University of Mississippi

Third Annual UM Conference on Psychological Science

Join us on April 8, 2016 for our annual research conference. Click this link for conference details and the presentation schedule.

UM Study Affirms Treating Insomnia May Ease Migraines

Researchers use behavioral intervention to achieve long-term results


UM researchers recently released the results of a two-year study examining whether even brief sessions with a sleep therapist can help ease the frequency of migraines for chronic sufferers.

UM researchers recently released the results of a two-year study examining whether even brief sessions with a sleep therapist can help ease the frequency of migraines for chronic sufferers.

Even relatively brief sessions with a sleep therapist may prove useful in relieving the frequency of migraines for chronic sufferers, concludes a study conducted by researchers at the University of Mississippi.

The study is reported in the February issue of Headache, the flagship journal of the American Headache Society. Todd Smitherman, UM associate professor of psychology and a licensed psychologist, is the lead author who conducted the trial in collaboration with Dr. Malcolm Roland of the Oxford Neurology Clinic and colleagues at Wake Forest University and Elliot Hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Carrie Ambrose, Brooke Walters and Rachel Davis, all doctoral students in the UM clinical psychology program, served as project coordinators to help run the study, which used a three-session cognitive-behavioral intervention, known as CBTi, to treat insomnia, which often accompanies frequent migraine attacks.

“It was unique and different in that we used actigraphy (the use of motion sensors to monitor sleep patterns) in order to get objective data on sleep instead of simply using the patient’s subjective report of their sleep, which is often done,” Walters said.

Migraines affect 12 percent to 14 percent of Americans each year, and the majority of migraine sufferers who have 15 or more days of headache per month also experience significant insomnia, Smitherman said.

Thirty-one volunteers who suffer from chronic migraines and insomnia were assigned to two treatment groups and monitored throughout the two-year study, conducted at UM’s Psychological Services Center in Kinard Hall. These people averaged 21.6 days per month with headache symptoms when the study began.

The CBTi treatment included training patients in skills designed to associate their bed with sleeping and eliminating other activities, such as reading and watching television while in bed. Participants were instructed to keep a consistent time of going to sleep and waking up, as well as getting out of bed when they were unable to sleep.

Both groups improved and did not differ significantly from each other when the treatment ended. But six weeks after the conclusion of the study, the odds of experiencing headache were 60 percent lower for those receiving cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia than for those receiving a control treatment providing the same amount of contact with a therapist, Smitherman said.

At follow-up, those receiving CBTi had a 48.9 percent reduction in the number of days with headache, compared to a 25 percent reduction for the control group.

This study was funded by a $49,858 grant from the Migraine Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds migraine research.

“The Migraine Research Foundation is proud to have sponsored Dr. Smitherman’s groundbreaking research on behavioral insomnia and chronic migraine,” said Cathy Glaser, the foundation’s president. “Thirty-eight million people in the United States suffer from migraine and more than 4 million of them have chronic migraine, which is extremely disabling and very difficult to treat.
“Advancements in the treatment of chronic migraine like this will provide hope and help to millions of people.”

This is the second study to show that treating insomnia improves migraines, Smitherman said.

“It’s exciting because the insomnia treatment is all founded in changing basic sleep behavior patterns and involves no medication,” he said. “This pattern of results is what we commonly see with behavioral interventions for insomnia, psychiatric disorders and other conditions. Patients often continue to improve after the intervention is over.”

The data will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, in April and at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society in San Diego in June, Smitherman said.

“We hope that sharing the results of this study with providers and instructing them in how to administer the CBTi treatment will allow clinic patients to start receiving this treatment in the near future,” he said.

“Our lab, the Migraine and Behavioral Health Lab, is continuing to pursue this and other lines of research on behavioral treatments for migraine and other conditions that commonly occur with migraines, including obesity, depression and anxiety. We are aiming to submit another larger grant (application) later this year.”

