New Fellowship Helps Launch Research Careers of Young Investigators

January 16, 2022

Julianne Wilner Tirpak, PhD, an early career psychologist, understands that dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is the gold-standard treatment for young people who struggle to manage their emotions, particularly those who exhibit self-harm or suicidal behaviors.

As the inaugural recipient of a unique post-doctoral fellowship at McLean’s 3East program, Tirpak is developing a research study that she hopes will explore why these treatments work and through what mechanisms.

Tirpak plans to study how DBT affects interpersonal conflict and will focus on novel ways of assessing social functioning. She wonders if it is possible to capture what is often missed through self-reporting by making use of wearables to look at heart rate and stress levels during social interactions.

Additionally, she wants to examine digital trace data—effectively looking at what, where, and when teens are posting on social media and which words or posts have either negative or positive emotional attributes.

“Young people are spending an average of three to five hours every day scrolling through content on their phones,” said Tirpak. “I’m interested in whether it’s possible to leverage social media as a tool to increase awareness about evidence-based treatments like DBT; connect these young people to mental health services; and perhaps deliver mini-interventions.”

Two faculty members in front of orange leaf tree
Daniel P. Dickstein, MD, FAAP, and Julianne Wilner Tirpak, PhD

During a year-long 3East post-doctoral research fellowship funded by Guy and Sally Davidson, Tirpak will spend 80% of her time on research and 20% delivering care and being mentored by the program’s seasoned investigators and clinicians. She hopes her study eventually will receive government funding, the dream of every young researcher.

Patients come from all over the world seeking 3East’s expertise in DBT, which teaches skills that help patients cope with stress, regulate emotions, and improve interpersonal relationships.

The Donors Behind the Fellowship

The fellowship owes its existence to the Davidsons, who have provided philanthropic support to 3East in various forms over the past several years, including patient scholarships.

“3East saved our loved one’s life,” said Sally, who also serves on the hospital’s Patient and Family Advisory Council and the Women’s Mental Health Leadership Council.

“McLean’s work centers around evidence-based care, so we were very interested in supporting research that furthers these treatments. And when McLean leads the way with evidence-based treatments, other programs around the country and world follow. Patients everywhere benefit.”

Blaise Aguirre, MD, director of 3East, has known the Davidsons for a few years. “Sally and Guy have been so generous with McLean,” he said.

“This research fellowship is a natural progression for their philanthropy. They understand how important it is to support innovative research, expand what is known about DBT, and improve patient outcomes. We are so grateful to them.”

3East Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship

The fellowship is unusual because it allows early career psychologists time and flexibility to pursue research while gaining clinical skills and launching academic careers, ensuring their research will be clinically meaningful, according to Daniel Dickstein, MD, FAAP, director of research and associate chief of the Simches Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Tirpak’s research advisor.

Tirpak leads weekly therapy groups and sits in on parent skills groups. She is also tasked with synthesizing and expanding on 3East’s outcomes research, with the goal of better promoting the program’s efficacy.

Dickstein said that in addition to launching their own research careers, Tirpak and subsequent fellows will be a huge boon to 3East and the hospital as a whole.

“The fellows will help us understand the underlying mechanisms at work so we can tailor our treatments to make them more effective,” he said. “And as a cohort, these fellows will contribute to our larger goal of growing research in our child and adolescent division.”

Tirpak said the fellowship is a dream come true: “I’ve wanted to work at 3East forever—working with adolescents, learning DBT, and being mentored by a dream team across the 3East continuum,” she said. “I am so thankful to the Davidsons for making this fellowship possible.”

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