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A dissertation about a new, innovative form of psychotherapy for mental health treatment has been honored by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Graduate Division. Samuel Spencer, a UH Mānoa clinical psychology PhD student, is the recipient of the 2021–22 Dr. Clifford K. Mirikitani, MD, JD & John M. Mirikitani, JD, PhD Outstanding Dissertation Award.

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Samuel Spencer

Under the supervision of Akihiko Masuda, a professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Social Sciences, Spencer focused his research on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), a new and innovative form of psychotherapy. Spencer’s dissertation research seeks to help mental healthcare providers and researchers better understand the processes of change underlying ACT with demonstrated efficacy for treating individuals with a wide range of mental health concerns.

“It is essential that mental healthcare providers have access to efficacious psychosocial interventions to help diverse clients who are struggling with a wide range of mental health concerns,” Spencer said. “One way to meet this need is to continue developing and refining interventions from the perspective of a transdiagnostic, process-based approach, such as the one investigated from the framework of ACT in my dissertation research.”

Spencer began his PhD in clinical psychology at UH Mānoa in fall 2018, following the completion of an MA in clinical psychology at Minnesota State University, Mankato. The outstanding dissertation award recognizes one doctoral student who has demonstrated exceptional work toward a dissertation. The purpose of the award is to encourage and recognize extraordinary scholarly research.

“Receipt of the Mirikitani Outstanding Dissertation Award is an incredible honor, both personally and professionally,” Spencer said. “However, I wouldn’t have been able to carry out such relevant and sophisticated dissertation research without the academic, intellectual and collegial support of UH Mānoa’s Clinical Studies Program, Department of Psychology and my advisor, Dr. Akihiko Masuda.”

Spencer also recognized the contributions of the individuals who participated in his study. Through the courageous efforts of these clients, research studies can continue to improve treatment of mental health concerns and further alleviate human suffering.

Masuda added, “Sam is one of the best doctoral students I have ever mentored in over 15 years of my career. He’s very smart, dedicated and caring. His doctoral dissertation project is extremely innovative and ambitious in that it seeks our ultimate question in clinical psychology, ‘why psychotherapy works.’ Sam is solid and well-deserved for this award.”

This award is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF) and Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), two of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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