Centre for School Mental Health congratulates graduates

Thursday, July 21, 2022

(L to R) CSMH graduate students Alexandra Smith, Euan Fraser Tait, Katarina Guillen and Nicole Schilling

(L to R) CSMH graduate students Alexandra Smith, Euan Fraser Tait, Katarina Guillen and Nicole Schilling

Graduate students are a vital element of the Centre for School Mental Health (CSMH). Students support research initiatives centred on youth mental health and through their passion for positive social impact, bring fresh insights to the team.

Recently, four of our students successfully defended their theses, ranging in topics from compassion-focused therapy interventions to healthy development for newcomer youth. 

Read about their research work, advice for incoming graduate students and their experiences working with CSMH supervisors. We’re sending best wishes and heartfelt congratulations to Alexandra, Euan, Katarina and Nicole as they embark on the next chapter of their careers.


CSMH-graduate-student-alex-smithAlexandra Smith, PhD 

Thesis: Using Youth Voice to Inform Programs and Services Promoting Newcomers’ Healthy Development

Working in partnership with several newcomer-serving organizations, Smith’s dissertation comprised three studies that brought youth voice and experiences to the forefront. Smith explored immigrant and refugee youths’ experiences and advice for recently arrived youth navigating the adjustment process, their considerations for programming to support their development, and the acceptability of a healthy relationships program implemented at newcomer organizations.

Having completed her master’s independently, for Smith, working on an interdisciplinary team throughout her PhD allowed her to learn from others, contribute to larger research projects and publications, and celebrate wins and manage struggles together.

When reflecting on having Dr. Claire Crooks as her supervisor, Smith explained that Dr. Crooks’ support also had a substantial impact on her PhD experience. “Claire provided her expertise, guidance, and support not only for research, but for all aspects of the PhD – coursework, clinical practice, self-care – helping me to always feel prepared for what was to come and infusing the experience with good humour and genuine compassion.”

“Newcomer youth rarely have the opportunity to have their voices heard on matters important to them, and Alex conducted a series of studies to bring these voices to the forefront. She captured these youths’ experiences coming to Canada, advice for other youth, and what helped them be resilient. She also explored the feasibility of a healthy relationships program with newcomer youth. Beyond conducting this important research, Alex will take these experiences with her into her practice as a psychologist, allowing her to better support all youth.” – Dr. Claire Crooks


CSMH-graduate-student-euan-fraser-taitEuan Fraser Tait, MA

Thesis: Opening a Crack to let the Light In: An Exploration of an Online Group Adolescent Compassion-Focused Therapy Intervention

Self-criticism and perfectionism have shown to contribute and maintain anxiety and depression in teens, negatively impacting their wellbeing. Fraser Tait’s master’s research explored the emerging field of compassion-focused therapy (CFT) and its application in an online adolescent Zoom group.

Echoing his study’s findings that non-judgement is key to wellbeing, Fraser Tait offered that it’s important graduate students extend themselves that same kindness. “Being endlessly self-critical and punishing yourself into having a good work ethic is a dead end. At some point you have to find moments to slow down, have a chat with yourself, be your own coach and take care of yourself.”

Fraser Tait also said having a supportive supervisor in Dr. Eli Cwinn contributed positively to his time with CSMH. “Eli consistently expressed compassion and wisdom in his role and that was a key part of my thesis experience. I thoroughly enjoyed his mentorship and made great strides as an academic and practitioner throughout my degree.”

“Euan not only studied CFT but also ran several groups and worked to support many young people and their families. Both through knowledge development and through direct service, Euan has contributed meaningfully to the development of the field and to the alleviation of mental health difficulties in youngsters.” – Dr. Eli Cwinn


CSMH-graduate-student-katarina-guillenKatarina Guillen, MA 

Thesis: Evaluating the Impact of a Compassion-Focused Therapy Group on Parent and Caregiver Psychological Flexibility

Research focusing on interventions that decrease psychological inflexibility are important since higher levels of psychological inflexibility negatively impact caregiver and child wellbeing, as well as the parent-child relationship. In her study, Guillen found that caregivers believed their understanding of and relationship with their child, their ability to cope, and their confidence in their parenting skills improved due to the compassion-focused therapy program.

Guillen also had the opportunity to take part in the data collection portion of her thesis, facilitating a caregiver group, which she explained had an invaluable effect on her research. “For me, this experience highlighted the importance of researchers' involvement in data collection, as it allowed me to have a level of nuanced understanding that would have been difficult to attain otherwise. It was a true gift to learn from my supervisor, Dr. Eli Cwinn, who brought this program to life and was freely giving of all his knowledge and expertise – a thousand thank-yous!”

“Kat ran several parenting groups, collaborated with community agencies, and helped a great number of parents. She found that the groups helped parents reduce their burnout and self-criticism, become more flexible, and successfully support their child’s mental health difficulties. Congratulations Kat! You’ve made a tremendous difference in the world and did some pretty cool research along the way.” – Dr. Eli Cwinn


CSMH-graduate-student-nicole-schillingNicole Schilling, MA 

Thesis: Feasibility of STRONG in a University Teaching Clinic: Youth Impacts, Parental Perceptions, and Clinicians’ Experiences

In her master’s research, Schilling investigated the STRONG program (Supporting Transition Resilience of Newcomer Groups) and whether it’s feasible to offer STRONG within a children’s mental health clinic, how it benefitted youth and their families, and program feedback.

One of the key things Schilling said she learned from her thesis work was to always remain flexible and ready to adapt as a researcher and clinician. “The importance of being open and flexible when working with clients as a therapist, particularly newcomer clients, is something that I will remember throughout my career, and I feel honoured to have gained such a valuable lesson from the youth and families who participated in my research.”

With two supervisors guiding her study, Schilling explained that Drs. Claire Crooks and Maisha Syeda helped her grow as a researcher and clinician. “I could not have asked for better supervisors than Maisha and Claire. They were supportive throughout the entire process and I’m so grateful for all their help and expertise over the last two years. A huge thank you to them!”

“Nicole, congratulations for completing your master’s thesis! It has been rewarding and exciting to see your growth as a researcher and counselor and be part of your graduate path. Nicole put an incredible amount of time, learning and dedication to learn culturally responsive methods to bring forth the stories and experience of newcomer families in respectful and meaningful ways. And her research makes important contribution to the advancement of newcomer mental health field and provides further evidence to support the benefits that newcomer youth, families and clinicians may experience by participating in the STRONG program.” – Dr. Maisha Syeda