Professor of Developmental Clinical Psychology
Department of Experimental Psychology & Department of Psychiatry
Tell us a bit About your role
I lead TOPIC (The Oxford Psychological Interventions in Children and adolescents) Research Group – a group of about 40 students, researchers and clinicians with the shared goals of improving outcomes of and access to psychological therapies for common mental health problems in children and young people. Our work includes experimental, longitudinal and clinical trial methods and we work extensively with families with relevant lived experience across all our work.
I am also Director of the Emerging Minds network - a UKRI research network that facilitates cross disciplinary and cross-sector research that has the potential to reduce the prevalence of mental health problems in children and young people.
All of the above put us in a good position to study and respond to the mental health needs of children and young people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including through the Co-SPACE, Co-RAY, and Co-CAT projects
I also have a number of roles that aim to increase research capacity in mental health research generally and clinical psychology research more specifically, e.g. I lead the new NIHR Mental Health research incubator, am an NIHR advocate for practitioner psychologists, and a registered mentor with the Academy of Medical Sciences.
How did I get to where I am now?
After attending a comprehensive school and further education college in Surrey (and a year working in Japan) I came to Oxford (St Anne’s) as an undergraduate to read Psychology and Philosophy. As well as the developmental and what was then called ‘abnormal’ modules, I particularly enjoyed the neuropsychology elements of the course and went on to be a psychology assistant in the neuropsychology department at the Radcliffe Infirmary after my degree- thinking that I wanted to do a PhD in that area. However that job led on to a research psychologists post in which I got a taste of applied clinical research, and also work with children and families. Having met some inspiring role models along the way, I went from there to do a professional doctorate in clinical psychology at UCL, where I stayed on in a clinical research fellowship in which I did a PhD alongside clinical work in child and adolescent mental health services. My PhD focused on the development of anxious cognitions in children and focused on the potential role of family members in helping children to develop adaptive thinking styles. As I approached the end of my PhD (and pregnant) my PhD supervisor introduced me to Professors Lynne Murray and Peter Cooper at the University of Reading as they had been doing a lot of work on the development of anxiety disorders and were keen to find someone to work with them to develop research on the treatment side of things. I jumped at this opportunity (despite it being fairly short-term initially) and it proved to be the best opportunity I could hope for- a great research environment with incredibly supportive colleagues. After a few short term contracts I secured an MRC clinical scientist fellowship and then an NIHR Research Professorship. As this came to an end it seemed to be a good time for a move, but not far as we didn’t want to move as a family- luckily Oxford was nearby and brought incredible opportunities. I moved here in the spring of 2019.
How does my role fit into the wider landscape of the Medical Sciences?
My team are based across the Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry. We are mostly physically based in Experimental Psychology- so we are in close proximity of others doing both developmental and clinical psychology research. We also go up and down to Psychiatry- particularly for child and adolescent mental health and other seminars, and to link up with colleagues with a child mental health focus, and those working across the ARC mental health theme. The ARC also provides a great opportunity to interact with colleagues from wider departments across the Medical Sciences, particularly Primary Care and Population Health Sciences.
What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?
I have a fantastic team – many of whom have joined us at early stages in their careers. It is really inspiring to see them develop their skills and confidence, and ultimately go on to (typically) clinical and/or research careers.
Can you tell us about something you’ve done, contributed to that you’re most proud of?
Anxiety disorders are extremely common and often start in childhood, yet very few children have traditionally accessed support. Based on our own and others’ underpinning research we developed a brief treatment in which parents and carers are supported by a therapist to help their child overcome their difficulties with anxiety. We showed that this approach could be delivered by non-specialist psychological therapists and much more quickly than the traditional treatments for child anxiety problems but with similar outcomes. This meant that as provision was put in place to increase access to psychological therapies among children and young people, we had a suitable intervention that could be slotted into those new services. Clinicians and families were really positive about the approach and now all of the courses for Children’s Wellbeing Practitioners and the new Education Mental Health Practitioners train their students in our approach. I regularly receive emails from families and clinicians about their experiences of using our approach to treating anxiety disorders in children - and those are definitely the sorts of moments that I feel most proud of the work we do.
What changes would you most like to see in the Medical Sciences in the next 100 years?
Huge progress has been made in terms of women’s representation, I hope that in much less that 100 years we can see similar strides for people from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds that continue to be under-represented in many clinical and academic careers.