School launches Ph.D. in clinical psychology

Schiffman and students

New degree program addresses growing mental health need

In a push to address growing mental health needs, the School of Social Ecology is launching a new Ph.D. program in clinical psychology. The program will begin enrolling students in the fall of 2021.

"We are eager to work toward the mission of filling a void in the mental health landscape in California, and ushering in a new generation of clinical scientists to provide leadership and direction for our region, state, nation, and beyond,” say Elizabeth A. Martin, associate professor of psychological science and interim director of clinical training, and Jason Schiffman, who will be the inaugural director in July, 2021. 

“Creating this program in the context of a pandemic that includes mental health, as well as during a time of heightened civic unrest and discourse forcing introspection into the systems that drive our institutions, offers the opportunity to work with students to become leaders who, through critical thinking and action, have the potential to influence the values and direction of our society,” they note. “We are positioned to recruit some of the most talented and inspirational students in the country, and are eager to contribute to the UCI community and beyond." 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were an estimated 43.4 million adults – about 1 in 5 Americans aged 18 or older – with a significant mental health concern in 2015. And, one in five children, have had a seriously debilitating mental health or behavioral health disorder. Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14 and three-quarters begin by age 24.

Suicide, the CDC reports, often is associated with symptoms of mental health challenges, and is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death among people aged 15-34. Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the United States for youth and adults. People living with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.

The grim statistics make preventing and treating mental health concerns urgent, and the new clinical training program is poised to take on the challenge. Training will include multicultural approaches to psychotherapy, biopsychosocial approaches to adult and developmental psychopathology, contextually informed assessment,  and neuropsychology that informs health broadly defined.

"Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit us and more people started experiencing mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, the demand for mental health research and service was skyrocketing," Dean Nancy Guerra points out. "Studies show that people with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population. The rate of unemployment is higher among American adults who have mental illness compared to those who do not. Mood disorders are the most common cause of hospitalization for all people in the U.S. under age 45. So, training clinical scientists who can advance our understanding of the causes, prevention and treatments for mental illness is an urgent need, and high quality clinical science programs are immensely important both now and for our future."

The program will be guided by a clinical science model to prepare future leaders for careers as clinical scholars and mental health care leaders. Directing the program as the first cohort arrives will be Schiffman, who presently is professor of psychology and director of the clinical training program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He also is co-director of the Maryland Early Intervention Program’s Strive for Wellness clinic, a research, training, and services program designed to improve the lives of young people at risk for psychosis, as well as their families.

Schiffman, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from USC, has held numerous grants, totalling more than $9 million, from the National Institute of Mental Health, state departments of health, private foundations, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, including an award to run a community mental health clinic for people at risk for psychosis. He has published more than 130 scientific articles related to the identification and treatment of early psychosis. His research seeks to refine the identification of young people at risk for psychotic disorders, better understand the effects of psychosocial interventions for adolescents with psychosis, uncover mechanisms that can reduce stigma against people with serious mental health concerns, and address issues of racial inequity and health disparities for those in the early phases of psychosis.

In addition to the clinical faculty, listed below with their research specialties, graduate students in clinical training can conduct research with faculty members from the affective science, developmental, health, or social and personality areas.

  • Jessica Borelli, developmental psychopathology, attachment, emotion, prevention of mental health problems in children and adolescents
  • Susan Charles, emotional processes across the adult life span, subjective experience and cognitive processes, health and emotion
  • Kate Kuhlman, developmental psychopathology, psychoneuroimmunology, psychoneuroendocrinology, early life stress, and adolescent depression
  • Elizabeth Martin, emotion and social functioning in individuals with psychosis and psychosis-risk; EEG
  • Daniel Nation, clinical neuropsychology, aging, mild cognitive impairment, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, vascular disease, vascular cognitive impairment, brain imaging and cognitive impairment, biomarkers of cognitive impairment
  • Ray Novaco, anger, violence, stress, trauma, and interventions
  • Stephen Schueller, mHealth, technology, implementation science, treatment and prevention, depression, positive psychology
  • Jason Schiffman, identification and prevention of early psychosis, addressing issues of health disparities across racial/ethnic groups among individuals at clinical high-risk
  • Julian Thayer, health psychology, psychopathology, health disparities, heart rate variability, emotions, stress
  • Alyson Zalta, trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder, moral injury, resilience, treatment and prevention

Students will gain from the interdisciplinary orientation of the School of Social Ecology with faculty and programs in UCI’s Schools of Medicine, Public Health, Nursing, Law, Education, Social Sciences, Biological Sciences, Arts, and Engineering, and the university's Institute for Clinical and Translational Science and the Institute for Memory Impairment and Neurological Disorders. Training will feature a partnership with Psychiatry and Human Behavior as well as community mental health agencies. 

Applications for the first cohort of students are due Dec. 1. An online information session will take place at noon on Oct. 8. Register to attend the session, which will cover application requirements and program details.

For more information, visit the website.

Mimi Ko Cruz
Director of Communications