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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Research

Seeking to Understand the Causes and Consequences of Trauma—and Improving Outcomes

Benjamin Haley

Where is your hometown?

I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio, but have also lived in east Tennessee, Nashville, Southern India, and now, Chicago.

What are your research interests?

As a member of the Mental Health Services and Policy Program, my research is cross-disciplinary and aims to mitigate trauma and improve outcomes for youth and families involved in the child welfare and/or juvenile justice systems. Neil Jordan, PhD, and Cassandra Kisiel, PhD, serve as my mentors, and we regularly work in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. My passion for working with kids in care stemmed from my own experience in the foster care system. Because of this, I feel strongly about doing work that improves these systems.

What exciting projects are you working on?

I’m working on several exciting projects! This summer, I completed the Urban Leaders Fellowship in Denver, where I researched statewide policy and advocating for individuals experiencing homelessness. Over the past year, at Northwestern, I’ve been working on two main projects: One that examines how family support impacts placement stability for children in foster care; and another, in partnership with the Cook County Juvenile Court Clinic, that explores how parental experiences of childhood adversity impact child protection court outcomes.

What attracted you to the JD/PhD program?

I’m pursuing my PhD in clinical psychology so I can better understand the causes and consequences of trauma and resilience especially for young offenders and youth in foster care. I’m pursuing the JD so I can better understand systems policy and legislation, because I am interested in researching which policies best help system-involved youth and families improve long-term outcomes. Not only does Northwestern have one of the few psychological research laboratories that studies child welfare and policy, but it also has a law school that has been nationally recognized for its dedication to helping young offenders. I was attracted to the JD/PhD program because I have a lot to learn and because Northwestern values what I value — people.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?

My best experience thus far at Feinberg was taking the law and psychiatry didactic for psychiatrists who were completing their certificate in forensic psychiatry. I’m not sure I was supposed to be in the class, but I absolutely loved reading all of the case law about mental health, being challenged based on the legal precedents and being asked to think about how psychiatrists might interpret those cases today in practice.

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?

I feel grateful to work with the faculty at Feinberg. The school’s psychology and psychiatry professors are not only passionate about their work, but are also passionate about teaching their craft. The faculty treat us as colleagues and offer the right balance of support and autonomy to help each student as we create our own pathways to success. Additionally, as I’m the first JD/PhD in Feinberg’s clinical psychology program, I’ve appreciated the flexibility the faculty have shown, encouraging me to pursue out-of-the box opportunities that interest me.

What do you do in your free time?

In my free time, I love to travel and explore new places. I also enjoy hiking, yoga and playing guitar.

What are your plans for after graduation?

Ask me this question again in four years — just kidding! After graduation, I aim to be in a position that incorporates teaching, mentoring, clinical work and researching how to align policy with what we know about childhood development and trauma. What can I say? I want it all!