Research and Scholarship

The Psy.D. program at Wheaton College follows a practitioner-scholar model. Students are trained not only as practitioners, but also as productive scholars who are good consumers of research and capable of contributing to scholarship in the field. Faculty members have been recruited, in part, because of their promise as scholars.

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As a consequence, opportunities for productive research and scholarship are available in the Psy.D. program.  Some of the areas of research focus are listed below.

Dr. Jamie Aten and Dr. David Boan

Dr. Aten and Dr. Boan direct the Humanitarian Disaster Institute Applied Research Lab (HDI) which aims to engage students in research related to humanitarian services and disaster preparedness, response and recovery focusing on measurement, quality, capacity and improvement at the individual, organizational and community level—both domestically and internationally. The lab has an interdisciplinary and international focus that looks at the intersection of psychology with Intercultural Studies, Urban Studies, Sociology, Applied Health, and more.

One of the special features of this lab is the opportunity for students to engage with actual humanitarian and disaster research projects.  HDI carries on a variety of grant and contract projects that range from measuring and developing community resilience, treating disaster trauma, gender-based violence, measuring the impact of humanitarian services, and more.  Students will engage in projects, either individually or as a team, which may be original student projects designed to support student career goals, or participate in Humanitarian Disaster Institute projects and contracts. Examples of projects from the lab include: issues in delivery of mental health services in rural settings, preventing gender violence, community capacity building in developing countries, measuring the impact of organizational culture on the quality of services, and disasters, health and community resilience. HDI is currently working on projects in Japan, Haiti, Africa, and domestically around a wide range of disaster and humanitarian challenges.

For the Spring of 2014 there are a couple of opportunities for participation:


Dr. Richard Butman

Dr. Butman is currently developing a team to work with the Moral Injury Project (also called Spirituality Committee) with the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Iron Mountain, Michigan. This team will serve veterans and their families with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. The conference is being planned to happen at HoneyRock in the future.

Dr. Sally Schwer Canning

Dr. Canning directs the Urban Community Health Lab.  The aim of this lab is to foster the health and flourishing of children, adults, and families living in poor, urban communities as well as the professionals and volunteers who serve there.

Currently, there are two active streams of research, affectionately known as Sisters’ Keepers & Going the Distance.

The first seeks to understand & support the health of patients at the Lawndale Christian Health Center in Chicago. Current projects target depression & domestic violence in women & low birth-weight in their babies. Another examines language & perceptions of Spanish-speaking online discussion group participants describing pregnancy & postpartum and mood experiences. Future projects could involve other patient groups & concerns within behavioral health.

The second line of research is aimed at understanding & encouraging healthy practices, wellbeing & faithfulness in individuals & faith-based community organizations serving in high-stress, poor contexts.

Dr. Ward Davis

Dr. Ward Davis directs the Psychology and Spirituality Research Lab (PSRL), which is a research team in the Psychology Department at Wheaton College. PSRL is comprised of Wheaton graduate and undergraduate psychology students. The mission of PSRL is to advance the scientific study of spirituality to promote health and well-being. At PSRL our research and resources focus on the intersections between psychology and spirituality, with an emphasis on Christian spirituality. Our activities primarily include: (a) writing scholarly articles and book chapters; (b) conducting original research and disseminating our findings; and (c) offering downloadable resources for use by scholars, scientists, practitioners, and leaders, as well as the interested public.


Dr. Pamela Davis

Dr. Pam Davis is looking for students who are interested in joining her as she develops the Missionary Matters Lab. This is a new research lab for the 2013-2014 year, so students will have the opportunity to brainstorm together about the direction this lab will take and forge ahead with new research opportunities in the areas of missionary care, missionary resilience, and third culture kids. Currently, Dr. Davis has interest in research involving the life cycle of single missionaries, grief and loss among third culture kids, and vicarious trauma models as applied to the experience of cross-cultural workers. Both graduate and undergraduate students interested in missionary matters are invited to come provide direction in this historic new lab opportunity.

Dr. Elisha Eveleigh

Dr. Eveleigh directs the Psychology in Education lab and seeks to link research to practice through the study of academic and social-emotional interventions. This group is particularly interested in the impact of external factors, such as poverty and immigration, on the academic performance of individuals. Currently, the Psychology in Education lab focuses on the identification and remediation of academic difficulty, especially challenges in the area of reading.

Members of this group can expect to:

  1. Review the literature on effective academic interventions for middle school children at risk for reading difficulty. We are currently focused on serving the refugee population.
  2. Learn effective strategies and procedures for the remediation of reading difficulties.
  3. Understand the ways that interactions between an individual and his/her environment affects academic, social, and emotional well-being.
  4. Gain an understanding of small n research design and data analysis.
  5. Communicate findings through written and oral communication.

