"It's been really helpful for me to read about people's therapy experiences as I'm becoming a therapist at the same time."
UMass Boston PhD student Shannon Hughley is the latest student in the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program to be honored with a national diversity award. This spring the Society of Clinical Psychology honored the Atlanta-area native with its Distinguished Student Diversity Award in Clinical Psychology for her focus on cultural diversity across research, clinical work, service, and activism. The Society of Clinical Psychology is one of the divisions of the American Psychology Association.
Hughley, who is just wrapping up her third year in UMass Boston’s Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program, works in the Black Mental Health Advocacy in Research Lab under the direction of Assistant Professor of Psychology Tahirah Abdullah. Hughley's research interests include mental health stigma, race-related stress, mental health disparities, and culturally sensitive therapy. In the lab, they look at factors that promote mental wellness in the Black community and work around how experiences of racism and discrimination impact the lives of Black Americans. Hughley has done both qualitative and quantitative research. She's presented at conferences and done data analysis.
"We've had a lot of interesting findings coming out about how stigma plays a role in people's experiences [with therapy]. … We’ve heard people say they’ve had therapists who appear to be watching the clock, waiting for the session to be over. [They’ve said] what is it like to have therapists accommodate someone who says, ‘I just want to have a bigger chair.’
“It’s been really helpful for me to read about people’s therapy experiences as I’m becoming a therapist at the same time. I think that work has informed a lot of the work that I’m doing clinically too. I love that aspect of research—that it can inform what we do,” Hughley said, adding, “As a grad student, I’m so lucky to be able to mentor some of the undergrads that work in the lab who are doing really amazing things, so that’s been a special experience.”
Hughley did her third-year clinical internship at Trinity Boston Counseling Center and she did some community-embedded work at John W. McCormack Middle School, up the road from UMass Boston on Mt. Vernon Street. Boston Public Schools announced last year that this upcoming academic year would be the last year for the middle school. A new 7-12 building will open on the site in fall 2022.
“I think being there in a predominately Black and Brown school within BPS has really been eye-opening for me about [how] systems work and the importance of not having people make decisions for other people and having people’s voices be heard,” Hughley said.
Recently Hughley worked with professors Laurel Wainwright, Susy Gallor, and Ester Shapiro, to write a grant to help with the recruitment and retention of diverse students within the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program. Now that the group has received the grant, Hughley will be working as a pilot student diversity coordinator.
Last summer Hughley went abroad to Italy and South Africa through a program she found out about through UMass Boston’s Office of Career Services and Internships called Picture the World. While overseas, she worked with refugees and members of under-resourced townships.
“[I was able] to take what I’ve learned and not just apply it within our U.S. context, but globally, to really see what I’m learning really does help people. Being able to talk to people who live in an informal settlement camp about discrimination and being able to offer them some support around that is so meaningful,” Hughley said. “I think it really speaks to how our program really does set us up to go out into the world and do great things. Being in this space and being in this community is really inspirational for me and it makes me want to push harder and do more work.”
As the sole winner of the Distinguished Student Diversity Award in Clinical Psychology, Hughley has received a plaque and a $200 honorarium. After she earns her PhD, Hughley is open to whatever comes next.
“I think one of the cool things about being a psychologist is that you can really have whatever kind of career you want, whether it’s strictly academic in research or whether it’s just teaching or only clinical work. You can combine all those things, but I think this program also trains us to add the activism piece in it so really thinking about what does it mean to be a clinician who’s also an activist, a teacher who’s an activist – how do I be all of those things with the heart of social justice in the work that I do,” Hughley said.