Faculty Spotlight

2021

Jill Levenson, PhD

Jill Levenson, PhD
Congratulations On Dr. Levenson’s Research Grant Funding A Groundbreaking Prevention Project!

Dr. Jill Levenson, PhD, LCSW, Professor of Social Work at Barry University, is part of a research team that has recently received a $1.6 million, four-year research grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention! Under the leadership of Principal Investigator Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau of Johns Hopkins University, the Help Wanted Prevention Project will test the effectiveness of an online psycho-educational intervention in helping to prevent sexual abuse perpetration before it happens.

This project is the first of its kind in the U.S. The goal of this groundbreaking study is to provide a prevention resource for people who have an attraction to minors and are at risk to abuse. In doing so, the research team aims to establish that child sexual abuse can be preventable, rather than inevitable.

Dr. Jill Levenson is a SAMHSA-trained, internationally-recognized expert in trauma-informed care. She studies the impact and effectiveness of social policies and therapeutic interventions designed to reduce sexual violence, as well as the prevalence and impact of adverse childhood experiences and their influence on adult health, mental health, and criminality.

Dr. Levenson’s résumé is immense, to say the least. She’s been a practicing clinical social worker for over 30 years, using a scientist-practitioner model to inform her research and her work with survivors, offenders, and families impacted by sexual abuse. She has published over 100 articles about policies and clinical interventions designed to prevent sexual abuse, which have collectively been cited over 8,800 times. Her innovative research on the link between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and sexually abusive behavior has paved the way for advances in treatment programs that now utilize a trauma-informed approach. Dr. Levenson been invited as a keynote speaker about trauma-informed care and sexual abuse for clinical, correctional, and forensic conferences in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Canada, Hong Kong, and over 20 U.S. states.

In 2019, Dr. Levenson was named by the Journal of Social Service Research as being among the top 100 most influential social work scholars. She was also honored in 2019 with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. In 2017, she was the recipient of Barry's Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year Award, and in 2020 she was inducted to the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare — an honor society dedicated to high-impact work that advances social justice and the public good — to name just a few of her accolades. She has also co-authored five books about the treatment of sexual abuse, including the recently released Trauma-Informed Care: Transforming treatment for people who have sexually abused, and Healing from Sexual Violence: The case for vicarious restorative justice.

While their project is just beginning, it’s clear that the passion and dedication of Dr. Levenson and her colleagues in the Help Wanted Prevention Project are certain to have major impacts on preventing sexual trauma for many years to come, and we couldn’t be prouder of her!

www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/moore-center-for-the-prevention-of-child-sexual-abuse/research/


Mitchell Rosenwald, PhD, LCSW

Mitchell Rosenwald, PhD, LCSW
How Dr. Mitch Rosenwald Is Using His Social Work Skills To Impact Local Policy

As a clinical social worker and veteran professor in Barry’s School of Social Work, Dr. Mitch Rosenwald has long championed the benefits of bringing social work perspectives to government policy. At Barry, he teaches courses on the macro-level change social workers can impart through public service; and, in his personal life, he has held a variety of community leadership positions that have allowed him the chance to apply social work philosophies to municipal issues. Now, as a newly elected City Commissioner of Oakland Park, in Broward County, Dr. Rosenwald is modeling the positive impact social workers can have as public officials.

Since he was elected into office in November, Dr. Rosenwald has been working to realize his campaign objectives, prioritizing his goals to build stronger, greener neighborhoods, elevate local businesses for sustainable growth, and listen to and amplify the diverse voices of his constituents. “I’m a six-year resident of Oakland Park,” he says. “I love our city and I want us to shine even brighter.” To help guide his initiatives, he has been connecting with his community members both on the ground and virtually. He hosted “Oakland Park Community Check-In,” a social-media live chat that allowed all interested parties to speak and be heard. He considers such face-to-face interactions as essential to his job of representing the interests of his citizens.

As he works to serve his city, Dr. Rosenwald is also seeking ways to positively influence his professional community of fellow and future social workers. Recently, he spoke to the Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach units of the National Association of Social Workers Florida Chapter. During his talk, he shared his reflections as a social worker stepping into elected office and explored the possibilities for public policy when a social-work perspective is applied, or, as he says, when the city is viewed as the client. “We have social work mentors in higher places,” he says, referencing Miami Mayor Daniella Levine Cava as well as several representatives in the U.S. Congress. His approach to policymaking follows a social work-informed model that values equity and human relationships and prioritizes community organizing, crisis intervention, advocacy, and education. By sharing his own experience navigating public policy, he hopes to encourage other social workers to run for office.

