Prof awarded for anxiety research

Peter Norton, director of the UH Anxiety Disorder Clinic (ADC), received the annual Theodore Blau Early Career Award for his professional accomplishments in clinical psychology Jan. 21.

‘It’s a great honor. When I opened the envelope, I let out a big cheer,’ associate professor Norton said. ‘(I hope the award) gives a little bit more credibility to the psychology department and to the work my team and I have been doing here at the University.’

Norton said he sees the recognition as an opportunity ‘to reach out and help more people with anxiety disorders or to simply help other practitioners in studying anxiety disorders.’

He was nominated for the award by his former colleague, psychology professor Martin M. Anthony of Ryerson University in Toronto.’ Anthony is a previous recipient of the award.

The award recognizes ‘professionals for promoting the practice of clinical psychology through professional service ‘hellip; or other novel or creative activities advancing the service of the profession,’ according to ADC’s Web site.

As a clinical psychologist, Norton has been dedicated to running ADC, training graduate and undergraduate students on how to conduct research. He also organizes community workshops to train future therapists, as well as for his research on testing and improving upon anxiety disorder treatments.

In addition, Norton has authored more than 60 research papers and has delivered presentations to the American Psychological Association for his work on anxiety.

Suzanne Klenck is the assistant director of ADC and has been contributing to research for the past four years.

‘It is really nice to see Norton receive this award.’ He is great to work with and he has a phenomenal career ahead of him,’ Klenck said. ‘It is also great to bring awareness to the ADC and let people know that there is ‘state-of-the-art’ treatment here in Houston at a very low cost.’

Jessica Grogan is a graduate research assistant and has been working at ADC for three years.

‘Norton’s awards represent the contribution he has made to the field of clinical psychology while still early in his career,’ Grogan said. ‘He provides graduate students the opportunity to present and publish with him on his main projects as well as encouraging them to develop their own lines of research within anxiety or in related fields.’

In December, Norton co-authored The Anti-Anxiety Workbook with Anthony.

The self-help book came out of the realization that ‘the vast majority of people with anxiety disorders aren’t receiving treatment.’

Norton said he hopes the book will allow his cognitive-behavioral therapy tips and research findings to go where they are needed most, ‘beyond’ his clinic’s walls, to affected individuals who may not have specialists in their community.

‘In reaching out to people with anxiety disorders we have to realize that the idea of treatment, social stigma or speaking with a mental health professional, can be a real source of anxiety as well,’ Norton said.’ ‘

Emphasizing the scientific nature of the field, Norton believes ‘psychology involves a commitment to research.’

‘People tend to get caught up in less effective treatments. The (Food and Drug Administration) can oversee the effectiveness of medical treatment options, but for therapies there really is no regulatory body,’ he said.

He said this makes it difficult to obtain the best therapy or self help available.

‘The Anti-Anxiety Workbook intends to make an effective and scientifically-proven treatment available to the people who need it. It is written a way that people can get real benefit from it,’ Norton said.

His focus on anxiety disorders originated from his experiences as a master’s candidate of sports psychology at the University of Western Australia.

‘An understanding of anxiety or ‘arousal control’ was central to helping others maintain a clear head/focus in stressful sports scenarios,’ he said.’

While the field fascinated him, Norton said he became interested in the role of fear and anxiety beyond the sports world, in the general population and in every day life.

Insights from his research and work started moving his professional scope toward anxiety disorders and the quality of treatment options.

‘There are many misconceptions of anxiety disorders. Mostly people just assume that these behaviors are simply part of who they are,’ Norton said. ‘Often they don’t realize that through treatment, there are changes that can be made to improve their quality of life.’

Improving the lives of those affected with anxiety disorders is a vision that has become central to his work as director of ADC, Norton said.

The facility opened in 2004 and continues to serve as a specialty treatment and research clinic on the University’s campus. Norton’s team studies a number of anxiety disorders.

‘The research we do on anxiety disorders reaches all across the board, from phobias to obsessive compulsive disorder to social anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder,’ Norton said.

‘ Located in the Psychological Research and Services Center, the clinic is open to anyone in need (from the UH community to the general population). The clinic provides low cost, state-of-the-art behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders.

The clinic is also the site of research for several anxiety disorders and where investigations are made about how to improve available treatments. It serves as the training site for clinical psychology graduate students.

He said statistics have consistently shown that 15 to 20 percent of the population will have an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Norton’s research is advancing treatment options and advocating for those who may develop the disorder.

The ADC is located in the Psychological Research and Services Center at 4505 Cullen Blvd. For more information, call (713) 743-8600.

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