Texas Tech University

Clinical Research

TTU clinical psychologist Andrew Littlefield

Andrew Littlefield Looks for
Keys to Suicide Prevention

Written by Toni Salama

Clinical psychologist Andrew Littlefield conducts research that can make a difference in the lives of people who've developed suicidal behavior and substance use disorders. Littlefield is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences and co-director of the department's Clinical Program.

Currently, Littlefield is working on a project funded through the Department of Defense that seeks to use advanced analytic methods to enhance the accuracy of predicting which individuals may engage in suicidal behaviors, such as making a suicide attempt.

"These efforts can ultimately help various agencies improve their current approaches to monitoring at-risk individuals," Littlefield says, "and inform prevention efforts aimed at decreasing self-harm."

Recently, Littlefield and his collaborators have examined potential new treatment mechanisms for individuals who already are receiving treatment for problems associated with substance use. The research group identified several factors that change across treatment, including decreases in impulsive decision-making.

In earlier work, Littlefield's group identified changes in several personality features, such as the tendency to experience negative moods, relative to changes in alcohol problems as individuals age from young to middle adulthood.

"By identifying these mechanisms, treatment providers can better understand what variables contribute to successful treatment outcomes," Littlefield says, "compared to negative outcomes, such as relapse."

Littlefield also has been involved in research that seeks to enhance the assessment of key psychological phenomenon. This includes comparing biological assessments of a patient's substance use to that of the patient's reports of substance use.

"My work in this area suggests that, whenever possible, healthcare providers should seek multiple ways to confirm substance use beyond relying strictly on patient reports," he says.

Other work conducted by Littlefield and his research team has helped determine which measures of important psychological features are appropriate for making comparisons across gender and ethnicity.

It is for this caliber of innovative work that Littlefield recently received Texas Tech University System's 2019 Chancellor's Council Distinguished Research Award and the 2018 College of Arts & Science's Faculty Excellence in Research Award.

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This article originally was published, in abbreviated form, in Arts & Sciences magazine, Spring 2019 edition.

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