Dr. Kelly Flanagan

Dr. Flanagan directs the Children’s Interpersonal Relationships and Coping Lab (CIRCL)The focus of the lab is on interpersonal stress that children experience, including bullying and trauma, and how they cope.  This year the lab will be developing a study to better understand the process of forgiveness among children as a specific coping response to interpersonal stressors within family and peer contexts.  The efficacy of a forgiveness curriculum for youth within a church context will also be examined. 

Specific objectives include:

  1. Through weekly readings and discussions, we will cultivate an understanding of the stress and coping framework, the forgiveness process, children’s spirituality and child trauma within both developmental and clinical literature
  2. Collaborate to develop both qualitative and quantitative examination of children’s forgiveness, as well as links between victimization and trauma; and
  3. Prepare presentations of these topics to the local community.

Opportunities are also available to continue work with La Voz de Esperanza (Voice of Hope for Latin American Youth) in partnership with Escuela Integrada in Antigua, Guatemala. Escuela Integrada is a non-profit school providing services and hope to marginalized children and their families in Guatemala. Our research focuses on processes of risk and resilience that contribute to adaptive and maladaptive youth development. Participation may include: Readings regarding psychological issues relevant to the context of Guatemalan children and adolescents (e.g., peer victimization, racial discrimination, school support of trauma, hope and spirituality), participation in data entry and analysis, and collaboration on professional presentations and feedback to the partner school in Guatemala.

Dr. Sarah Hall

Dr. Hall's research experience and interests are in the areas of clinical and developmental psychology, particularly in the study of young children's emotion regulation skills and difficulties and how these relate to psycholpathology.  Dr. Hall co-directs the Nepal Outreach & Training Group with Dr. Watson.

The aim of this research group is twofold:

  1. to prepare for teaching and clinical training of mental health workers in underserved Nepal, and
  2. to conceptualize and conduct research to facilitate understanding of mental health needs in Nepal.

Through involvement in this lab, students will learn to assess needs, develop and put into practice a cross cultural training and research project, which will be implemented during the summer of 2012.

Dr. Ezer Kang

Dr. Kang’s research broadly examines how individual, family, and structural factors interact to influence socioemotional functioning among the urban poor - with a focus on persons living with HIV in resource-limited settings. His research to date has focused on disparities in access to HIV care and stigma among undocumented Asian immigrants, protective and risk behaviors among adolescents with perinatally acquired HIV, faith-based and public health partnerships in HIV prevention and care, and influences of urban poverty on childhood neurocognitive and behavioral outcomes. Dr. Kang works collaboratively with students, community-based organizations, and researchers on these issues in the Community Health and Justice Lab at Wheaton College.

Dr. Michael Mangis

Dr. Mangis' research interests include integration of psychology and theology, applications of contemplative Christian spirituality, Spiritual Formation, psychoanalytic psychology, rural psychology, and gender studies.

Dr. Cynthia Neal Kimball

Dr. Neal Kimball directs Emerging Adults Lab.

One of the salient features of a mature life story is the integration of one’s experiences, particularly the stress and challenges of transitional experiences, into a coherent and reasoned conception of the self. “Human beings are storytellers,” and our stories endow us with a means to make sense of our experiences, bring clarity to our perceptions, and provide meaning to our life situations; they provide “evidence of a hard-won battle to make meaning of life circumstances.” Those who actively create a coherent story, expressing meaningful insights and integration of life’s challenges, experience a sense of well-being, personal growth and ego development.

Those who participate in this research team will explore the meaning-making stories of emerging adults in light of their identity status, attachments, and religious worldviews. Specifically, as a member of the team you can expect to:

  • Read the existing psychological literature on the emerging adult population (18-25 year olds)
  • Discuss, debate, mull over the challenges and dilemmas for this particular developmental period.
  • Discover the nature and nuances of qualitative research (what do you do when the T-test isn’t the most important/significant measuring tool?)
  • Learn how to code using the qualitative research software, NVivo 9

Dr. Raymond E. Phinney Jr.

Dr. Phinney’s research interests are generally in how humans process motion and depth information and how they use this information to interact with the world. Two broad areas of research in his lab now involve visual masking and illusory line-motion. In visual masking, a visual stimulus that is clearly perceived when presented alone is less perceivable (or even unperceivable) when a second stimulus is presented nearby in time or space (but not overlapping). The first stimulus disappears or is degraded due to the presence of the second stimulus which overlaps neither in time nor space. In illusory line-motion, a line – which is drawn all at once – is perceived to be incrementally drawn from whichever side was nearest to a preceding attentional cue. It seems the presence of the cue causes visual processing near it to be quicker and more thorough. Thus the end of the line near the cue is completely processed sooner than the other end and it therefore appear to have grown from the cue end to the other end.