Even though he is only at the start of his four-year term, Dr. Rosenwald is already earning praise for his positive approach to policymaking. In March, he was named elected Official of the Year by the Broward Unity of the Florida Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the largest professional social work organization in the U.S. Previously, he served as the NASW-FL president and earned the distinction of Social Worker of the Year in 2009. He is grateful for this latest award and considers it a testament to his ongoing commitment to ushering his community—his client—toward meaningful change.


Dr. Ashley Austin

Dr. Ashley Austin, PhD.
With New Research, Social Work Students And Professor Advocate For Gender-Affirming Care

A new paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity is giving voice to members of the trans community who suffer from gender dysphoria. “Beyond Diagnosis: ‘Gender Dysphoria Feels Like a Living Hell, a Nightmare One Cannot Ever Wake Up From’” is the work of Barry University Professor of Social Work Dr. Ashley Austin and her student co-authors, Joshua Holzworth and Ryan Papciak, who served as the study’s project director and research assistant, respectively.

A new paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity is giving voice to members of the trans community who suffer from gender dysphoria. “Beyond Diagnosis: ‘Gender Dysphoria Feels Like a Living Hell, a Nightmare One Cannot Ever Wake Up From’” is the work of Barry University Professor of Social Work Dr. Ashley Austin and her student co-authors, Joshua Holzworth and Ryan Papciak, who served as the study’s project director and research assistant, respectively.

Recognizing a scarcity of transgender perspectives within the current body of research on gender-affirming care, Austin and her team wanted to better understand the impact of gender dysphoria by hearing directly from those who have lived the experience, namely transgender adults. Through social media, they enlisted the help of 362 trans participants, who agreed to share their demographic information as well as their written response to the question, “In your own words, what does gender dysphoria feel like to you?”

The survey enabled Austin, Holzworth, and Papciak to better understand the backgrounds of their participants — their race and ethnicity, their community, their gender identity and sexual orientation — but it was the responses to the open-ended question that provided the most consequential data. In their own words, respondents reached for metaphor and symbolic language to describe what many felt to be indescribable. The lack of a linguistic framework for the varied experiences of gender dysphoria was immediately apparent, as Austin and her team examined responses such as, “It feels like a knife in me,” or “like drowning.” Frequently, participants described their emotional turmoil in terms of physical pain, and many felt the ongoing sense of not being seen by the external world and of living in an imposter’s body.

“It is particularly noteworthy,” Austin and her co-authors write, “that participants acknowledge they have a body—just that it does not belong to the self; rather, self is described as being located in the mind or the brain, whereas body is seen as belonging to someone else . . . or as a separate entity doing battle with the self. For instance, a 20-year-old white transgender man stated the following: ‘I know in my head I am a boy, but my body says otherwise, and it feels like I’m losing.’”

As a team, Austin, Holzworth, and Papciak brought a diverse set of clinical and personal experiences to the study, though they entered the project aware of the limitations imposed by their individual identities. This was particularly important to the study’s qualitative framework, which emphasized the thoughts and feelings of trans and gender-diverse participants. To minimize any personal influence in their data assessment, the team engaged in frank conversations about pre-existing beliefs and worked together to interpret each participant’s response. The result is a study that reinforces the necessity of gender-affirming clinical practices and forwards the research space with rich and evocative testimony from the trans community. For Austin and her co-authors, who hope to dispel the myth of a monolithic trans experience, the study illuminated the urgency of suffering among gender-dysphoric patients as well as potential pathways for positive interventions, particularly those that leverage metaphor and non-verbal creative expression.

Austin serves as Research Director and Principal Investigator for Barry’s Trans Perspectives Research Lab, a research arm of the Center for Human Rights and Social Justice. Her work has long been geared toward improving mental health care and social services for the transgender and gender-diverse (TGD) community through trans-affirmative practices. Holzworth earned his BSW at Barry and is now pursuing his master’s at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. Papciak is a PhD candidate in Barry’s School of Social Work and a longtime advocate for the trans community. About Holzworth and Papciak, Austin says, “These are some of the best students I have ever worked with — so it was a treat for me.”