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NMHU Hot News

PTSD in Vets Inspires Graduate in Psychology at Doctoral Level

photo of Mackenzie May

Mackenzie May

Las Vegas, N.M. – Growing up in a military family influenced Mackenzie May to focus her doctoral studies on treatment for veterans with post traumatic stress disorder.

“Military culture is part of my identity, and I’d like to give back to the military community by working with veterans with PTSD who have sacrificed so much for our country while in combat,” May said.

May graduates from Highlands University in May with a master’s degree in clinical/counseling psychology, earning a 4.0 GPA. She begins her Ph.D. studies in counseling psychology at the University of Northern Colorado in August. UNC is funding May for a fellowship.

“I was at a conference where a speaker talked about the high need for professionals to work with vets with PTSD and that also motivated me to become one of these professionals,” said May, a 25-year-old who calls Albuquerque home.

May said her master’s thesis and internships at the Tri-County Family Justice Center and the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute, both in Las Vegas, reinforced her interest in helping veterans cope with combat trauma.

“With my thesis research, I wanted to examine whether PTSD and substance abuse correlated. Specifically, I explored if an individual’s coping mechanisms and social support influenced this possible correlation,” May said.

She said one major finding is that individuals with PTSD who cope by blaming themselves had higher substance abuse rates. Conversely, traumatized individualized who don’t blame themselves are less likely to abuse drugs.

For her research tool, May expanded upon the New Mexico Community Survey, adding measures for PTSD. She joined a research team that administered the survey in public places throughout San Miguel County, from local businesses to recreation areas.

Ian Williamson, psychology professor and Highlands Psychology Department chair, is May’s thesis adviser. She learned to administer the original New Mexico Community Survey when she was his research assistant for the San Miguel County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.

“I’m most grateful for how Dr. Williamson pushed me outside my comfort zone and encouraged me to grow as a young professional in my psychology research and coursework. He is an excellent mentor and helped me believe in my ability to successfully pursue a Ph.D. in psychology,” May said.

Williamson said he is supremely confident May will distinguish herself academically at the doctoral level, and make an immediate contribution to research projects.

“One of Mackenzie’s unique strengths is that she is a spectacular writer, perhaps the best academic writer I have ever taught,” Williamson said. “She also has the ability to establish rapport with her colleagues, community members, supervisors and mentors, which will serve her well in her doctoral studies and clinical practice.”

Williamson said May is among a record number of psychology graduate students completing their degrees this year at Highlands.

May said the entire psychology faculty at Highlands is phenomenal.

“They care so much about their students and support us 100 percent,” May said. “For instance, Dr. David Pan and Dr. Lara Heflin were very influential in my doctoral application process, from helping me develop my personal statement to preparing me for the interviews with the UNC psychology faculty.”

Looking ahead, May said she welcomes the academic rigor of her Ph.D. program.

“I’m thrilled to have the chance to build my clinical knowledge and expertise, and work toward my goal of supporting veterans,” May said.