Melissa L. Whitson, Ph.D.

Melissa L. Whitson Headshot
Associate Professor
Coordinator, M.A. Community Psychology

Psychology Department
College of Arts and Sciences

Postdoctoral Fellowship, Community Psychology, Yale University
Ph.D., Counseling Psychology, Columbia University
M.S., Psychology, California State University, Los Angeles
B.A., Psychology, with Honors, Lafayette College

About Melissa

Melissa Whitson is an expert in childhood trauma who examines the risks, protective factors, and effectiveness of mental health services for low-income children and families.

Her most recent research showed that children from low-income families have a disproportionate number of unmet mental health needs because of lack of availability, lack of insurance, and/or stigma. Dr. Whitson closely studies children who have been exposed to potentially traumatic events and examines how mental health services have impacted them and their families. Her research aims to increase the effectiveness of the services and to improve the mental health and well-being of at-risk children and families.

Dr. Whitson’s research shows that children’s mental health services need to focus on not only the child who presents for services but also on the child’s parents and caregivers, as their stress levels will impact treatment outcomes for the child. These findings were published in a 2017 article in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

She also explored "Parenting Stress as a Mediator of Exposure to Potentially Traumatic Events and Behavioral Health Outcomes in Children and Youth" in a piece in the Journal of Trauma and Treatment, and her work has been published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.

Her current research examines afterschool programs and summer camps for children and youth to measure and increase the effectiveness of the programs, including the NASA-funded iMEET STEM summer camps for disadvantaged youth. She is collaborating with University of New Haven engineering Professor Maria-Isabel Carnasciali on National Science Foundation-funded research titled "Impacts of Prior Work Experience on Adult, Nontraditional, Engineering Students."

An expert on the impact of violence and the ways people can heal following traumatic events, Dr. Whitson has appeared on NPR’s Colin McEnroe show to talk about how violence in public places shapes America’s psyche, and she spoke to the New Haven Register about how people can process a traumatic public event and begin to heal.

Dr. Whitson, teaches undergraduate and graduate courses, is the coordinator for the University’s master’s degree programs in community psychology and clinical mental health counseling. She is an assistant clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine and a licensed community-counseling psychologist. She and her dog, Fenway, are a Certified Animal-Assisted Therapy team. Fenway is a fixture on the University of New Haven campus during exam periods, as he and Dr. Whitson help students relieve stress.

Dr. Whitson did her Postdoctoral Fellowship in community psychology at Yale University, received her Ph.D. from Columbia University, her M.S. from California State University, Los Angeles, and her B.A. from Lafayette College, where she was a member of the women's basketball team and where she completed an honors thesis on detecting deception.

A recipient of the University’s 2018 Excellence in Faculty Research Award, she also won the National Research Service Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health.

She is active in the community as the vice president of the board for ‘rKids Family Center and an evaluation consultant for several nonprofit organizations in New Haven. An avid Red Sox and Duke Basketball fan, she enjoys running, basketball, music, cooking with her husband, and playing with her daughter, Ramona

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Published Books and Articles

Whitson, M.L. & Kaufman, J.S. (2017). Parenting stress as a mediator of trauma exposure and mental health outcomes in young children. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 87(5), 531-539.

Champine, R.B, Whitson, M.L., & Kaufman, J.S. (2018). Service characteristics, family involvement and participant outcomes in an early childhood system of care. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 27(1), 324-338.

Kaufman, J.S., Whitson, M.L., & Crusto, C.A. (2016). Parenting stress as a mediator of exposure to potentially traumatic events and behavioral health outcomes in children and youth. Journal of Trauma and Treatment, 5, 2.

