Meet the Researcher: Jennifer Muehlenkamp, Ph.D.
The Great Lakes Mental Health Technology Transfer Center is pleased to partner with Minnesota Association of Community Mental Health Programs (MACMHP) and People Incorporated Mental Health Programs to present two one-day workshops:
Both workshops will take place at the People Incorporated Training Institute in Egan, MN.
Dr. Jennifer Muehlenkamp, the presenter for both of the workshops, is a professor of psychology at UW-Eau Claire and a national expert on suicidal behavior and non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) in youth and young adults. Her work examines the psychological and sociocultural factors that increase or reduce vulnerability for engaging in suicidal behavior or NSSI.
What sparked your interest in conducting research on suicidal behavior and non-suicidal self-injury in youth and young adults?
Dr. Muehlenkamp: I had a job shadowing a clinical social worker during my final year as an undergrad. During some client visits, we met with young adults who had engaged in self-injury. These were people my age who had transitioned into the adult care system. I knew that I wanted to study psychology, and in the course of developing my master’s thesis, NSSI became a focus.
Describe some of your current research projects.
A number of different projects are underway. One of them, a longitudinal study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, is recruiting university students engaged in self-injury. These study participants come to our research lab every six months for 18 months. We are looking at features of self-injury and the psychological processes associated with self-injury that might be linked to an increase in suicidal thinking or planning suicide. We are looking at mechanisms of self-injury and how they might relate to a suicide attempt. The full data will be collected by the end of the spring semester. My upcoming presentation for school personnel will include some of the early results.
I also have some studies looking at self-injury and suicide risk among people who identify as LGBTQ or non-binary gender. I am looking at protective factors and what helps reduce risks in that population.
In addition, I help coordinate suicide prevention activities on campus (University of Wisconsin Eau Claire).
What are some of the potential practical application of your research in school settings?
I strive to translate my research into practical applications in schools or for clinicians. One tool that I provide is an evidence-based or evidence-grounded assessment framework that a counselor or clinician can use to understand a student’s behavior and plan the appropriate interventions.
For understanding suicide risk, I have developed a risk framework that provides a higher and lower range of risk. A counselor can use the framework to figure out where a student is in terms of risk, and then make the best planning decision on the next best step for that student.
Depression and anxiety align with the self-injury component, and in the workshop, we will do some exercises to help participants see why and how these behaviors show up differently. This helps build an understanding of how these behaviors go together and what practical strategies school personnel can apply to help address them. I have adjusted these tools to make them more useful in school settings since school personnel have limited time to do one-on-one counseling.
How can people best prepare for your upcoming workshops?
Come ready to participate! In my workshops, I like to take my research and translate it into practical tools that staff can use the next day. I want the trainings to be as interactive as possible, combining a lot of information with small group work activities and role plays.
So many great ideas come from people working on the ground. I approach the workshops as an opportunity for participants to learn from each other as well as from me.