09:22 AM

Hogg Foundation Awards Professor Katrina Rufino Grant to Improve Mental Health in Texas

Katrina Rufino - UHD

The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health recently awarded Katrina Rufino, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD), with one of 10 statewide grants to conduct innovative mental health research.

The goals for these 15-month grants - capped at $19,250 each - are to increase the pool of junior faculty doing quality mental health research, and to encourage the dissemination of research findings to fellow researchers, policy makers and service providers through presentations at state and national conferences.

The foundation selected Rufino's project from a pool of proposals submitted by tenure-track assistant professors in Texas.

"As a foundation, we are dedicated to doing our part to make sound, evidence-based treatments for mental health conditions the norm in our society," said Octavio N. Martinez Jr., M.D., executive director of the Hogg Foundation and associate vice president for diversity and community engagement at The University of Texas at Austin. "Expanding the evidence base for the interventions we use to alleviate suffering, or to develop new ones, is what all of these excellent research projects have in common."

Rufino - who co-facilitated a suicide resilience group with inpatients at Houston's Menninger Clinic during a two-year postdoctoral fellowship - will continue research activities at the Clinic through the Hogg Foundation grant. Specifically, she will test predictions from two psychological theories - cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic - regarding suicide risk, and determine elements of each theory that most effectively predict how suicidal patients fare following their discharge from the hospital.

"We know that we can treat suicidal patients effectively, but the goal in this research is to identify elements from each of these theories that might be leveraged to optimize treatment," said Rufino. "While some elements may lead to better short-term improvement, others may prove more effective over the long term. Ultimately, I am interested in determining and applying the treatment methodology that provides patients with the very best resources to succeed following discharge."

As part of her research, Rufino will assess patients using measures such as the Suicide Cognition Scale and the Working Alliance Inventory, both upon admission to the Clinic and every two weeks during hospitalization. These instruments were specifically selected to provide insight into cognitive vulnerabilities to suicide and the role of patients' relationships with their therapists in promoting therapeutic change.

"We know that the post-discharge timeframe for suicidal patients is a critical one," said Rufino. "Because these individuals are transitioning from a highly structured environment to what is often a more stressful home environment, it is important that we employ the interventions that will best ensure their continued improvement over the short- and long-term."

Rufino plans to present her findings in the spring at the annual conference of the American Association of Suicidology in Chicago.

Rufino earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from Sam Houston State University, a master's degree in forensic psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a bachelor's degree in psychology and sociology from the College of the Holy Cross. This fall, she will begin her second year as assistant professor in UHD's Department of Social Sciences.