Date published: 4/3/2015

When adults confront profound and prolonged stressors, what factors enhance or hinder their well-being and health? The ultimate goal of my program of research is to promote optimal quality of life and health for adults and their loved ones as they live with major stressors, with a focus on the experience of cancer. In my laboratory, we first work to characterize useful and harmful responses to major stressors. We then translate those findings into action by developing and testing approaches to enhance psychological and physical health during serious stressors.

Along with UCLA undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students, I attempt to pinpoint risk and protective factors for psychological and physical health during stressful experiences.  From studies conducted in the community and the lab, we have learned that coping with cancer or other long-term stressors by attempting to avoid associated thoughts and feelings predicts an increase in distress and physical symptoms over time. In contrast, cancer survivors fare better when they adopt more active strategies, such as expressing cancer-related feelings, garnering support from close others, engaging in problem-solving, and finding benefits in the cancer experience.  One size certainly does not fit all, however.  A focus of my research is to understand the conditions under which specific ways of coping are more or less helpful.  Cultural, interpersonal, and personal factors influence the effectiveness of any particular coping approach.      

In other research conducted in the community, we rigorously test the efficacy of interventions to promote the quality of life and health of cancer survivors. For example, in our Project Connect Online research, we harnessed the power of women’s supportive relationships and emotional expression by teaching breast cancer survivors to create websites for sharing their experience with friends and family. Compared to women randomly assigned (like the flip of a coin) to a waiting list for the workshop, women who created personal websites demonstrated benefit on depressive symptoms, positive mood, and appreciation of life six months later. Following our interest in specifying how and for whom interventions are effective, we found that Project Connect Online worked by decreasing women’s loneliness, increasing support from friends, and bolstering their confidence in coping.  We also discovered that women who expressed both more positive and negative emotions on their websites benefitted more than did less expressive women.  We continue to develop accessible and effective approaches for surmounting profoundly difficult experiences. 

Born in France, I grew up in a small Kansas town and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas. I earned my Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Connecticut and served on the faculty of two other universities before joining the UCLA Department of Psychology in 2003. I also have an appointment in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, and I am a member of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. The superb students and extraordinary scientific environment at UCLA sustain my strong commitment to research and teaching.