Finally, the Poets: Art(ists) as the Pulse of Collective Healing and Justice

“The poets (by which I mean all artists) are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don’t. Statesmen don’t. Priests don’t. Union leaders don’t. Only poets” (James Baldwin). Terisa Siagatonu (poet, activist, therapist) offered this quote as part of the night’s thesis for her presentation at the Ath on Tuesday, October 1st. Coming from the perspective of a 1st generation, queer, Pacific Islander woman, Terisa discussed her role as an award-winning poet and artist in being a voice that reflects what society is feeling and being an activist for healing and change.

In addition to reciting powerful poetry that filled the room with snaps of agreement, Terisa shared her background of how she navigated the 1st generation struggle and how she found her voice through poetry. She discussed the risks of being an artist, especially this day and age with social media and increased vulnerability. Despite this, she says, “the cost of my silence was way too high of a price to pay… it was affecting my whole well-being”. It opened up conversations with her family that would otherwise have been kept closed, and it helped her to find the transformative power of poetry in trauma. With a degree in marriage and family therapy, Terisa has a unique perspective of how creativity and artistry can be combined with healing. She not only teaches this to small groups, but speaks out as a member of society, following and reflecting current events and emotions. She shares how poetry is becoming more popular now than ever – it’s economic and easy to access, it grabs attention, and it forces you to be creative with what you want to say while challenging you to be intentional with your words. But the benefits don’t stop at there: “Our health improves when we have agency over our voice and control of our narrative… and not just in art,” states Terisa. Her goal right now is to find ways to not only have poetry impact the individual and the larger community by using voice to address change, but to address the root cause of current issues.

To keep track of Berger Institute events, click here. To learn more about Terisa Siagatonu, click here.

Translating Evidence into Practice: Research and Community Perspectives on Adapting Treatments for Diverse Children and Families

On Monday, September 23rd, Claremont McKenna College’s Athenaeum and the Berger Institute welcomed Dr. Anna S. Lau in giving an eye-opening, evening presentation on the research-to-practice gap for evidence-based practice in mental health. Dr. Lau is a child clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. In her presentation, Dr. Lau focused on the current views of evidence-based practice in mental health, the trouble with getting evidence-based research into practice while serving diverse families, and studies on how evidence-based practices can be adapted to be more culturally responsive.

“Effect sizes fall when evidence-based practices move from research to practice settings,” states Dr. Lau. She shares that many of these studies are from a specific sample of people from university settings who are somewhat similar. These researched, evidence-based practices, while very effective with the university samples, may not fare as well with the varying and more complex needs of clients from the larger community. Many practitioners in response may either adapt the evidence-based practices, possibly compromising its effectiveness, they may discard the evidence and rely on their expertise, or they may ignore the complex needs of their clients and rely too much on the research. In studying this, Dr. Lau found that many community therapists actually make pretty good calls when adapting the research, such as lengthening the pacing or omitting small components, with the integrity of the evidence-based practice still intact. Dr. Lau and others “want to give community therapists more support in leaning into the evidence-based practices” and how it can be adapted to fit their clients’ needs.

To keep up with Berger Institute events, click here. For the CMC Athenaeum speaker schedule, click here.

Meet Our New Research Coordinator, Jessica Vicman!

Stop by and give a warm welcome to Jessica, Berger Institute’s new Research Coordinator. Jessica serves as the Lab Manager for the research arm of the Institute. She will be hiring and training Research Assistants, helping with study recruitment, delving into data analysis, and helping to publicize the research at the Institute.

Through working at multiple research labs before graduating with her Psychology degree from Berkeley in 2018, Jessica developed a strong interest in the study of emotion regulation, mental health, and interpersonal relationships. “It’s really interesting seeing how they all intertwine,” says Jessica, who described this interest as really blooming under her mentor, Dr. Ariel Starr, a professor at the University of Washington.

Upon seeing the open position at the Institute, Jessica was immediately interested: “This is definitely hitting almost all of the key points I have in my research interests,” shares Jessica. “I’m really excited to see the results. . .to look at the hard science data like cortisol and blood pressure and all of these things, and then linking it to mental health, I feel like is such a good strength, and it’s where the field needs to go.” Jessica is also very excited to work with Dr. Doan and Dr Smiley (at the AMH Care lab). “They are such strong women, and I get really excited when they’re teaching me something,” says Jessica.

If you would like to talk to Jessica more, she can be reached at or by stopping by the Institute office at Bauer North 224. “My door is always open if [there are] questions about clinical experience, research experience, the Marvel Universe, etc.” smiles Jessica.

When Aggression is Protective: The Health Benefits of Destructive Behavior During Adversity

Behaviors such as bullying or stealing are usually considered destructive. Moreover, these types of behaviors are more likely to be seen in children who grow up with more adversity. Once thought as maladaptive, recent research suggests there may be some important benefits in certain contexts. Evolutionary approaches suggest that these behaviors are important for survival. In addition, there is some evidence that aggression can lower stress levels. For example, in multiple rat studies, researchers have found that biting suppresses the stress-induced chemical and hormonal response in the brain and body. Destructive behavior in general can also increase access to resources in some contexts, such as material goods gained from stealing or social status and sexual opportunity from aggression.

Given this body of work, Dr. Stacey Doan and colleagues wondered whether destructive and disobedient behavior, with its survival value in harsher contexts and effect on stress, might influence the physical health of those facing early adversity. The researchers surveyed 260 children on various risk factors for adversity and measured their chronic stress, also known as allostatic load, through urine samples, body mass index measurements, and blood pressure readings. Their guardians were also surveyed on various behaviors of the children, such as stealing, destruction of property, disobedience, and bullying.

The researchers found that these destructive behaviors can buffer the effect of adversity on physical health. In other words, among those with high levels of adversity, those who are destructive or disobedient show less wear and tear physiologically than those who are less destructive. They also found that these findings are more pronounced for men than for women. This gender difference was thought to be due to the idea that aggression is more encouraged and accepted in males than females.

This research, to be published soon in Nature: Scientific Reports, is an exciting step forward in understanding these behaviors more holistically and how they may contribute to the regulation of stress. Future researchers can build off of this new line of research and pave the way for more informed and effective interventions.

Meet the Berger Institute at the CMC Club & Institute Fair

The Berger Institute will be hosting a booth at the CMC Club and Institute Fair on Friday, September 6 on Parents Field at CMC. Come learn about our exciting research initiatives and programs, and speak with current staff and students about their experiences. We are advertising for two positions for Fall 2019:

Office Assistant

Deadline: Friday, September 20
Eligibility: CMC first-years, sophomores, and juniors

Volunteer Research Assistant

Deadline: Friday, September 20
Eligibility: 5C sophomores and juniors. Must be willing to commit 6 hours per week over one (1) academic year.