Student Spotlight: Research With Veterans Motivates Continued Learning

Drew Wilson -

Doctoral student Leah Russell found inspiration and motivation through her work with homeless veterans.

While working at the Veterans Health Administration Hospital in Denver, Col., Leah Russell would sit for hours with homeless Veterans or active duty service members who had recently returned from a deployment while they recounted their tales.

Sometimes their memories were a bit hazy, but other times they seemed as crisp as if the trauma had just occurred.  

Russell recorded those memories as part of a research study on homeless Veterans that was published in the December 2013 edition of the American Journal of Public Health. Among the significant findings was that 47 percent of homeless Veterans that they interviewed had a probable history of traumatic brain injury (TBI).  

Leah Russell

Russell said the study, conducted between May 2010 and October 2011 of 800 U.S. Veterans from two hospitals, suggested that the 47 percent figure might actually be an underestimate. While she found the research fascinating, it also had its frustrations.

“Being part of the research was rewarding for me because I knew that at a macro level the data would be used to change policy and create better treatment programs,” she says. “However, at a more personal level it was very difficult for me to hear someone talk about how much they were suffering and not be able to provide acute care.”

Russell decided to pursue her doctorate so she might be able to ease some of that suffering through the provision of psychological care. She and her fiancé, a Pittsburgh native, moved back to Pittsburgh – where she earned her bachelor’s degree at Carnegie Mellon – and she enrolled in the doctoral program in counseling psychology at Carlow last summer. She is enthused about the new directions it is opening up for her.

“As a first year student much of the work I am currently engaged in is at a broader level. As we learn about theory, psychometrics, and ethics myself and the other members of my cohort bring very diverse perspectives to the table about these general concepts,” she said. “Because I worked in military mental health research for five years, my view of diagnostics, symptomatology, treatment, and psychological theory comes from that world. This makes it so that the knowledge I obtain from the doc program is transmuted in my brain to apply to military medicine! We'll begin preparing for our dissertations this summer and I am excited to begin a more specialized path.”

Find out more about Carlow University's Counseling Psychology program.

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