Exploring the Intersection of Cognition and Severe Mental Illness

March 21, 2019

For Kathryn Eve Lewandowski, PhD, events like Women’s History Month can encourage organizations to increase their support for women professionals. “I think that it’s tremendously important that institutions like McLean take time to highlight the work that women are doing every day, and the many ways that women contribute to the community,” she said. “It can serve to provide female role models and show that women are valued.”

The director of Clinical Programming for McLean OnTrackTM, which cares for young adults in the early stages of psychotic disorders, Lewandowski is in a leadership role with the ability to guide young women as they move forward in their careers. “I try to be a mentor for women, and I take that role seriously,” she said. “I try to encourage and support women who are beginning their training journey, as well as people who are in junior faculty positions where they may be at vulnerable times in their careers.” As a mentor, she explained, “I try to open doors where I can and point them to opportunities that can help them succeed.”

Lewandowski is committed to helping other women succeed because many people have helped her along the way. “I’ve been lucky throughout my career to have supportive mentors and role models for what inclusion can look like,” she said. “I’ve benefitted from policy changes and programs that have made it possible for women to advance.”

For example, she said that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has created programs “that help people who have become parents to not have their family status affect their ability to succeed in competing for grants,” and other organizations have founded fellowships that highly encourage women and minorities to apply. “It’s been encouraging to see ways in which organizations are working to support women through these types of programs,” she said.

Kathryn Eve Lewandowski, PhD
Kathryn Eve Lewandowski, PhD

Fellowships, grants, policy changes—and a lot of hard work—have helped Lewandowski follow her passion for clinical psychology. She studied psychology as an undergraduate, then worked as a researcher in a cognition lab and served as a mental health counselor working with older adults. “I really loved that work and became interested in the intersection of cognition and severe mental illness,” said Lewandowski.

She continued studying this area in graduate school while working on her doctorate and throughout her time at McLean. “It became clear during my training what a huge impact cognitive impairments can have on people’s ability to thrive in the community,” she said. “Through my work, I hope to help us better understand those impairments and find ways to treat them to give people a better quality of life.”

Lewandowski knows she is fortunate to be able to pursue this work in an environment that also lets her balance her personal and professional life. She knows she has benefitted from recent policy and societal changes, and she hopes other women can also take advantage of new opportunities and move ahead.

“Historically, women have been underrepresented in leadership and academic positions, but I’ve seen a gradual shift over the last couple of decades, with more and more women in leadership roles and heading cutting-edge research,” she said. “I hope it continues, and I hope I can help.”

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