Read this interview by Osher Research Assistant, Esme Goldfinger, with Jacklyn D. Foley, Ph.D, one of our current (2022) T-32 Research Fellows in Integrative Medicine. Dr. Foley’s research interests lie in mindfulness-based interventions to improve the treatment and health outcomes of people with HIV.
Q: What are your research interests?
A: I am a trained clinical psychologist with a focus on health psychology and behavioral medicine. I’ve always been interested to see how psychological treatments can benefit people beyond their mental health to impact physical health outcomes. HIV has been my primary area of research because there is such a strong component of health behaviors in the management of this infection. While there have been recent strides towards a cure, right now the longevity and quality of life amongst people living with HIV depends on the individual’s commitment to take their daily medication, have regular doctor visits, and engage in other self-care behaviors. My research focuses on how psychological risk factors, such as depression or substance use, may negatively impact health outcomes by deterring some of these positive health behaviors.
Q: What has been one of your most exciting or impactful findings?
A: I think the most impactful findings have to do with mechanisms of action. For example, in graduate school I researched how depression and depressive symptoms relate to health behaviors and health outcomes. We know that depression does impact physical health, but I’ve always been more interested in why or how this impact presents. I’ve found that these mechanisms are multiplicative in that there is more than one reason. Some of my research has suggested that depression makes people less confident in their ability to engage in health behaviors and so are less likely to try to engage due to lack of confidence or feeling unworthy of good health. Lack of motivation associated with depression is also likely to impact willingness to engage in health behaviors due to lack of energy as one of the physiological symptoms of depression. These kinds of findings on behavior and health outcome are what I hope to uncover in my research.
Q: What are you thinking is next for your research?
A: I’ve just received grants for two pilot studies. One is on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for inflammation in older adults with HIV and the other is on mindfulness and cardiovascular health in people with HIV. The first is particularly exciting because people with HIV are only recently living long lives due to innovations in treatment so little is known about how people with HIV age.
I’ve also recently started to think about the biological aspects of mental health that may negatively impact health outcomes. For example, how does depression manifest itself in our biology? I’m interested in systemic inflammation and while I haven’t studied it quite yet, I look forward to building upon my behavioral work to find more about how the biology of individuals with depression or substance use disorder may directly impact health outcomes.
Q: How do you hope your research impacts the people you are researching?
A: Of course, I want people with HIV to live longer and have better health outcomes, but beyond that I want them to have a better quality of life. For me this often boils down to, are they living a rich and meaningful life? I come from a background of third wave cognitive behavioral therapy which looks beyond specific disorders and specific skills to understand the core mechanisms of action across a lot of different interventions. I hope that people with HIV engage in meaningful activities, act in alignment with their core values, find purpose in what they do, and enjoy what they do. I want people to live longer, but more than that, I want those years to matter.
Jacklyn D. Foley, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and postdoctoral fellow supported by the Harvard Medical School Integrative Medicine T32 fellowship. Her research primarily focuses on developing, refining, and validating mindfulness-based interventions to improve the treatment and health outcomes of people with HIV, and understanding the pathophysiology underlying HIV and co-morbid disease disparities with a focus on cardiovascular disease. Her clinical interests and activities include third-wave cognitive behavioral therapies (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy), psychosocial adjustment to chronic medical conditions, and health behavior change.