Hi! My name is Wallis and I am a recent graduate of Skidmore where I studied Psychology. I am specifically interested in psychological research pertaining to well-being, health, and happiness, and I hoped to pursue these interests post-graduation.
I currently am a research fellow at the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion (CMC) of the Cambridge Health Alliance, just outside of Boston. CMC is a small center, comprised of a handful of dedicated individuals, who aim to integrate mindfulness into primary care. Over the past 3 years, the staff has worked diligently on MINDFUL-PC, a clinical research study that offers 8-week mindfulness groups to CHA patients. These groups are insurance-reimbursable, meaning that patients only pay a copay, making the courses more affordable and accessible. During the 8-week program, patients learn a variety of formal and informal meditation practices, cultivate self-compassion, and work towards increasing present moment awareness. These groups have been incredibly impactful for patients dealing with anxiety, depression, insomnia, stress, physical pain, and other chronic illnesses.
As a research fellow, my main job is to support the implementation of MINDFUL-PC, a large, complex, and longitudinal study that requires constant tending and commitment. There are so many pieces to the research, and so many tasks that must be filled in order for it to run smoothly, so I was often responsible for helping out with various things along the way. For instance, one of the first projects I worked on was helping to transcribe qualitative interviews with patients. These interviews explore patient experiences of the group – what worked and what did not work – deeply investigating the impact of the course on lived experiences. This feedback is incredibly powerful, as it helps the team evaluate and reorganize the structure and content of the group to best fit people’s needs.
While the process of transcribing was tedious, I was incredibly struck by the content of the interviews, as so many people commented on slight shifts in their functioning which offered such relief. For instance, some people felt they could center and ground themselves better during moments of stress, which allowed them to respond thoughtfully, instead of react impulsively, to uncomfortable experiences. Other people could offer themselves a bit more self-compassion, when they had previously been filled with shame. They weren’t always able to be mindful or self-compassionate, but people generally felt the course increased their resources, and were better able to support themselves through stress, anxiety, depression, and pain. These interviews were quite beautiful, as they allowed me to hear first-hand experiences of the impact of these practices.
One of my favorite parts of my summer at CMC has been serving as a research assistant for the 8-week mindfulness group. As the research assistant, I am responsible for various before and after group email communications, calling patients if they have questions or concerns, and organizing group materials such as handbooks and worksheets. I am asked also to sit in on each group mindfulness session, partaking in all the mindfulness exercises myself. This has been a truly wonderful experience for me, as I have directly engaged with patients as they begin to explore and deepen their relationship to mindfulness. As a group, we discuss the difficulties of practices, and the benefits that can arise through sustained dedication. The group has become a wonderful community of people who are all searching to engage with their suffering a bit differently, and this commonality creates an environment that is open, thoughtful, kind, and tender. It’s been really wonderful to accompany these individuals as they explore themselves, and has provided me an opportunity to better explore myself as well.
The Skidmore Experience Fund grant has made this experience possible, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to more fully delve into these interests of mine. This internship has helped me further develop my research skills, while also cultivating a greater awareness of mindfulness and compassion, tools which I am curious about. I hope to eventually attend graduate school, and this internship has provided me with invaluable knowledge about the research process, the healthcare system, and how to support those in need.