Whitson, M.L. & Connell, C.M. (2016). The Relation of Exposure to Traumatic Events and Longitudinal Mental Health Outcomes for Children Enrolled in Systems of Care: Results from a National System of Care Evaluation. American Journal of Community Psychology, 57, 380-390. DOI: 10.1002/ajcp.12058

Whitson, M.L. , Bernard, S., & Kaufman, J.S. (2015). The Mediating Role of Parenting Stress for Children Exposed to Trauma: Results from a School-Based System of Care. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24, 1141-1151. DOI: 10.1007/s10826-014-9922-7

Bernard, S., Whitson, M.L., & Kaufman, J.S. (2015). The Moderating Effect of Positive Father Engagement and Accessibility on a School-based System of Care Intervention for Mental Health Outcomes of Children.Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(10), 2923-2933. DOI: 10.1007/s10826-014-0096-0

Weston, R.M. & Whitson, M.L. (2014).The advisor-advisee relationship in graduate Community Psychology programs. The Community Psychologist, 47, 34-35.

Whitson, M. L. Bernard, S., & Kaufman, J. S. (2013). The effects of cumulative risk and protection on problem behaviors for impoverished youth of color in a school-based system of care. Community Mental Health Journal, 49, 576-586.

Crusto, C.A., Whitson, M.L ., Feinn, R., Gargiulo, J., Holt, C., Paulicin, B., Simmons, W., & Lowell, D.I. (2013). Evaluation of a Mental Health Consultation Intervention in Preschool Settings. Best Practices in Mental Health: An International Journal, 9, 1-21.

Whitson, M.L. , Connell, C.M., Bernard, S., & Kaufman, J.S. (2012). An examination of exposure to traumatic events and symptoms and strengths for children served in a behavioral health system of care. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 20(3), 193-207.  DOI: 10.1177/1063426610380596

Whitson, M.L., Martinez, A., Ayala, C., & Kaufman, J.S. (2011). Predictors of parenting and infant outcomes for impoverished teen parents. Journal of Family Social Work, 14, 284-297.

Crusto, C.A., Whitson, M.L., Walling, S. N., Feinn, R., Friedman, S., Reynolds, J., Amer, M., & Kaufman, J. S. (2010). Posttraumatic stress among young urban children exposed to family violence and other potentially traumatic events. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 23.

Whitson, M.L., Bernard, S., Connell, C.M., & Kaufman, J.S. (2010). The Impact of youth and family risk factors on services recommendation and delivery in a school-based system of care. Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research. PMID: 20165927

Whitson, M.L., Bernard, S., & Kaufman, J.S. (2009). Systems of care and the prevention of mental health problems for children and their families: Integrating counseling psychology and public health perspectives. Prevention in Counseling Psychology: Theory, Research, Practice and Training, 3, 3-9.

Whitson, M.L. & Kaufman, J.S. Evaluation of Central High School's "Leadership Group." New Haven, CT: The Consultation Center, Yale University School of Medicine, 2009.

Kaufman, J.S., Griffin, A., & Whitson, M.L. PARK Project: Wrap-Around Evaluation Report. New Haven, CT: The Consultation Center, Yale University School of Medicine, 2009.

  • NASA Innovative Mars Exploration Education and Technology (IMEET), 09/16 – 09/19
    • Melissa L. Whitson & Maria-Isabel Carnasciali, Evaluation Team; $100,000
  • National Science Foundation, Collaborative Research: Impacts of Prior Work Experience on Adult, Nontraditional, Engineering Students 05/14 - 05/17
    • Maria-Isabel Carnasciali, Shannon Ciston, Melissa L. Whitson (Co-PI). $292,000
  • Society for Community Research and Action (APA) Community Mini-Grant 08/15 – 08/16
    • Music Haven Program Evaluation; Melissa L. Whitson, Principal Investigator; $1,200
  • Summer Faculty Fellowship Research Grant University of New Haven, 2011-2016
  • Excellence in Research Faculty Award University of New Haven, 2018
  • Student Athlete Advisory Committee Faculty Mentor Award University of New Haven, 2014
  • National Research Service Award (postdoctoral), August 2008-July 2010
    • National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health
  • President's Grant for Student Research in Diversity, 2005
    • Teachers College Committee for Community and Diversity; Awarded for Dissertation Research.
  • Herbert W. Rogers Psychology Prize, 1998
    • Lafayette College; Awarded to the outstanding graduating student in psychology.
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