To read the paper in Headache, click here. For more information about the UM Department of Psychology, visit

Call for Abstracts…3rd Annual UM Conference on Psychological Science

Students and Faculty,

I’m happy to announce that abstracts are now being accepted for our 3rd annual UM Conference on Psychological Science. Abstracts must be submitted by Friday March 11th at 5pm (the last Friday before Spring Break).

As in years past we will have poster presentations and oral talks by Honors college students, FREE LUNCH, then oral presentations by graduate students, followed by awards and our keynote speaker. This year’s keynote speaker is Dr. James Murphy, Professor and Director of Clinical Training at the University of Memphis. Dr. Murphy has published extensively on brief interventions for alcohol use disorders and received numerous federal grants.

Each year we get a little more ambitious; this year’s conference will run from 10am – 5pm in Peabody building on Friday, April 8th. This year we will also provide series of career development presentations geared for undergraduates: 1) A graduate student panel about what graduate school is REALLY like (no faculty allowed!); 2) A talk about developing a strong resume/CV; 3) a talk about pursuing a PhD in Clinical Psychology; and 4) a talk about what freshman/sophomore psychology majors should be doing early in their major.

If you mentor Honors college students who are defending this Honors project this semester, please strongly encourage them to submit an abstract for the Honors presentation. This is great practice for their defense! Please encourage your undergraduate and graduate labbies to submit abstracts as well, and please share this with other faculty and disciplines who work in fields related to psychology (neuroscience, psychopharmacology, etc.). This conference is open to all in the UM community with interests in psychologically relevant research, and is a great way for our students to enhance their CVs and presentation experience!

Below is the link for submitting abstracts.

And thanks to you all for your support and participation. We are hoping this year will be our biggest and best conference yet!

Dr. Smitherman

Todd A. Smitherman, Ph.D., FAHS
Associate Professor and Licensed Psychologist
Department of Psychology
The University of Mississippi
O: (662) 915-1825 | F: (662) 915-5398 |

UM Clinical Psychology PhD Program Ranked One of Nation’s Best

The Clinical Psychology doctoral program at University of Mississippi has been ranked as one of the nation’s Best PhD Programs in Clinical Psychology by the Best Counseling Degrees website.

Rankings were based on the percentage of students passing the national psychology licensure exam (Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology [EPPP]), obtaining internship placements accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), and achieving professional licensure in the last 10 years.

The UM Clinical Psychology program has an EPPP pass rate of 100%, places 96.7% of its students in APA-accredited internships, and 92% of its graduates have been licensed. All students hold assistantship positions and most receive complete tuition waivers. Based on these metrics, the program was ranked number 9 in the nation among over 175 schools.

Students in the program conduct psychological research and develop proficiency in both assessment and treatment of a wide range of psychological problems. They devote their first two years mostly to completing coursework, their next 2-3 years to research and clinical training, and their final year to completing an internship before the PhD is awarded.

Do Something Amazingly Different! It’s time for Africa. Summer 2016 in Tanzania and Zanzibar

Join two time Fulbright Scholar and national Geographic Conservation trust explorer, Laura Johnson, associate professor of psychology, for a study abroad like no other. This year, students have the chance to participate in Dr. Johnson’s National Geographic grant to promote and study new methods of conservation action around Mt. Kilimanjaro. Information and Sign up sessions Monday February 1 and 15th at 5 in Peabody Lounge. There are opportunities to work as an undergraduate research or teaching assistant under Dr. Johnson afterwards to continue your experience. If you’re a graduating senior, this trip makes a wonderful graduation gift and will still count as hours even if you have already walked in graduation.

PSY 475 draws from environmental, cultural, developmental, and educational psychology to reflect interdisciplinary interests in positive youth development and sustainable community development in an international context. Schedule: Northern Tanzania Safari (Days 1-6) – See all the best of African safaris –we will bike, hike, and drive though Taranagire, Lake Manyara and the Ngoro Ngoro crater to see elephants, lions, and zebras and explore Maasai culture. Mt. Kilimanjaro/Moshi (Days 6-16) – partner with Tanzanian youth and the Mweka community (associated with Jane Goodall) to get hands-on learning about the ice-covered “roof top of Africa” , we will plant trees, build fuel efficient stoves, take part in Chaaga dances, and swim in a waterfall! Island of Zanzibar (Days 16-24) – Swim the azure Indian Ocean, visit a spice farm, tour Stonetown’s ancient sites, learn about Swahili culture, and relax on the Beach while getting henna and discussing how are experiences and academic articles are related. We will be there during ZIFF (Zanzibar International Film Festival), an incredibly exciting opportunity! There are also chances to extend your trip afterwards to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro or go on a Rwanda excursion, if you’re interested in either of these options let me know right away.

