Psychology professor Christopher Kearney recently was named a UNLV distinguished professor. It is the highest honor the university bestows upon a faculty member and is given only when a special committee deems a professor worthy. Kearney came to UNLV in 1990. His research interests include school refusal behavior, selective mutism, and posttraumatic stress and other anxiety disorders in children.
Why psychology? I was always intrigued with human behavior. I took an advanced placement psychology course in high school and was fascinated. My passion just built in college. I became involved in a lot of independent research and field experience work. I worked at a psychiatric hospital and at a school for children with autism. I even worked in a rat lab for a while to get a variety of experiences.
I always wanted to be a writer so it allows me to write and be creative while studying what I love to study.
What has surprised you about the field? You realize how complex behavior can be. It shouldn't be surprising, but what you thought is settled isn't settled in five or 10 years.
Research interests: I primarily focus on anxiety-related conditions in children and adolescents. When I was in graduate school, I worked in an anxiety disorders clinic on the child side and we had a lot of cases where kids were refusing to go to school. Over the last 20 years or so, we have worked to develop our own assessment and treatment protocols for that population.
We branched out in recent years, looking at kids with selective mutism, which is an unwillingness or refusal to speak in public situations. These kids are chatterboxes at home but once they are in a school or public situation, they won't speak. This can create some social and academic problems the further these kids advance in elementary school.
We've also done a lot of work looking at posttraumatic stress disorder for kids who have been maltreated. We have looked at kids who have been sexually or physically abused or neglected, and we have looked at different aspects of PTSD and dissociation and depression in that population.
We've also done work with kids with perfectionism, looking at their family environment.
The clinic: The UNLV Child School Refusal and Anxiety Disorders Clinic is an outpatient therapy clinic on campus that has been serving as a practicum and research site for the past 20 years. Parents get low cost treatment services, graduate students get the practicum experience, and I get the research data. We then provide information on how to conduct assessment and treatment to other clinicians and school officials who are working with these kids.
The clinic, which sees 30-40 kids a year, runs from mid-September through the end of the academic year. The kids come in once or twice a week but we also make a lot of phone calls, conduct school-based visits, and consult with school officials.
What do you enjoy most about your work? I love to do the research and publishing. Also, the collaborative relationship I have with the graduate students is very rewarding. I do a lot of clinical supervision of graduate students who are seeing clients in therapy, and it is fulfilling to watch the graduate students grow during that first year of therapy.
People would be surprised to know: I like to play the piano. It was something I always wanted to do, so I started taking lessons 10 years ago. My favorite pieces are Chopin.
After hours: I love to spend time with my kids, who are 10 and eight. We have a lot of scout activities. Also, my daughter and I take piano lessons together. I hope we can play some duets one day.
Being a distinguished professor: It's quite an honor and I am very humbled and grateful. I recognize that any distinction such as this is a result of the sacrifices of many other people. I really think the honor is a reflection of many other people.
Mark Ashcraft, chair of the psychology department, nominated Kearney as a UNLV distinguished professor, saying: "Dr. Kearney's name and reputation are among the most recognized in our department. The UNLV Distinguished Professor Award recognizes those faculty members who have demonstrated superior research activity and who have achieved an excellent national and international reputation for their work. Dr. Kearney's substantive record of scholarly achievement fits this description perfectly.
"Dr. Kearney's extensive record of excellence in teaching students and providing them with unique clinical and research opportunities has truly made him a valued mentor in our program."