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Using virtual reality to treat self-injury and anxiety

(0) Comments  |   Tags: Andrea Won,   collaboration,   CRPSIR,   Janis Whitlock,   Natalya Bazarova,   technology,  
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By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

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Whitlock, Bazarova, and Won

BCTR Researcher Janis Whitlock is partnering with colleagues in the Department of Communications to create a new kind of treatment for people with self-injury or anxiety disorders: virtual reality sessions.

The concept is to create alternative worlds using virtual reality that will help people during moments of stress and encourage them to seek treatment with a therapist.

“People who self-injure tend to be focused on their body and responsive to external stimuli,” Whitlock said. “That means virtual reality has a lot of potential to help them. What if we could deliver a powerful intervention and mindfulness space through virtual reality? What if they could disappear into a world that is incredibly soothing?”

Whitlock is working with Andrea Won and Natalie Bazarova, both assistant professors of communications at Cornell, to develop and test this technology.  With a team of researchers, they are creating three different virtual reality worlds: a soothing world that focused on mindfulness, a euphoric world, and a control world.

They plan to conduct experiments to determine how the worlds affect the people who enter them – both physically and mentally.

“The question is, can we transport people into a space that may take the edge off their self-injury desire or anxiety?” Whitlock said.

Whitlock says that she hopes this work also helps to address more broad concepts about the intersection of technology and humankind. “There are larger questions of how this type of technology affects people,” she said. “What are the limitations of humans and what does that mean about how we use these kinds of devices?”

The project is currently funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation awarded to Bazarova and Whitlock to explore how and why people disclose personal information in social media and develop interventions to encourage self-reflection and treatment.

You can learn more about Whitlock’s work at The Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery.

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(0) Comments.  |   Tags: Andrea Won    collaboration    CRPSIR    Janis Whitlock    Natalya Bazarova    technology   
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Collaboration lowers incidence of physical restraint for youth in care

(0) Comments  |   Tags: article,   collaboration,   Elliott Smith,   evaluation,   Michael Nunno,   RCCP,   research,   residential care,   youth,  
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Michael Nunno and Elliott Smith

Michael Nunno and Elliott Smith

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

Two BCTR researchers have been working with a Connecticut child welfare agency to implement and evaluate a program that promotes evidence-based approaches in supporting troubled youth. The Cornell researchers and two agency administrators published the results of their collaborative effort in March in the journal Child Welfare under the title “Benefits of embedding research into practice: An agency-university collaboration”.

Since 2009, Michael Nunno and Elliott Smith, members of the research team for the Residential Child Care Project (RCCP), have consulted with Waterford County School in Connecticut, which provides residential and day care to youth with mental health problems, behavioral issues, addiction and emotional problems.

A team of agency executives, clinicians, supervisors and staff members worked with RCCP staff and consultants to learn about and implement the Children and Residential Experiences: Creating Conditions for Change (CARE) program model.  The CARE model is a research-informed framework created at the BCTR by Martha Holden and her RCCP colleagues that focuses on improving interpersonal relationships between caregivers and youth.  Nunno and Smith were part of the effort to examine if CARE was making a difference in the day-to-day life of the children and staff. 

After the school implemented the program, agency administration reported a substantial decrease in physical restraints among the school’s residential population.  Physical restraints are safety interventions that hold a youth in order to contain physical behavior that is likely to result in injury to the youth or others.  They are, however, not without risks to both the child and the staff since they can have harmful or even fatal consequences. 

“The wonderful thing about the Waterford Country School from an evaluator’s perspective is that it has a thirty-year history of collecting and publishing administrative data on measures that matter to practitioners,” Nunno said.  Our job was to portray the data in relevant and meaningful ways so that it could inform practice, soften professional resistance to change, and add to the growing evidence that relationship-based, trauma-informed practice models can create safe and therapeutic physical spaces.”

“By examining the data, we documented a 48 percent decrease in restraint events within Waterford’s residential and shelter settings,” he said. “We were able to verify the staff perceptions and narratives that the Waterford agency was becoming a safer, calmer place.” 

Yet not all Waterford programs saw this decline.  “The day-school data showed an increase in restraints in the corresponding time frame,” Nunno said.  “Although we were all surprised at this finding, our analysis triggered the agency leadership to examine the children’s social and emotional regulation needs.  They involved day-school teachers and children’s families who designed unified approaches to meet those needs.  Within months of implementing these strategies we saw a significant decrease in the use of restraints.”

The partnership between RCCP and the school demonstrates RCCP’s success at monitoring and detecting problems, guiding solutions, improving practice, supporting learning organizations, and contributing more broadly to evidence-based practice. 

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(0) Comments.  |   Tags: article    collaboration    Elliott Smith    evaluation    Michael Nunno    RCCP    research    residential care    youth   
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Connecting retirees to conservation

(0) Comments  |   Tags: aging,   CITRA,   collaboration,   environment,   Karl Pillemer,   media mention,   RISE,   volunteering,  
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retirees and solar panels

Retirees learn about sustainable energy during recent field trip to a solar-powered residence.

A new partnership between the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging and The Nature Conservancy is responding to two critical trends in society todaymounting concern about environmental sustainability and an aging population.

The Conservation Retirees in Service to the Environment program, an environmental education and leadership training program for adults over 60, is a new collaboration between the two organizations that builds on the original Retirees in Service to the Environment program (RISE), seeking to create environmental leaders who will play an active role as conservancy volunteers and environmental stewards in their communities.

“This program addresses the critical intersection of two important issues – environmental sustainability and an aging population,” said Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor of Human Development, professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

“Retirees are an underutilized resource who have the time, talent and skills to help address issues like climate change, air and water pollution, waste management and the protection of natural areas.”

Bill Toomey, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Forest Health program, said, “The Nature Conservancy is excited to be partnering with Cornell to creatively engage older adults in the conservation actions that they can take individually or as part of a community in the care and stewardship of trees and natural habitats in their own backyards, neighborhoods and community.”

Program organizers conducted an extensive review of the research literature, focus group studies with older adult retirees and a pilot evaluation study. Based on the best available research evidence and practices in the field, including research conducted on aging and environmental issues at Cornell, the project provides 30 hours of training over a six-week period, culminating in a capstone volunteer project.

The training consists of a full-day introductory workshop, four weekly environmental workshops and a capstone stewardship project in the community and provides knowledge from expert speakers on climate change, water quality, soil contaminants, waste management and energy use.

“Through training in leadership and communication skill development, our objective is to improve participants’ effectiveness as environmental volunteers,” Pillemer said. “The educational component of the program also includes hands-on learning experience, such as field trips.”

The conservancy is interested in engaging community members of all ages in the care and stewardship of trees through the Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities program. “We are also looking to support individual and community action through our Habitat Network program to create and maintain local habitats including pollinator, rain and food gardens that can help support wildlife populations and connect people to nature,” Toomey said.

According to Pillemer, the program provides more than environmental improvements to local communities, it also benefits the volunteers themselves.

“It provides potential physical and mental health benefits to participating older adults, including physical activity, exposure to nature and social opportunities, as well as a greater sense of purpose through the chance to improve the world for future generations.”

The Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging promotes translational research on aging, including the development, implementation and dissemination of innovative, evidence-based intervention programs. A focus of the institute, housed in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, is to promote the social integration of older people in the form of meaningful roles and relationships.

New partnership connects retirees to conservation - Cornell Chronicle

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(0) Comments.  |   Tags: aging    CITRA    collaboration    environment    Karl Pillemer    media mention    RISE    volunteering   
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