Cost: is $4750, plus air (includes international health insurance, all safaris, activities and tours, most meals). For financial aid information see Hunter Richardson. There are scholarships available through the Study Abroad Office as well as Environmental Studies Scholarship available for minors. This year’s trip offers the unique opportunity to participate in Dr. Johnson’s project funded by National Geographic. f you have any further questions there will be an informational meeting and sign up session on Monday, February 1st and 15th at 5pm in Peaobody 201 . or contact Dr. Johnson –

Dr. Laura Johnson Gives a TEDxUM Talk

Engagement Is the Answer! Cross-Cultural Lessons in Life and Psychology, a TedxUM talk Laura R. Johnson, associate professor of psychology, recently gave.

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Migraines’ Causes, Treatments Topic for Oxford Science Cafe

UM psychologist Todd Smitherman to share research on neurological illness at March 24, 2015 public science forum

Cover art for Todd Smitherman’s ‘Advances in Psychotheraphy’ textbook

Cover art for Todd Smitherman’s ‘Advances in Psychotherapy’ textbook

The causes and treatments for migraine headaches is the next topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s second meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. March 24 at Lusa Pastry Cafe, 2305 West Jackson Ave. Todd Smitherman, associate professor of psychology, will discuss “Migraine: Knowns and Unknowns.” Admission is free.

“Migraine is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent attacks of severe head pain accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound,” Smitherman said. “This talk will review recent scientific progress in migraine across these and other areas, differentiating between what is well-established from empirical research – the ‘knowns’ – and what remains to be understood – the ‘unknowns.’”

Smitherman’s 30-minute presentation is geared toward everyone, including both people who suffer from migraines and those who don’t.

“Data from the World Health Organization indicate that migraine is the third most common medical condition and eighth leading cause of disability on the planet,” he said. “Despite its high prevalence and impact, migraine remains underdiagnosed and inadequately treated, though recent scientific advances offer new hope for combatting this chronic condition.”

In the last two decades, substantial progress has been made in understanding migraine pathophysiology, headache triggers and the role of common co-occurring conditions, as well as in establishing effective treatments.

Smitherman earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Auburn University and his bachelor’s degree from Samford University. His research areas include migraine and psychiatric comorbidity, behavioral interventions for headache, health psychology/behavioral medicine, and anxiety and depression in pain patients.

At UM, he teaches undergraduate courses in General Psychology, Learning, Abnormal Psychology and Health Psychology. His graduate classes include Seminar: Assessment and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders, Clinical Practicum and Issues and Ethics in Human Research and Professional Psychology.


Abstract Submissions for the 2nd Annual UM Conference on Psychological Science

Students, the DEADLINE is Friday, March 20, 2015 at 5PM, CST to submit abstracts for the 2015 UM Conference on Psychological Science, which will be held on Friday April 10, 2015, from noon to 5pm.

We will NOT consider abstracts without any data (ie, Your data must already be collected or expected to be collected by the date of the conference, but if the latter you must include preliminary data in your abstract.). If you are submitting multiple abstracts, you must complete the form separately for each abstract you are submitting.

Kenneth Sufka Is Carnegie-CASE Professor of the Year

Photo by Robert Jordan/UM Communications

Ken Sufka lectures to one of his classes. | Photo by Robert Jordan/UM Communications

Psychology Educator Received Prestigious Honor in Washington, D.C.

A respected University of Mississippi teacher and researcher is this year’s Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching-Council for Advancement and Support of Education Mississippi Professor of the Year.

