Students Receive Sonya Kurzweil Grant for Doctoral Projects in Child-Family Clinical Psychology

March 15, 2019

The Sonya Kurzweil Grant, the first of its kind in William James College history, provides students with financial backing while they pursue research topics that promise to advance knowledge of best practices for treating psychological problems of children, adolescents, parents, and families. In a ceremony held on March 6 at the College, the first recipients of this grant were named: Denice Cronin and Lindsey Sweitzer, both fourth-year students in the clinical psychology PsyD program, will each receive $5,000 to support their research projects.

The grant was made possible through a $10,000 donation from the Sonya Kurzweil Developmental Center (SKDC), a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide mental health services to women, children, adolescents, parents, and families.

“This initiative was conceived by Dr. Kurzweil and…is fully consistent with William James College’s initiative in the direction of scientifically-informed, evidence-based practice,” said Dr. Bruce Ecker, clinical psychology and Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience (CFAR) Concentration faculty member. “Both of these exceptional studies help us to learn about our world, but what I think is very striking to me is that they help us make a better world.”

Dr. Sonya Kurzweil is a practicing clinical psychologist in Newton, Mass. specializing in work with women, children, parents and families. “I chose to give to William James College because of its interest and growing commitment to the mental health needs of children, adolescents, parents and families,” said Dr. Kurzweil. “This is a specialty area in which there are a shortage of providers in many parts of the state and the country and I would like to see more psychologists embrace this specialty.”

Cronin’s study will investigate the implementation of trauma-informed practices in schools and how they relate to school outcomes such as attendance rates, academic achievement and retention. A clinical psychology doctoral student enrolled in the College’s Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience (CFAR) concentration, Cronin currently works with the McLean Adolescent Acute Residential Treatment Program as part of her field placement for the clinical program. She also serves as a student member of the American Psychological Association (APA) as well as a member of APA Division 53: Society of Child and Adolescent Psychology.

Sweitzer’s study will examine reintegration of United States Army Reserve and National Guard mothers with their families after deployment and seek to determine what factors contribute to optimal and healthy adjustment. Sweitzer, who is enrolled in the Military and Veteran Psychology (MVP) concentration, currently serves as the platoon leader for the 883rd Medical Detachment Combat Operational Stress Control Detachment, a Behavioral Health unit within the 804th Medical Brigade of 3rd Medical Command. Her current field placement is with the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial VA Medical Center.

“The range of topics submitted by the applicants was fascinating to me,” said Dr. Kurzweil before presenting Cronin and Sweitzer with the grant certificates. “While all had implications for the mental health of children, adolescents, parents and families, they reflected a wide range of psychological service needs in our communities and also reflected a wide range of mental health topics that students pursue at William James College.”

The grant committee, which comprised Dr. Sonya Kurzweil, faculty members Dr. Bruce Ecker and Dr. Gemima St. Louis, and Dr. Edward De Vos, associate vice president for research, and was assisted by Robert Whittaker, vice president for institutional advancement, and Alicia Bowling, research assistant for the office of research at William James, received 11 grant applications.

“The groundswell of response speaks very much to the need that a grant like this helps to meet,” said De Vos. “We continue to seek opportunities to expand support in other areas of clinical practice across the institution. It’s part of that broader context of clinical training and practice and…there was really an outpouring of interest from students.”

Dr. Kurzweil received her Ph.D. from Tufts University and her clinical training at the Human Relations Service (HRS) in Wellesley, Boston Children’s Hospital, Mass General Hospital and Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.  She is a lecturer on psychology at Harvard Medical School, part time, and adjunct clinical faculty at William James College. Her research articles have been published in the Journal of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, Infant Behavior and Development, and the American Journal of Psychotherapy. She has also co-authored a book of poetry for children along with her daughter entitled Forever Poems for Now and Then.

Clinical psychology students at William James College can specialize in one of nine areas of concentration including CFAR and MVP. CFAR provides exceptional training in clinical child psychology by combining broad and general training in clinical psychology with emphases on normal child development, disorders of childhood and adolescence, family dynamics, and broader systems issues that influence the well-being of children and families. Students are specially trained to help those children and families who face multiple adversities and are in severe need.

MVP is a coordinated array of efforts to train culturally competent mental health professionals to provide services to military service members, veterans, and their families. The program also aims to provide a supportive community for student veterans, family and friends of military personnel, and for those interested in working with veterans and military families.

"This grant is an important step in the growth of our programs," said Robert Whitaker, vice president of institutional advancement, when the grant was first announced. "By encouraging students to work in this research area, we can continue to expand on our mission to meet the growing need for quality mental health services."