Doctor of Philosophy candidate
She strongly believes in research informing clinical practice and vice versa, says PhD student Audrey Kusasira-Sutton, a family therapist originally from Uganda who previously lived and practised in the US.
“I’ve been working as a family therapist since 2013. Even though I have significant experience in research, I felt that my daily work was somewhat imbalanced as I couldn’t say that research and clinical practice were constantly informing each other. For me, that signified a gap and I thought that taking the time to really hone my research skills through a PhD would help me bridge that gap.”
Once she had decided that doctoral study would be on her cards, Audrey explored her study options and it didn’t take her long to find the right university for her PhD.
“I chose to come to AUT because the student testimonials I had seen suggested that there’s a good balance between educational excellence and community engagement. Because I was moving halfway across the world, it was important to me to be at an institution where I can be connected to and engaged in the community.”
Focusing on user experiences
For her PhD research, Audrey is investigating the experiences of young people, their caregivers and clinicians of Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
“Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT) is a psychological model used to help treat young people who have experienced trauma. Part of the model is to involve caregivers in treatment as well. I chose this study because it’s a model I began applying while working with young people in Boston, USA in 2013. I’ve since worked with this model in New York, Auckland and Kampala, Uganda. I was inspired by the results, but I always wanted to have an articulated glimpse of the client’s therapeutic experience.
“I believe in the significance of a more qualitative study of the model because of the current deficit in the literature and have a strong conviction regarding research informing improved clinical practice. Research both globally and locally in New Zealand has focused on the effectiveness of TF-CBT as a treatment model, primarily tested using experimental methods such as randomised control trials. Thus, there is limited knowledge on the user perspective of the model.”
Audrey’s doctoral research is supervised by Professor Jane Koziol-McLain and Dr Jackie Feather.
The right university environment
Her PhD journey so far has been very enjoyable, says Audrey who is based at the AUT Centre for Interdisciplinary Trauma Research and expects to complete her PhD in 2024.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time with my supervisors, and they’ve offered great support and mentorship thus far. I would recommend completing a PhD – it’s a very different pathway of studying but it’s one that challenges you and helps you grow academically.”
Studying during the COVID-19 global pandemic has had its challenges, she admits.
“The first New Zealand-wide lockdown due to COVID-19 was incredibly challenging for me, particularly in terms of my university workload. My supervisors were amazing during this time; helping me problem solve, and teaching and re-teaching me self-compassion.”