Kenneth J. “Ken” Sufka, professor of psychology and pharmacology, received the prestigious honor Thursday (Nov. 20) at the U.S. Professor of the Year Awards celebration in Washington, D.C. The program salutes the country’s most outstanding undergraduate instructors and is the only national effort to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.

“When I first read the letter, I was flat-out dumbfounded. I had to read it again,” Sufka said. “The CASE-Carnegie Foundation Award is by far the most prestigious recognition one can receive in this profession. For CASE-Carnegie to think that the entire body of my academic work is worthy of such recognition is both overwhelming and humbling.”

In addition to an all-expenses-paid trip, Sufka got a framed certificate of recognition. Winners were also recognized at a congressional reception and have opportunities to participate in media interviews, speaking engagements, teaching forums and other events.

The university shares Sufka’s recognition, UM administrators said.

“Dr. Sufka is a role model at our campus and is now a recognized model of excellence to the nation,” said Richard Forgette, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “We are proud to have him as a faculty member at the University of Mississippi.”

Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of UM’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, said Sufka sets the bar for excellent teaching and creative scholarship among students and colleagues.

“(He) has produced more final theses with our high performing Honors students than any other professor on campus,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “The ethic of excellence that guides his work and interaction with our students creates a powerful magnetic attraction to those who want to push the boundaries of knowledge and wisdom.”

Sufka is most deserving of the award, said Michael T. Allen, chair and professor of psychology.

“I immediately felt a sense of pride for him and the Department of Psychology, but I wasn’t really surprised,” Allen said. “Dr. Sufka has won essentially all of the awards for teaching and service that the university bestows, and he has been a magnificent teacher and mentor of students for many years. What makes him so special is his love of teaching and his constant effort to become better and better at it, along with his sincere desire to have students succeed in his classes.”

Sufka earned his bacheor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Iowa State University. Before joining the UM faculty in 1992, he conducted research at Drake University, Des Moines University and Duke University. Sufka is a visiting research fellow at Newcastle University and an associate member of the UM Medical Center’s Cancer Institute.

“The University of Mississippi was a good fit for me when I was offered the position and it remains a good fit more than two decades later,” Sufka said. “It offered the right balance of teaching and research I was hoping to find in a mid-sized, flagship university located in a great little college town. While the university and Oxford have grown considerably, I am still able to find that perfect balance of teaching courses in psychology and engaging in laboratory research in neuroscience.”

Sufka said he is following in the footsteps of professors who taught and mentored him.

“I think all of us can point to a teacher/mentor that inspired and nurtured us in immeasurable ways,” Sufka said. “Professor Ron Peters at Iowa State University was that person for me. His love and enthusiasm for teaching, alongside a masterful ability to convey the most complex and interesting material, made it clear that I wanted to become a brain scientist and university professor.”

Sufka teaches several courses at UM, including General Psychology, Biopsychology, Psychopharmacology lab, Physiological Psychology and Teaching of Psychology seminar. A campus favorite among students and faculty alike, he has received the 1996 Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award, the 2005 Faculty Achievement Award and the 2006 Thomas F. Frist Student Service Award. His other awards and honors include Top 20 Psychology Professor in Mississippi, Distinguished Alumni Award from ISU’s Department of Psychology, Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association and Top 40 Under 40 Mississippian.

Sufka holds professional memberships in the Society for Neuroscience and the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. With research interests in behavioral neuroscience and psychopharmacology, he has written more than 67 refereed papers, 10 book chapters and one book, “The A Game: Nine Steps to Better Grades” (Nautilus Publishing, 2011).

“I wrote that to help my students at UM to better transition from high school coursework to college level course work, or from lower division courses to the harder upper division courses,” Sufka said. “It is an academic survival guide of sorts that detail a number of bad habits commonly exhibited by students that contribute to poor grades and offers evidenced based tips/strategies that promote course learning and yield much higher grades.”

Many colleges and universities across the U.S. have used Sufka’s book for specific programs.

