Research Spotlight: Kristina DePue

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

How do we change? That question is essentially what drives me to continue perusing research to find the answers to help people trying to make difficult life depuedecisions. My research goals are motivated by my clinical observations within the addictions counseling field, which has resulted in two research areas focused on change: (a) chemical and process addictions, specifically concentrating on the trajectory of recovery; and (b) counselor development and supervision, focusing on how both counseling trainees and clients change.

What makes your work interesting?

Change is part of life, and we all experience change in various degrees constantly. Change can be small, like switching to a different coffee brand, but change can also be big, like quitting smoking or starting a new job. All change includes some type of decision making, and what drives people to make major life changes is not only fascinating, but lies at the core of the helping profession. As an addictions counselor, my goal is to help people change behaviors. My scholarly work related to addictions began as my master’s thesis at Vanderbilt University, which was a qualitative study on the bottoming out experience (BOE) in addiction.

The change process is fundamental in understanding how people move from being a substance user to a non-substance user and includes both internal and external factors. The BOE is a construct commonly found within the addiction literature related to change; yet, the clinical reality and importance of this experience is relatively unknown. For my dissertation, I continued my research by expanding on the notion of BOEs as the culmination of negative experiences, rather than a one-time event, within the trajectory of addiction, and how these negative experiences relate to change at the intake level. Using Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) with a large, existing database, results demonstrated clear patterns between mental health, social, environmental, and substance use factors.

What are you currently working on?

I have spent the last two years bolstering the Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) on the BOE, which I am in the final stages of publication preparation. In addition, I used these CFA results to write a collaborative NIH grant, which will be revised and resubmitted this year. The next steps in this line of work will focus on whether negative experiences within the BOE are predictive of recovery, as well as the mediating role of change factors (e.g., motivation, awareness, support, and coping) on change, as well as the moderating effects of gender, age, and drug of choice. This contribution will be significant because it will lay a research-based foundation to develop therapeutic approaches based on gender, age, and drug of choice utilizing the complex causal associations between negative experiences and change within the trajectory of addiction, with the ultimate goal of predicting long-term recovery factors.

In addition to the trajectory of addiction, due to the timely nature of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) in sports, I became intrigued on how mTBI, substance use, and cognition (i.e., decision making) might work together to impact the lives of current and former athletes, specifically aiming to understand how counseling may be able to impact change in this population. Currently, we are collecting the final set of pilot data and will apply for NSF funding this August to extend the project to veterans and emergency room victims. I have also formed collaborative relationships with the McKnight Brain Institute and was asked to join the university-wide Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program (TBIRP) group with a future goal of a NIH P01, from which the College of Education will have a R01 under the mechanism.

Lastly, college students are particularly vulnerable to addiction, and UF is fortunate to be the only college in the state of Florida that is a member of the Association for Recovery in Higher Education, which aims to help college students who want to make the change from addictive substances and behaviors or find support in a program of recovery. As a Board Member for UF’s Collegiate Recovery Community, I am working on nationwide collaborations to write a NIH grant for program evaluation of Collegiate Recovery Programs across the United States.