Comprehensive affordable solutions to a major health problem. The first paragraph of the blog is below:

Alcohol and drug abuse costs Americans approximately $428 billion annually. Despite this enormous cost—which, we must remember, is just the economic face of a community, family, and individually life-shattering problem—the vast majority of those with an alcohol or substance use problem do not receive treatment, and even fewer are likely to achieve long-term sobriety. In short, the existing system is characterized by inadequate access, high recidivism, and recurring treatment—at best, an ineffective and expensive revolving door. It has become increasingly clear that detoxification and treatment programs are insufficient to ensure abstinence from drugs and alcohol; for most people with substance use disorders, continued longer-term support following treatment is necessary.

S.O.S. for At-Risk Teens


Click here to check out our feature by DePaul

LaVome Robinson is proving the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” in her work with African-American adolescents in Chicago.

Backed by a  five-year grant of nearly $3 million from the National Institutes of Health, the professor of psychology is making a difference in the lives of at-risk teens through an intervention program—Success over Stress (S.O.S.)—which gives them skills in reducing stress, anxiety and aggression. S.O.S. includes 15 weekly group sessions during which the students learn to identify stress, understand its symptoms and causes, and manage it with a range of strategies.

“We give them strategies they can put in action—problem-solving strategies, relaxation strategies, thought-stopping strategies, and alternative-thinking strategies—so they can gain some control,” says Robinson.  “By the end of the sessions, the teens can monitor their stress levels day-to-day, put a strategy in place when they need to, and generally maintain their equilibrium.”

Robinson and her research partner, Leonard Jason, designed S.O.S. to work for these kids, in this place, at this time. “The life of an African-American child in Chicago is radically different from the life of a white child in Chicago and even of an African-American child in other cities” says Robinson. “Yes, like other kids they worry about their grades or about their social lives, but the biggest thing they worry about is their safety in the midst of potentially explosive situations. Generic stress reduction programs just won’t help.  So, we made sure that everything in the S.O.S. program—the identified sources of stress, the examples and case studies, the language used by the group facilitators—is relevant to these specific teens.”