Dr. Nicholas D. Thomson, PhD

som dean

Dr. Nicholas D. Thomson, PhD

Associate Professor
Departments of Surgery & Psychology
Virginia Commonwealth University
Email: nicholas.thomson@vcuhealth.org

Currently Funded Projects

Here is a list of some of our current and ongoing projects:

VCU Healthy Communities for Youth: Evaluation of Violence Prevention Strategies to Prevent and Reduce Community Levels of Youth Violence
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Description: The goal of this project is to implement and evaluate a comprehensive prevention strategy to reduce and prevent community rates of youth violence in Richmond, Virginia and similar communities across the United States.

Preventing Firearm Violence in Youth: A hospital-based prevention strategy
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Description: This study will determine the effectiveness of a hospital-based violence prevention program for reducing risk of firearm-related violence and injury in youth victims of violence.

Preventing Retaliatory Gun Violence in Violently Injured Adults: A RCT of a Hospital-Based Intervention
1 R01 CE003296-01
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Description: To evaluate a gun violence intervention for violently injured adults.

Evaluation of VHD Firearm Injury Syndrome Definition
1 NU17CE010030-01-00

Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Description: To enhance Virginia Department of Health’s surveillance of firearm related violent injury.

Reducing Healthcare Workers Burnout During COVID-19: A VR Mindfulness Study
VCU Office of Faculty Affairs
Description: To develop and pilot a mindfulness VR intervention delivered to healthcare workers.

Project IMPACT

Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
Description: To support and evaluation Project Impact for reducing risky youth driving behaviors and attitudes.

A Virtual Reality Intervention for Reducing Aggression and Substance Use in Youth
Innovation Gateway Commercialization Fund

Description: To support the development of a VR intervention for aggression and substance use in youth.

Mechanisms of Intimate Partner Violence During the COVID-19 Outbreak
COVID-19 Rapid Research Program

Description: To understand the driving risk factors for sexual and physical partner violence during the Stay at Home Order.

Evaluating Outcomes for Youth Receiving Hospital-Based Violence Prevention With and Without a Community
Level Initiative

Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Description: To evaluate a hospital-based youth violence intervention with and without community-level services for reducing violence, teen dating violence, gang involvement, and suicide in violently injured youth.

Project Empower
Department of Justice, VOCA Victim Services Grant Program
Description: To support and evaluate a hospital-based intimate partner violence intervention.

Hospital-Based Violence Prevention
Department of Justice, VOCA Victim Services Grant Program
Description: To support and evaluate a hospital-based youth violence intervention.

The Impact of Endogenous Omega-3 Levels on the Development of PTSD, Aggression, and Drug Use in Victims of Violence
Teaching and Research (VETAR)
Description: Testing the link between blood level omega-3, and the development of PTSD, drug use, and aggression following violent injury.

Improving Emotion Regulation Using Virtual Reality: A Single-Blinded Randomized Clinical Trial
The Office of Research, Biomedicine, Innovation and Technology
Description: Testing the efficacy of an emotion regulation intervention in young adults.

The Neural Mechanisms Underlying Psychopathic Aggression
VCU CCTR Endowment Fund Pilot Imaging Award
Description: Testing the neurobiology of psychopathy-related aggression.

Distinguishing Youth with Conduct Disorder with Callous-Unemotional Traits using Cardiovascular Psychophysiology During Virtual Reality Fear Induction: Testing for Sex Differences

NIH: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Description: To study conduct disorder and callous-unemotional traits using VR technology.

Our Team

IVPP Research Director

Nicholas D. Thomson, PhD

Dr. Thomson is a forensic psychologist and Director of Research for the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health Trauma Center. Dr. Thomson’s research expertise includes biopsychosocial risk factors for violence, violence intervention and prevention, developmental psychopathology, and forensic psychology.

Research Lab Manager

Salpi Kevorkian, MS

Salpi is responsible for lead project management of all current and future grant-awarded research studies within Dr. Thomson’s laboratory. Her research interests include the interplay of psychopathy, ethical behaviors, and criminal implications in both clinical and organizational settings.

Clinical Research Coordinators

Dulany Devening, MEd

Dulany is a graduate from the University of Louisville with a Master's in Counseling with a concentration in art therapy. She has worked in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals and child advocacy centers, providing counseling and art therapy for adults, children and their families. Her research interests include the effects of childhood trauma on development and family systems.

Courtlyn Fields, MA

Courtlyn Fields graduated from the University of Denver with a Master's in Counseling Psychology. She has worked in a variety of mental health facilities, including prison systems and an early childhood development center. She also has experience providing individual and group therapy to underserved populations. Her interests include the biopsychosocial model, trauma, and caregiver-child relationships.