Dr. Jana Pressley

Dr. Pressley directs the Complex Trauma: Impact & Adaptation Lab. The aim of this lab is to seek understanding related to 1) the impact of complex trauma and insecure/disorganized attachment on the development of children and adolescents, 2) the long-term relational, emotional, and behavioral coping patterns of adults with trauma histories, and 3) the contextual variables that contribute to increased vulnerability vs. resilience in the lives of those who experience chronic trauma.  Currently, this lab is looking more in depth at the interplay of meaning-making through spirituality and complex trauma.  The construct of "altered systems of meaning" is the term Judith Herman (1992) coined for those with relational trauma histories who struggle with a deep sense of hopelessness, despair, and struggle to connect with faith beliefs as a result of chronic, interpersonal trauma. The Complex Trauma: Impact & Adaptation Lab will utilize primarily qualitative methods of data collection and analysis to gain further insight into the life narratives of those with a history of complex trauma.

Dr. Benjamin Pyykkonen

Dr. Pyykkonen directs the Neurocognitive Functioning Lab. This lab will continue to explore the relationship between neurocognitive functioning, psychological functioning, and functional status. Of particular interest is the identification of cognitive and emotional factors that enhance aspects of functional independence including employment capacity, independent living, and reduction in level of care in the elderly. In addition to multiple meta-analytic studies and developing normative data, recent projects have increasingly emphasized early identification, caregiver interventions, and religious coping, as they might relate to functional status. Much of the work in this lab is designed to better identify these very factors related to functional status in individuals with CNS injury from any number of etiological factors e.g., head injury, progressive dementing conditions, epilepsy, metabolic processes, infectious processes, hydrocephalus, alcoholism, and cancer.

Dr. Sandra Yu Rueger

Dr. Rueger’s research interests focus on individual differences in responses to stress, and the risk and resilience factors related to adaptive coping and persistence in the face of negative events.  She is particularly interested in the role of attributional style and social support as intrapersonal and interpersonal risk and resilience factors, and the use of substances (i.e., alcohol and cigarettes) as a maladaptive coping response to stress.  She is currently working on a longitudinal study, called “Adolescents Moving On Study” (AMOS), which is focused on these risk and resilience factors in the transition from adolescence into early adulthood.  She is also working on a project, in collaboration with Andrea King at the University of Chicago, on ethnic differences in subjective response to alcohol.  This work has been funded by NIAAA (#R01 AA013746-S).  She also has interests in peer victimization as a chronic stressor in the lives of adolescents, the development and psychometric evaluation of assessment tools, and the use of meta-analysis to quantitatively review a literature in order to inform future directions in research.

Dr. Rueger directs the Youth Risk and Resilience Lab (YouRR Lab). The focus of YouRR Lab (Youth Risk and Reslience) is on adolescents and young adults, individual differences in response to stress (including substance use as coping), and cognitive vulnerability to depression as a response to stress, and social support as a protective factor.  I am also interested in ethnic/racial differences, as well as gender differences in these risk and protective factors. More information can be found at the YouRR website.

Dr. William Struthers

Dr. Struthers leads a research group on Christianity and Neuroscience. Currently there are two areas of empirical research that are being conducted in this lab. The first research project is related to spiritual formation and sexual brokenness. This research has focused on the impact of pornography (as well as other forms of sexual brokenness) and its impact on mental health and spirituality. An ongoing study of women in the commercial sex industry is currently underway, and data from previous research are in need of qualitative and quantitative analysis. The second research project is integrative in nature and related to neuroscience and religiosity. This grant-funded research project requires computer programming and statistical analysis skills and relates to how findings in neuroscience are understood within religious contexts. In addition to these two projects, there is the potential for basic research in animal studies involving behavioral and pharmacological manipulations of the basal ganglia and cingulate cortex (in development for the spring of 2013). This research involves stereotaxic brain surgery on a rodent model, behavioral analysis, and immunohistochemistry of brain tissue. Animal research will only be conducted by students who have completed PSYC 361 and who can commit to 6-8 hours of in-lab work both semesters throughout the academic year.

Dr. John T. Vessey

Dr. Vessey's interests and expertise are in the areas of statistics, experimental design, psychometrics, and program evaluation. Joining the faculty in 2001, Dr. Vessey previously was Asst. Professor at the University of Minnesota in the Division of Epidemiology. He has done research and program evaluation in sexual abstinence programs and promoting smoking cessation programs. He is also interested in decision-making models.

Dr. Terri Watson

Currently, Dr. Watson  co-leads the Nepal Outreach & Training Group with Dr. Hall. The aim of this research group is twofold: 1) to prepare for teaching and clinical training of mental health workers in underserved Nepal, and 2) to conceptualize and conduct research to facilitate understanding of mental health needs in Nepal. Through involvement in this lab, students will learn to assess needs, develop and put into practice a cross cultural training and research project, which will be implemented during the summer of 2012.

Dr. Natalia Yangarber-Hicks

Dr. Yangarber-Hicks’ current research and scholarly interests include psychoanalysis and theology, as well as motherhood, pregnancy and postpartum issues.

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