Karen Roberts: How to treat the long-lasting effects of bullying in the LGBT population?

In brief

Bullying is repeated, aggressive behaviour with the intention to hurt another person physically or emotionally. Despite effective bullying prevention programs in schools, children and adolescents still commonly report being bullied. Individuals who identify as LGBT report even more instances of being bullied during childhood/adolescence (including bullying based on sexual orientation) than their non-LGBT peers.

Karen Roberts is developing a therapy for adults from LGBT communities, which focuses specifically on the emotional processing of past bullying experiences.

Read more about Karen’s research in our latest Student Spotlight. Student Spotlights are brief profiles of up-and-coming student researchers.

Read it below or download the PDF.

What you need to know

Karen Roberts is developing a therapy for adults from LGBT communities, which focuses specifically on the emotional processing of past bullying experiences.

About Karen

Karen Roberts is a post-doctoral fellow in the Social Aetiology of Mental Illness (SAMI) Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. She completed her Doctorate degree in clinical psychology at York University. Her doctoral thesis looked at the validity and reliability of a new measure of anxiety. 

Karen’s interest in an academic career emerged during her undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto, where she engaged in experimental research in the field of cognitive psychology. Her research aims included bridging the fields of cognitive and clinical psychology. After working as a project coordinator and research assistant in an HIV Prevention lab,

Karen’s research interests broadened. One of the projects she worked on examined the role of social anxiety in predicting sexual transmission risk among gay men. This experience led to her interest in developing and testing interventions to help people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) manage anxiety and depression. 

A passionate clinician, researcher, and post-doctoral student, Karen is a recipient of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Doctoral Award. Karen’s other scholarships include the doctoral Ontario Graduate Scholarship and the Child/Youth Violence Research Award from the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution. Karen’s research has been published in a variety of academic journals and she has presented at conferences nationally and internationally.

What is Karen’s research about?

Bullying is repeated, aggressive behaviour with the intention to hurt another person physically or emotionally. Despite effective bullying prevention programs in schools, children and adolescents still commonly report being bullied. Individuals who identify as LGBT report even more instances of being bullied during childhood/adolescence (including bullying based on sexual orientation) than their non-LGBT peers. Being bullied as a child or adolescent is strongly connected to anxiety and depression in adulthood. 

There are therapies that have been developed for the general population that could be adapted to focus on past bullying experiences (such as trauma-focused therapies). However, there are no specific treatment guidelines or therapy for distressed adults who identify as LGBT and were bullied as children. Karen’s current research study has two aims:

  1. to develop a therapy for adults from LGBT communities, which focuses specifically on the emotional processing of past bullying experiences, and
  2. to pilot test this therapy in a small sample of individuals from Toronto, Ontario.

Karen’s unique approach to research

Karen’s research will use a “Community-based Research” (CBR) design. CBR involves collaborating with community partners to identify important research questions and to conduct research aimed at answering these questions. Karen’s research will include members of the LGBT community and mental health practitioners as consultants in developing the intervention and recruiting participants for testing its effectiveness. Karen’s aim is to ensure that her research results come from and go directly back to the people who need them most and can make the best use of them. Karen hopes to inspire other clinical researchers to use the CBR model to develop and test new tailored treatments for the LGBT community. 

What’s next for Karen?

After completing the SAMI program, Karen plans to spend one year obtaining her clinical hours so that she can become licensed as a clinical psychologist. Karen’s career goal is to become an independent academic investigator and educator for future psychology professionals. Her motivation and commitment to an academic career in psychology is upheld by her passion for teaching and answering new questions that will make meaningful contributions to the mental well-being of all Canadians. For more information about Karen’s study, please contact her at karen [dot] roberts [at] camh [dot] ca
Author: Skye Barbic

Date: April 8, 2014