Laura Hazlett, MA

Laura Hazlett attended Wake Forest's Master in Experimental Psychology program. She has worked in diverse roles within various clinical research projects and dedicates her spare time to volunteer with a nonprofit children's bereavement organization. Her research interests include the behavioral and physiological effects of exercise on generalized anxiety and performance anxiety.

Ade' Mason, MS

Ade’ is a graduate of Virginia State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice while also holding a Master of Science degree in Administration of Justice and Security from University of Phoenix. Ade also holds a Qualified Mental Health Professional credential with a focus on children (QMHP-C) as well being a certified gang specialist through the Virginia Gang Investigators Association (VGIA). Ade’ has held numerous positions within the Social Work, Criminal Justice and Mental Health fields. His research interests include gang criminology/culture, and criminal law.

Rashema Meekins, BSW

Rashema is a graduate of JMU’s Bachelor of Social Work Program. She is currently in the Online Master of Social Work Program at Howard University and is set to obtain her MSW in Dec. 2023. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated ®, and she is a military spouse with two sons. Rashema has worked in various roles within the Social Work field, including healthcare, mental health, working with adolescents, and most recently, forensic social work, as a Re-Entry Specialist for a local jail. Her research interests include black maternal health, criminology, and ancestry research.

Ariel Wood, BSW

Ariel is graduate from VCU’s Bachelor of Social Work Program, while currently obtaining her Masters of Social Work. She has experience in providing intensive case management services for multi-disciplinary, hospital-based violence intervention program, dedicated to reducing re-injury and mortality rates among youth and adults by providing intentionally injured patients and their families with support during their hospital stay and within the community and most recently as a case manager with the Bridging the Gap program under the Injury and Violence Prevention Program. Her research interests include understanding the biopsychosocial risk factors for violence and violence intervention and prevention.

Senior Violence Prevention Specialist

Corey Campbell, BS

Corey received his Bachelor of Science from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2001. Since then, Corey has consistently focused on empowering and developing local youth and adolescents. Corey has a wide range of experiences and has over five years of experience in working with the City of Richmond, Department of Social Services as a Family Service Worker with Child Protective Services. In his tenure with the City, Corey's experience was centered in trauma-informed prevention, family-based strengths development, and coordination of services with local law enforcement, medical staff and legal counsel. Corey is excited to lead the Emerging Leaders program in the Injury and Violence Prevention Program to reduce community levels of youth violence.

Postdoctoral Fellows 

Kelly O'Connor, PhD

Dr. O'Connor received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and completed her pre-doctoral clinical internship on the child track at the Medical University of South Carolina. Her clinical and research interests focus on prevention and intervention efforts aimed at reducing violence and trauma symptoms among minoritized youth in urban communities. The goal of her work in this area is to inform the development and refinement of programs, policies, and practices that are strengths-based, culturally responsive, and promote positive youth development.

Graduate Research Assistants

Carine Leslie, MS

Carine is a graduate of Lehigh University, earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, and is a current 4th year graduate student in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Clinical Psychology Doctoral program. Her clinical and research interests include understanding factors that impact post-trauma outcomes among adolescents and young adults exposed to violence. The goal of her work in this area is to inform the development of effective intervention and prevention programs using a trauma-informed lens to promote overall well-being and positive youth development.

Undergraduate Research Assistants 

Allie Auten

Allie, a second-year undergraduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University, is originally from Northern Virginia and is currently working towards her Bachelor’s in both Psychology and Criminal Justice. She plans to pursue a career in Forensic Psychology and is interested in psychopathy, and serious mental illness and crime. 

Olive Blackstone

Olive Blackstone is a fourth-year undergraduate student at VCU, majoring in both Criminal Justice and Psychology. Her research interests include the intersection of mental illness and crime/antisocial behavior and mitigators to criminal behavior. She plans to pursue a career with a federal law enforcement agency.

Kiana Bragg

Kiana is a fourth-year undergraduate student at VCU majoring in Psychology with a concentration in Pre-Graduate studies. After graduation, she plans to continue assisting with research as she prepares to enter graduate school for Clinical Psychology. Her primary research interests include studying early risk factors for chronic mental illness and deviant behaviors in children and adolescents.

Gina Chan

Gina is a third-year undergraduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University who is majoring in Psychology with a minor in Criminal Justice. Post-graduation she plans on attending graduate school and pursuing a career in the field of Criminal Psychology. Her primary research interests include the relationship between mental illness and crime, as well as the impact of trauma on individuals.

