Developing and implementing projects that aim to increase health behaviors in children and their families is important to me. I have dedicated much of my career and research to supporting families by helping improve their mental and physical health. Even prior to beginning my career as a clinical psychologist, I have always had a passion for physical health and sports. As a child, my parents both competed in marathons and triathlons. Similarly, some of my earliest memories involve me cheering for my older brother during his cross-country races. For me, track and soccer were always my primary sports, however, I also loved to swim. Sports came easy to me and were part of my life and social networks but my biggest accomplishment was finishing the Chicago Marathon in 2013!
My passion for psychology truly developed during college. Following an injury, I left my college track team and began to focus on learning everything I could about psychology. The summer before my junior year, I worked as a residential counselor at a residential psychiatric treatment center for boys. This center used a token economy, a type of behavioral therapy that sets goals and provides rewards as soon as the individual expresses the desirable behavior (Zlomke & Zlomke, 2003), and I quickly noticed that several children in my group were losing points for not participating in physical activity during recess. These children were overweight and obese (mostly as side effects from medication and the more physically fit and athletically talented children did not want to include them in their basketball games. I problem-solved with these kids and we got moving by developing a walking club. During recess, these boys and I would walk the perimeter of the yard as quickly as we could. We got our heart rates up, started sweating, and most importantly, started feeling good about ourselves. Another benefit was that we could talk and get to know each other while we were walking, making the activity fun and enjoyable each day. It’s been 14 years since I first saw the relation between physical health and mental health in action and I’ve been passionate about breaking down barriers to health since then.
Today, I am a mother of two who supports a very active family life style. Professionally, I am a pediatric clinical psychologist at DePaul University and am the faculty member over the Healthy Families Lab. Over the years, I have dedicated much of my research to investigating theassociations between mental and physical health. Among other things, I have conducted projects on topics including asthma, sex education, physical activity, and obesity. Similarly, I supervise many graduate students who aspire to become clinical psychologist with a focus on physical health outcomes and are dedicated to helping children and families remove their barriers to healthy lifestyles!