Abigail Nelson / Community Editor

By: Abigail Nelson, Community Editor

As the Psychology Club president, a tutor in the learning commons, and the two year in a row recipient of the psychology department’s outstanding community service award, Taylor Lyman is extremely involved in her community. Recently the senior psychology and human biology double major has been working alongside her professor and head of the psychology department, Dr. Elizabeth Vella, in Vella’s program evaluation of a wilderness therapy program called Huts for Vets. This evaluation tested the program’s effectiveness for improving the quality of life of combat veterans with PTSD.

On behalf of their research, Lyman has been working on a poster to present to the Eastern Psychological Association Conference in Boston this March. In addition, Lyman and Vella submitted an abstract of the program evaluation to the conference for a presentation. It was recently accepted and as a result, Lyman was awarded $400 and the Psi Chi award. Psi Chi is the national honor society of psychology.

At this conference, Lyman will give a short presentation and display their poster during a poster session. “She is one of the sharpest students in my department and one of the strongest science writers that I’ve mentored,” Vella said, “I’m excited for her to have this experience.”

The poster will highlight previous supporting literature of therapeutic recreation benefits for combat veterans, their methods, their findings according to the data, and their implications of how this research can be used and implemented among veterans with PTSD.

Lyman joined Vella in analyzing her data in the summer of 2019. She was seeking to learn more about the software program Vella was using to analyze the data, which resulted in Vella’s invitation to join her in the evaluation process. “I’m really thankful for Dr. Vella for allowing me to jump on this project with her and help me with a lot of professional and academic development.”

The data was collected by Jerry Alpern, a clinical psychologist in Colorado where the Huts for Vets program is located. Participants filled out a questionnaire that assessed their symptoms, where they fall on the positive and negative affect scale, and a PTSD checklist.

Several veterans return from war feeling disconnected and struggling to find their way back into domestic life. Both Lyman and Vella state that pharmacology is the first care given in therapy for PTSD. “Some veterans are taking up to half a dozen psychopharamcologic medications on a daily basis and still endorsing regular suicidal ideation,” Vella said. These outdoor therapeutic recreation programs seek to bring veterans together who have similar experiences, and engage them with one another in hopes to heal one another through social relationships. Lyman and Vella’s research shows that this type of social support combined with spending time in nature facilitates the veterans ability to become grounded and heal. This is expressed by a significant decrease in depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms.

“A lot of people hear holistic approaches to things and don’t give it much merit because of what you might hear in the media, but there’s a lot of merit to alternative holistic ways of treating things.” Lyman said.

Lyman and Vella are currently in the process of writing a manuscript that will be sent out for peer review publication in late June based on their research and findings. The will most likely be submitting it to Military Medicine, a peer review journal that Vella has had worked published in before. “Dr. Vella and the Psych department really cares about students and does so much for them. They are always trying to give research opportunities to students.”

These opportunities are what gives the students real-life academic and professional experiences. It is because of these experiences that students like Lyman feel confident in securing a job when they graduate. Lyman is looking to attend graduate school to receive her PhD or to pursue medical school in with the goal of becoming a doctor in neuroscience. She has even thought of eventually becoming a college professor later in her career as a way to give back to the field.


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