Meet Our Students: Nicole Butler

Nicole Butler is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology in the Clinical Psychology (Health Emphasis) program; she successfully defended her dissertation this past September. She also earned her M.A. in psychology at Ferkauf.

She recently won an award for her headache research, “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Self-Efficacy in People with Migraine,” which she will be presenting at the American Headache Society Scottsdale Meeting virtually on Nov. 21, 2020.

YU News sat down (virtually) with Nicole to talk about her research, her internship work at North Central Bronx Hospital and what the future holds for her.

Congratulations on winning a Frontiers in Headache Research award for your research, “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Self-Efficacy in People with Migraine.” How would you explain the problem and your findings to a non-specialist?

Thank you! Migraine is a disabling primary headache disorder that is very complicated to manage, requiring both medications and lifestyle modifications. People with migraine have recently turned to complementary and alternative practices to help manage their disease, specifically mindfulness, yet there is a paucity of research on how mindfulness helps people with migraine.

My study found evidence to support that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can help lessen migraine-related disability through the construct of self-efficacy, which is the idea that people feel confident that they can manage a migraine attack.


What drew you to pursue research in this area?

Globally, migraine is ranked as the second most disabling disorder among all neurological disorders and is the least publicly funded neurological illness relative to its economic impact. I felt compelled to conduct research in this field because of the opportunity to contribute to our understanding of behavioral treatments of a disabling medical condition.


You’re scheduled to present the research to the (virtual) American Headache Society Scottsdale Meeting on Nov. 21. How do you feel about making such a public presentation of your work?

I am excited to share the results of this study with other professionals in the field of headache and migraine since I believe there are important clinical implications that may help providers better treat people with migraine.

For example, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy as an approach to migraine treatment is successful when people with migraine feel confident in their ability to engage in mindfulness and confident that their ability to engage in mindfulness will help them achieve favorable outcomes.  Just providing people with the tools of mindfulness (e.g., a body-scan meditation) may not be efficacious without helping people feel confident that they can use these tools, which is the concept of self-efficacy. It is important for clinicians to be aware of the role of self-efficacy and provide appropriate psychoeducation on mindfulness and migraine.


How did you make the decision to attend Ferkauf?

I decided to attend Ferkauf because the school offered a Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis on health. I am particularly interested in the interplay of physical and mental health, the mind-body connection and using behavioral treatments to manage medical conditions.

I was also especially enthusiastic to conduct research under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Seng. Dr. Seng has taught me the importance of the scientist-practitioner model to use research and literature to inform treatment and use treatment experiences to ask new research questions.


You’re completing your internship year at North Central Bronx Hospital. What has been your work there, and what has that been like during the time of the novel coronavirus?

My primary rotation is working on an inpatient psychiatric unit, which consists of diverse patients from underserved and underrepresented communities with severe and persistent mental illnesses. I also carry a few cases in the outpatient department as well as conduct neuropsychological assessments.

Working in a hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging yet rewarding experience. So far, this year has been marked with uncertainty, with hospital rules and regulations constantly changing as the system tries to cope and manage this disease. I am so appreciative of the support of my supervisors, colleagues and staff at NCB, as this training year has been filled with learning to be flexible, adapting to new circumstances and supporting one another. Observing the resilience of both the patients and staff as we navigate the pandemic together has been a unique and inspiring experience.


You defended your dissertation this past September. What are your plans for the future?

I am currently in the process of applying to postdoctoral fellowships with the goal of becoming a licensed clinical health psychologist.