R. Kathryn McHugh, PhD

R. Kathryn McHugh, PhD

McLean Hospital Title
  • Chief of Psychology

  • Director, Stress, Anxiety, and Substance Use Laboratory

Harvard Medical School Title
  • Associate Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry


R. Kathryn McHugh, PhD, 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, specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy for depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

Research Focus:

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 behavioral 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 behavioral therapies. Although behavioral therapies are highly effective for a number of psychiatric disorders, there is significant room for improvement. Dr. McHugh’s work focuses on improving behavioral 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-behavioral 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 behavioral therapies, including an edited book published by Oxford University Press.

  • Alexandra Chase, Clinical Research Assistant
  • Robyn A. Ellis, PhD, Research Fellow
  • Francesca Korte, Clinical Research Assistant
Selected Publications:

McHugh RK, Whitton SW, Peckham AD, Welge JA, Otto MW. Patient preference for psychological vs pharmacologic treatment of psychiatric disorders: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2013;74(6):595-602.

McHugh RK, Weiss RD, Cornelius M, Martel MO, Jamison RN, Edwards RR. Distress intolerance and prescription opioid misuse among patients with chronic pain. Journal of Pain 2016;17:806-814.

McHugh RK, Votaw VR, Barlow DH, Fitzmaurice GM, Greenfield SF, Weiss RD. Development of an integrated cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety and opioid use disorder: study protocol and methods. Contemporary Clinical Trials 2017;60:105-112.

PubMed search for Dr. McHugh


Book cover - Dissemination and Implementation of Evidence-Based Psychological Interventions

The Dissemination and Implementation of Evidence-Based Psychological Interventions
Edited by R. Kathryn McHugh, David H. Barlow
(Oxford University Press, 2012)

Education & Training

  • 2003 BA, Harvard University
  • 2011 PhD, Boston University
  • 2011 Pre-Doctoral Internship, Alpert Medical School, Brown University
Board Certifications:
  • 2013 Psychologist, Board of Registration of Psychologists, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • 2013 Health Service Provider, Board of Registration of Psychologists, Commonwealth of Massachusetts


Phone: 617.855.3169
Office Address: Belmont campus - Proctor House, Room 325