Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Psychology professor receives Distinguished Scholar Award

Stephen Shirk

Stephen Shirk accepts DU's Distinguished Scholar Award from Chancellor Robert Coombe and Faculty Senate President Michael Levine-Clark.

Stephen Shirk is passionate about figuring out how therapists can better reach struggling teens.

The DU psychology professor has made significant contributions to the field by developing effective treatment methods, and because of his achievements, he was awarded the Distinguished Scholar Award at DU’s Convocation in October 2009.

“He is really a leader in the adolescent treatment field,” says colleague Anne DePrince, an associate professor of psychology at DU. “He publishes high-quality articles and studies that make enormous contributions to the field.”

Shirk says his enthusiasm for his work stems from when he was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and his clients were not getting better. 

“I was a young therapist and figured I wasn’t very good,” he says. “But, I was getting very positive feedback from my supervisors. I became convinced that the problem wasn’t the therapist, but the therapy itself.”

Since then, Shirk has written more than 50 journal articles and chapters of books on adolescent treatment. He is most known for a book he co-authored with Robert Russell, Change processes in child psychotherapy: Revitalizing treatment and research (The Guilford Press, 1996).

Currently, Shirk and DePrince are working with Aurora Mental Health to see if their research will work in the real world of a community mental health clinic.

With a grant from the National Institute for Mental Health, Shirk and DePrince plan to study 60 teenagers over a three-year period. The teens have all experienced a previous trauma in their life and are suffering from depression.

“How we deliver effective treatment for kids is critical,” Shirk says. “We have a heart-felt desire to reduce their suffering and the family’s suffering.”

As the director of the Clinic for Child and Family Psychology, Shirk also mentors graduate students. With Shirk’s help, Nathaniel Jungbluth received a National Research Service Award from the National Institute of Mental Health.

“Stephen is well known and highly respected in our field, so we have benefitted from his ability to arrange collaborations locally and nationally that contribute to our training and professional development,” Jungbluth says. “He takes an active interest in his students as people, as his friends, and encourages us to prioritize our personal relationships and goals while also striving professionally.”

Because of Shirk’s ability to direct the clinic, mentor students and excel at research, colleagues say he is the perfect model for them as well.

“He has to stay here another 20 years … at least 15,” says Wyndol Furman, a professor of psychology at DU.

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