Meet The Scholars: Kaela Farrise

Kaela Farrise is a PhD student in psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is a member of Health Policy Research Scholars Cohort 2023.

Tell us a little bit about yourself! What’s the story behind your research interests and why you’re doing the work you’re doing?

Broadly, my research focuses on implementation of mental health treatments in underserved communities. I ask questions like, how do we get treatment to the community? And how do we make those treatments better suited for the community? Primarily, the communities I’m interested in serving are Black families with young children and families impacted by domestic violence.

For people who may be unfamiliar with your research area, what’s a piece of information that’s important for them to understand?  

Domestic violence (DV) is a major public health crisis. Experiencing DV as a child increases risk in adulthood for a number of mental and physical health challenges including anxiety, depression, diabetes, and heart disease. The CDC reports that about 41% of women experience physical intimate partner violence (IPV) and an estimated 8 to 15 million children in the U.S. have been exposed to IPV. People impacted by DV often interact with systems that could be dramatically improved through policy: the criminal justice system, child welfare system, various benefits programs, housing programs and employment services.  My research aims to inform the policy of these systems by revealing better ways to get critical services to survivors when they need it most and when it has the highest potential to mitigate long-term damage.

How do you envision your research contributing towards a Culture of Health? What specific areas or communities are you most passionate about in this regard?

Researchers estimate that the U.S. government spends $55 billion dollars annually dealing with effects of childhood exposure to DV. We also know that evidence-based interventions already exist that are shown to prevent the long-term impacts of trauma, but that people who are low-income or people of color are less likely to receive the mental health services they need. My research aims to prevent long-term reverberations of traumatic experience in families and in communities by revealing how to better implement evidence-based practices at the moment of impact. In many cases, this can prevent long-term symptom development, behavioral change, relationship-strain, and other repercussions. This research could inform and change where policymakers allocate funding and could stimulate the development of laws focused on protecting survivors and connecting them with timely services.

Beyond your current research, do you have any long-term goals within your field that you’d like to pursue?

As a Black woman, I am passionate about getting mental health education to the Black community and eliminating stigma through an organization I created in 2020 called Therapy While Black. While I am already a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), I am looking forward to eventually being a licensed clinical psychologist and continuing to use what I’m learning to make easily understandable mental health content that is accessible and relatable to lots of people!

How do you see HPRS complementing your doctoral training?

The program’s research and policy advocacy training and support will equip me with the skills that I need to develop and implement research that will ameliorate mental health service utilization disparities by connecting adapted existing interventions to the communities that need them most to support healthier children, families and communities for generations to come.

What about HPRS excites you the most? What are you looking forward to as a scholar?

The most exciting part of HPRS is the community! I’ve met so many wonderful people already and I can’t wait to go to my first Summer Institute and meet folks from other cohorts, too!

What advice would you offer to aspiring researchers looking to embark on a similar path to yours?

Your journey is valuable. There is not one “right” path to be a researcher. Different and diverse experiences make for the best research because folks are able to look at things from varying perspectives. Even if you’ve been on a journey to get here, you belong in these spaces. Don’t be afraid to tell your story.

Let’s wrap up with a fun question: If you could only have one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

Spaghetti and meatballs with rocky road ice cream for dessert. Both of those are comfort foods that I ate a lot growing up and remind me of my family and home.

Read Kaela’s bio.


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