Summer of Research

Blair Engerman '16 and UICOMP professor Dr. Jean Clore discuss their research. (Photo by Duane Zehr)

September 2, 2014

By Matt Hawkins

Summer research by psychology major Blair Engerman ’16 could improve central Illinois psychiatrists’ treatment of borderline personality disorder (BPD). Engerman, of Dunlap, is researching best education and treatment practices at University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria.

Engerman, under the guidance of UICOMP assistant professor Dr. Jean Clore, is evaluating UICOMP’s psychiatry resident Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) training program and clinic to help determine how future residents are trained at the relatively new program. DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy focused on teaching clients how to regulate their emotions and tolerate distressing situations more effectively. 

Such an effort would have a positive impact on psychiatry in Peoria. Because DBT is only taught in a half-dozen psychiatry residencies nationwide, this research could have a far-reaching impact.

“I would love to learn that the patients treated in the resident DBT training clinic have improved,” Engerman said. “This would mean that the quality of life for these individuals would have improved, and it hopefully would signal that the program was effective in teaching DBT.”

Engerman frequently observed DBT training and team supervision meetings. She also conducted a comprehensive review of previous research on psychiatry resident training, DBT and BPD and collected data from surveys given to DBT patients before and after treatment.

Psychology alumnus Scott Racine ’72 funded this project. Additional support for the Department of Psychology came from Wayne Weiten ’72 and an endowment fund established by Thomas O’Grady ’93.

Thanks to strong alumni giving over the years, the psychology department has purchased needed equipment, funded trips to professional conferences and offered research opportunities like this. 

“Generous financial support by Mr. Racine and many other supportive alumni is instrumental in facilitating experiential learning opportunities throughout the year,” said Dr. Amy Bacon, assistant professor of psychology. “The kindness of our alumni allow for the flexibility and resources to provide our students with the unique opportunities that set the Department of Psychology and our graduates apart.”

Engerman’s summer project represents one of many opportunities for Bradley undergraduates to engage the Peoria metro area through academia. Research partnerships abound for students with interests in medical careers as the city is home to Illinois’ largest medical community outside Chicago.

“It’s extraordinary for students to see what ‘real life’ issues are faced in the lab and mental health care, to develop professionalism beyond the end-goal of a grade and to apply classroom knowledge to real problems,” Bacon said.

That engagement helps advance the regional medical community’s research and prepares Bradley undergraduates for future education.

“Bradley students are exposed to clinical settings and populations they may not otherwise have access to as undergraduates,” Clore said. “I’d like to see more Bradley students involved with the research in our department, possibly as design or statistic consultants. It would be a good learning opportunity for our residents and an excellent CV-builder for Bradley students.”

Engerman embraced the research challenge and acknowledged her summer, in addition to work in Bacon’s research group, will be important selling points to graduate schools when she pursues a doctorate in clinical psychology.

She credited the faculty for pushing her to excel as she chased her dreams.

“It’s so nice to have professors and mentors who want you to succeed and are willing to help you get to where you want to be,” she said. “All of the professors are very supportive, and if you are interested in their work, they will help you get into their lab or gain some other form of research-related experience. They want students to excel and get the most out of their education.”