InCHIP Investigator Spotlight: Na Zhang, PhD, M.Ed.

November 10th, 2022 | Olivia Baker, Clinical Psychology Graduate Student

Na Zhang, PhD, M. Ed. seeks to improve mental health problems within the context of families through a mindfulness approach.

Na Zhang, PhD, M.Ed., is a family scientist and prevention researcher in the Human Development and Family Sciences Department. She earned her Master of Education degree from Tsinghua University in China and her doctoral degree from the University of Minnesota.

As a doctoral student, Dr. Zhang was interested in mindfulness and mental health for all populations. Her work now focuses on mindfulness within the context of families.

Na Zhang, PhD, M.Ed.
Na Zhang, PhD, M. Ed.

Today, Dr. Zhang is the Principal Investigator of the FRAME (Family Resilience and Mindfulness Empowerment) lab. The research within the FRAME lab investigates how “mindfulness empowers parents and families and translates such knowledge into preventive intervention programming to reduce mental health problems and foster resilience in parents and children from at-risk families.”

Dr. Zhang is proud of the lab she cultivated and particularly fond of what the FRAME lab logo represents. Looking closely, you will see a small child’s hand, each finger a different color. The fingers represent the different levels of analysis used in the study of the promotion of resilience and the complex systems in the development of psychopathology. The heart in the palm of the hand symbolizes the heart-hand connection, which gestures toward the “dynamic balance between being and doing in everyday life for optimal mental health and well-being.”

Earlier this year, Dr. Zhang was awarded a prestigious K-Award by the National Institute of Mental Health (K01MH122502), a Career Award funded by the National Institute of Health. NIH Career Awards support research and training for early career researchers as they work towards becoming independent researchers. Under the co-mentorship of Drs. Sharlene Wolchik (Arizona State University) and Kim Gans (HDFS), Zhang’s K01 training will focus on clinical training, intervention development, RCTs, and parental cognitive control and emotion socialization.

The K01 project will refine an existing digital parenting program (the Electronics New Beginnings Program) to reduce adverse mental health outcomes in divorced families. There is significant evidence that behavioral parenting interventions can reduce the mental health problems of children. However, research suggests that these effects are minimal in divorced parents experiencing psychological distress. Dr. Zhang hypothesizes that incorporating mindfulness into these interventions may benefit divorced parents experiencing elevated levels of distress.

Another study underway in the FRAME lab is the examination of multigenerational families living in the same household as there has been an increase over the past few decades. Dr. Zhang is investigating the risk and resilience factors that may develop when living with grandparents, parents, and young children.

Beyond current research projects, Dr. Zhang’s previous literature has illustrated that more research is needed on caregivers’ self-compassion in the context of grief. Dr. Zhang’s prior findings indicate “lower complicated grief and psychological distress in themselves and lower mental health problems in their children.” As a result Dr. Zhang is writing a theory paper focusing on the role of caregivers’ self-compassion in promoting adjustment outcomes in bereaved families.

To view Dr. Zhang’s past publications click here.