Department of Psychological Sciences' Ashley Helle, PhD, received a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The award allows Helle to research one important component of addiction treatment programs, implementing the right treatments for the right patients, which focuses on factors impacting the implementation of evidence-based treatments. Her research goal is to find ways to help providers and systems offer solutions to improve the delivery of quality, evidence-based care for clients and patients.
The Research Career Development Award provides a grant that allows Helle to gain additional expertise in implementation science specific to alcohol prevention and conduct a research project aligning with her training and career development goals. Helle’s research project, which will be ongoing for five years, will investigate best ways of supporting prevention specialists across 23 Missouri university campuses.
New Tool, New Direction
Helle will be using the CollegeAIM tool, developed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. College AIM is a comprehensive toolkit designed to help campuses identify and implement effective alcohol interventions. Each strategy is organized by cost and effectiveness, allowing flexibility in campus intervention programs, based on their program’s specific goals. The tool is fairly new, so Helle’s research will help gather more information about the use of the tool, and also identify evidence-based strategies that work within the campus communities.
Helle’s background in clinical psychology and research led her to focus on addiction and implementation science to study methods and strategies that use evidence-based practices to apply in treatments.
“There are treatments that work, but there is something in the way of getting the treatment in the hands of people who really need them,” said Helle, who investigates the gaps and barriers addressing missed opportunities to reach individuals who may want to participate in treatment programs.
There are treatments that work, but there is something in the way of getting the treatment in the hands of people who really need them. - Ashley Helle
There is a lot of research done on what treatments work and who they work for, but there is less attention on the in-between phase, where the systems and providers select and implement specific treatments. Helle’s research will be honing in on this specific section of the pipeline that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Working With the Experts
Helle says she will gain a unique perspective from individuals who deliver prevention and treatment – providers and specialists – by working beside them. Already, providers have been showing a favorable response to the research and are eager to share their methods and ideas.
The experience will help identify the tools and support providers’ need to be successful in their work, by offering treatments that meet the specific needs of patients and students, ultimately achieving the goals the treatments were designed to accomplish. Although the project is still in its early stages, it’s suggesting there is a need in focusing on the providers, not just the treatments.
As a postdoctoral student at Mizzou, Helle gained a lot of experience in grant writing from her mentors. The addictions research team and grant-funding support gave her the opportunity to pursue the award from NIH and further investigate addiction prevention and treatment implementation. Her mentors, both University of Missouri professors, Kenneth Sher and Kristin Hawley, offered expertise in alcohol research and implementation science. Helle was able to put together a team of experts who collectively have research expertise to help build the program.
Working With 'Grace and Good Humor'
“Dr. Helle has been a joy to mentor. She brings a strong clinical and research background to her new work in dissemination and implementation, she’s enthusiastically engaged in her work, and has tremendous personal self-efficacy. She handles multiple competing demands with grace and good humor. I was delighted to hear of her NIH K08 award since it meant that she’d be staying with us after completion of her postdoc, for at least five years,"said Kenneth Sher, Curator’s Distinguished Professor in Psychology.
She brings a strong clinical and research background to her new work in dissemination and implementation, she’s enthusiastically engaged in her work, and has tremendous personal self-efficacy. - Kenneth Sher
While Helle’s research is in its early stages, it could open new ideas due to the input of prevention specialists’ perspectives. Helle recalls a collection of experiences that led her to the work she is pursuing today: “The experience of collaborating with other scientists with similar goals and values has been invigorating and has helped confirm the path of my research.” With the support of her team and the NIH award, Helle says she will embark on research that is scarce but is essential in the field of addiction and implementation.
One of Helle’s mentors, Kristin Hawley, associate professor in psychology, emphasized the significance of this research: “Ashley Helle’s research is vital translational science. This work is really critical for understanding how we move the needle in substance abuse prevention and early intervention. What comes from her work will directly help Missouri’s colleges and universities, and will serve as a roadmap for how other institutions in Missouri and beyond can implement effective, practical, sustainable substance-abuse programs.”