Kathryn McHugh PhD

Harvard Medical School & McLean Hospital, Manage stress & anxiety

Kathryn McHugh PhD is assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and associate psychologist, Center of Excellence in Alcohol, Drugs & Addiction, McLean Hospital. as well as director of its Stress, Anxiety & Substance Use Laboratory.

She engages in clinical and translational research focusing on the nature and treatment of anxiety and addiction. She is particularly interested in the study of affective vulnerability factors, such as distress intolerance and stress reactivity, that are common across psychological disorders, with a focus on those that can be modified with treatment.

Additionally, Dr McHugh conducts research on the dissemination and implementation of evidence-based treatments, with a particular focus on behavioral therapies.

Dr McHugh is a recipient of several national awards, such as the David Shakow Early Career Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Clinical Psychology from the American Psychological Association.

Her current research is funded by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She serves on several journal editorial boards and is an associate editor of Behavior Therapy. Dr McHugh is a practicing psychologist, specialising in cognitive behavioral therapy for depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

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Dr. McHugh’s NIH Biosketch

Dr McHugh’s Stress, Anxiety, and Substance Use Laboratory focuses on the use of human lab studies and clinical trials to ultimately improve the effectiveness of and access to behavioural treatments for people struggling with anxiety, substance use, and related disorders. She has published over 100 articles and book chapters spanning these research areas.

Because stress and anxiety play essential roles in the risk for substance use disorders and hamper the ability to recover from these disorders, one component of Dr. McHugh’s research focuses on identifying how anxiety and stress influence substance use patterns and increase risk for relapse. For example, she has conducted several studies demonstrating how distress intolerance is a risk factor for opioid misuse, ranging from prescription opioid medication misuse in people with chronic pain to severe opioid use disorder. Similarly, her work has shown a link between anxiety sensitivity and substance misuse, an association that appears to be stronger among women than men.

Dr. McHugh’s other line of research focuses on improving the efficacy and reach of behavioural therapies. Although behavioural therapies are highly effective for a number of psychiatric disorders, there is significant room for improvement. Dr McHugh’s work focuses on improving behavioural therapies by conducting research to better understand the mechanisms underlying maladaptive behaviors, testing novel behavioral therapies to improve treatment outcomes, and testing strategies to expand access to high-quality evidence-based interventions.

As part of this work, Dr McHugh has developed and is currently testing a novel cognitive-behavioural therapy for people with opioid use disorder and anxiety. Initial data from a pilot study suggest that this treatment can help people to reduce their opioid use and to lessen their symptoms of anxiety. She has also published extensively on topics related to the dissemination and implementation of behavioural therapies, including an edited book published by Oxford University Press.

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