My overarching research interest is in affective disorders in adult populations, and my current research program is focused within several distinct but conceptually-related domains.
First, I am interested in cognitive and emotional processing in mood disorders and related conditions; that is, the processing of cognitive and emotional events as well as cognitive and emotional reactions to stress. I have a longstanding interest in the ways in which individuals with both sub-threshold and threshold-level mood pathology experience their emotions and thoughts. For example, do people with higher levels of depression symptoms react to naturalistic negative mood fluctuations with greater increases in negative thinking, compared to those lower in depression? Do they react to positive mood with blunted increases in positive thinking (Wenze, Gunthert, & Forand, 2007)? How does the process of experiential avoidance – making rigid, effortful attempts to avoid aversive internal experiences such as negative mood or thoughts – play out in those with bipolar disorder (Wenze, Kats, & Gaudiano, 2018)? What about in those with sub-threshold mood or anxiety symptoms (Wenze, Gaugler, Sheets, & DeCicco, 2018)?
On a more applied level, I am interested in psychosocial treatment development and utilization for individuals suffering from mood disorders and commonly-comorbid conditions and concerns (e.g., anxiety, personality pathology, problematic drug and alcohol use, stress). We clinical psychologists must submit our treatment strategies to rigorous empirical study, and we should provide clients with tailored treatments that are feasible to implement, accessible, and acceptable to them. Further, we should understand the factors that make a good therapeutic outcome more or less likely for a given patient. Some of my earlier representative projects in this area include an empirical article on the negative impact of personality pathology on treatment outcomes in bipolar disorder (Wenze, Gaudiano, Weinstock, & Miller, 2014), and a treatment outcome study paper, examining the effectiveness of adjunctive psychosocial intervention following hospital discharge for patients with bipolar disorder and comorbid substance mis-use (Wenze, Gaudiano, Weinstock, Tezanos, & Miller, 2015). Recently, I have become interested in perinatal mental health in new parents of twins and higher-order multiples; this is a growing population that is at elevated risk for symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety (Wenze, Battle, & Tezanos, 2015). My work suggests that there is a large, unmet need for mental health treatment in parents of multiples in the perinatal period, especially the early postpartum months (Wenze & Battle, 2018).
Finally, within this relatively broad second topic, I have a specific interest in the feasibility, acceptability, and development of technology-assisted treatments for mood disorders and related concerns. Considering the rising cost of health care, increasing demands on providers’ time, and growing technology use, ecological momentary interventions (EMIs) have the potential to greatly advance the field. EMIs can provide unique therapeutic benefits, such as extra support, tailored timing or content of interventions, and the chance for clients to practice new skills and apply new behaviors in vivo. I have designed and tested a brief, PDA-based treatment to improve adherence in bipolar disorder (Wenze, Armey, & Miller, 2014) and a more fully-developed, 3-month-long intervention, combining in-person sessions with smartphone-delivered content (Wenze, Armey, Weinstock, Gaudiano, & Miller, 2016). Most recently, I conducted a telephone focus group study with new mothers of multiples to gain a detailed understanding of their unique mental health treatment needs and gauge interest in internet-delivered care. The results of this study were recently published (Wenze, Miers, & Battle, 2020). I recently received notice that a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award for which I applied has been funded; this fellowship will allow me to join faculty at the University of Coimbra in Portugal in the Spring of 2023 to adapt and test a perinatal mobile mental health support intervention in a small sample of new mothers of multiples.
I have been fortunate to receive support through both internal funds (e.g., Lafayette College Faculty Research Grant, Lafayette College Advanced Study Grant, Brown University seed money grants) and external awards (e.g., NIMH K23 Research Career Development Award, Psi Chi Graduate Research Grant) and fellowships (e.g., Fulbright U. S. Scholar Award, NSF ADVANCE grant-funded Faculty Success Fellowship, American Association of University Women American Fellowship).