“Some schools, like UNLV and Washington State University, have given it out as a summer reading assignment for their incoming freshman classes,” he said. “This has led to my giving numerous faculty and student workshops on promoting students’ academic success across the country and here at UM.”

Sufka has been the principal investigator on grants and contracts totaling more than $660,000. A prolific author, he has presented more than 120 conference papers and abstracts.

Sufka has directed 12 master’s theses and eight doctoral dissertations. He is a regularly invited speaker at freshman summer orientation sessions and helped develop the initial Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College curriculum. He also volunteers with the Oxford-Lafayette County Habitat for Humanity.

CASE launched the awards program in 1981. That same year, the Carnegie Foundation began hosting the final round of judging, and in 1982 became the primary sponsor.

For more about the U.S. Professor of the Year Awards program, visit


In and Out of Africa

Drs. Anton, Jane Goodall, Julie Johnson-Pynn (also a UM graduate) and Laura Johnson

Drs. Anton, Jane Goodall, Julie Johnson-Pynn (also a UM graduate) and Laura Johnson

Laura Johnson, associate professor of psychology, has been in and out of countries in East Africa since her junior year as an undergraduate at the University of Mississippi, when she spent a life changing year in Kenya.

Most recently,  Johnson returned from her second Fulbright research award. In December 2012, she, her husband and their two children took off for 11 months in Tanzania and Uganda. There, Johnson continued her research collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute and other youth serving organizations, such as the Amani Center for Street Children, Ugandan Youth Rehabilitation Center, and the Mweka Village at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Johnson surveyed over 1,600 adolescents and conducted focus groups to assess youth strengths and assets among school and vulnerable youth.

Johnson’s children accompanied her in the field, often drawing considerable attention. Here they are during data collection with the Batwa ethnic group in Southwest Uganda.

Johnson’s children accompanied her in the field, often drawing considerable attention. Here they are during data collection with the Batwa ethnic group in Southwest Uganda.

“It was great to meet up with Dr. Jane again in Uganda this year, I first pitched the idea of studying youth in her Roots&Shoots back in 2000 when I was still in grad school,” Johnson said. “My sister Julie and I have been working with R&S since then, it is like a global family.”

New Frontiers with Photo-voice

“New cultures and contexts demand new methods in psychology,” said Johnson. “During the 11 months of research, I faced so many challenges. Keeping youth engaged, working with women not used to sharing their opinions, along with language barriers and cultural differences. With over a decade of research in East Africa, I have conducted a lot of bad focus groups, where basically participants tell you what they think you want to hear.

Photovoice, developed by Carolyn Wang, was by far the most exciting and effective research tool I discovered. In Photovoice, participants become co-researchers and they take photographic data on different themes. The process was action-oriented, fun, built confidence, and also helped to de-position me as interviewer.”

Maasai Moran (Warriors) learn to use the digital camera for photovoice research.

Maasai Moran (Warriors) learn to use the digital camera for photovoice research.

According to Johnson, the method was successful across different cultures and ages. She has presented her data and on this method to the National Academy of Sciences and the Society for Cross-Cultural Research.

Bringing the Fulbright Full-Circle: UM Student Involvement  

Doctoral student Chris Drescher, honor’s student Katherine Westfall, and 5 other UM students helped kick off the research during a study abroad course that Johnson teaches, Psychology 475, Environmental Psychology. These UM students partnered with Tanzanian research partners for cultural games, service, research training and pilot data collection with adolescents.

“It was great to involve UM students in the initial research and now, as we speak in the write up. I am excited to involve students again now on the results side of things and bring this research full-circle, so to speak,” said Johnson.

She encourages students to sign up for the study abroad course in Tanzania and Zanzibar in June 2014.

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Maasai participants share and discuss their photos.

Maasai participants share and discuss their photos.

Photovoice Image taken by former street children to show the importance of security, of having a safe place to live and security

Photovoice Image taken by former street children to show the importance of security, of having a safe place to live and security.

Photovoice image taken by former street children to show the importance of traditional cultural activities like drumming and dancing.

Photovoice image taken by former street children to show the importance of traditional cultural activities like drumming and dancing.