Apoorva Saravanan

Apoorva is a third-year undergraduate student at VCU majoring in Psychology and minoring in Sociology. She plans on pursuing a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and plans to work towards a PhD in Clinical Psychology. Her research interests surround Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), racial health disparities, and general psychopathology.

Isabella Schneck

Isabella is a third-year undergraduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University working towards a Bachelor's in Psychology. She is interested in researching severe mental illness, substance use disorders, and violence prevention. 

Medical Student Chapter

Michael Kusnet

Michael is a second year medical student at VCU who graduated from DePaul University with a degree in Psychology. He hopes to pursue a career in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and is interested in related research topics in developmental psychopathology and violence prevention.

Chapter Alumni

Saba Ali 

Alvin Chang

Chandler Johnson 

Miranda Sullivan

Research Collaborators

Albert Farrell, PhD

Dr. Farrell is Professor of Clinical Psychology and Director of the VCU Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development. His research focuses on the development of problem behaviors during adolescence, particularly aggression and bullying; the impact of exposure to community violence and peer victimization on adolescents’ development; and the identification of protective factors that promote the positive development of youth in high risk environments (e.g., those living in communities with high rates of poverty and violence). In 2005, Dr. Farrell founded the Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development – one of six National Centers of Excellence for Youth Violence Prevention funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

James M. Bjork, PhD

Dr. James Bjork is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry in VCU’s School of Medicine. His research interests include functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), impulsivity and decision-making, adolescent neurodevelopment, health behaviors in physical medicine and rehabilitation populations, addiction and substance use disorders, and disruptive behavior disorders.

Caitlin E. Martin, MD, MPH

Dr. Martin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. As the VCU Director of OBGYN Addiction Services, Dr. Martin leads efforts to integrate reproductive/sexual health and addiction care. She is a Translational Scholar with the VCU NIH CTSA-funded Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research (Wright Center). The aim of her research is to elucidate the roles biological factors, such as pregnancy and the postpartum state, and psychosocial contexts together with gender play in the recovery of people with opioid use disorder.

Terri Sullivan, PhD

Dr. Sullivan is Professor and Director of Developmental Psychology at VCU. Her research focuses on understanding the impact of aggression and exposure to violence on children's healthy psychosocial and emotional development. This research includes examination of the relations between aggression and exposure to violence (including witnessing violence and victimization) and psychosocial maladjustment, and identifying risk and protective factors that may magnify or buffer these relations. Another aspect of Dr. Sullivan’s research focuses on the evaluation of school-based violence prevention efforts, especially for students with high incidence disabilities.

Jasmin L. Vassileva, PhD

Dr. Vassileva is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at VCU. Her program of research coalesces around personality and neurocognitive risk factors for drug addiction and externalizing psychopathology and neurocognitive sequelae of chronic drug use. Her more recent studies have addressed potential sex differences in neurocognitive function among different types of substance users. Dr. Vassileva has established a productive research laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University and a satellite neurocognitive research laboratory at the Bulgarian Addictions Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria.

David Chester, PhD

Dr. Chester is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Director of Social Psychology at VCU. His research seeks to understand the psychological and biological processes that motivate and constrain aggressive behavior. Dr. Chester’s specific interests lie in how the brain’s reward circuitry promotes and reinforces aggressive responses to threat, provocation and rejection.

Ananda Amstadter, PhD

Dr. Amstadter is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Human & Molecular Genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Her program of research focuses on understanding biologic and psychosocial factors that affect the trajectory of symptoms among individuals exposed to trauma (e.g., combat, disasters, interpersonal violence) with a focus on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol-related phenotypes.

Robert A. Perera, PhD

Dr. Perera is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biostatistics with an affiliation in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). His research areas of expertise include: structural equation modeling, psychological and behavioral measurement, mediation analysis, mixture and growth mixture modeling, longitudinal data analysis, and analysis and design of clinical trials.

Jack Kennedy, PhD

Dr. Jack Kennedy is a Consultant in Clinical & Forensic Psychology and the Kolvin Service Clinical Lead. He is a Visiting Researcher at Newcastle University and an expert advisor to the National Crime Agency and other governmental bodies. He has varied research interests to include the use of digital technologies in forensic mental health populations.

Annette McKeown, PhD

Dr. Annette McKeown is an Acting Consultant Forensic Psychologist in the Kolvin Service in the North East of England. She is also an Honorary Lecturer at Newcastle University. Dr. McKeown has a special interest in working with forensic adolescents. She has particular research interest and published in the areas of trauma, female violence, forensic adolescents, violence risk assessments, personality difficulties, psychopathy and domestic violence.