Meet The Researcher

Rebekah Davenport

Rebekah Allison Davenport

University of Melbourne

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
Undertaking my PhD simultaneous with a Master of Clinical Psychology and clinical practice does not naturally afford abundant leisure time but when I find it, I’ll be practicing yoga, scoping local wines, or travelling home to my family in Tasmania and walking the (quiet) beaches.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
In becoming a psychologist, my utmost inspiration has been those patients with MS. These individuals have provided me with insight into MS as a whole-body disease, with wide-reaching biopsychosocial effects. I have always been empathetically drawn to the complexities of psychological and medical comorbidity – particularly in the form of mood disorders and chronic inflammatory diseases. I am deeply interested in individuals’ stories – their experiences of disease, the process of meaning-making, and the cognitive and behavioural mechanisms which affect posttraumatic growth. Assisting others in understanding MS, and their MS, inspires me as developing scientist-practitioner and prompts clinical questions for research – e.g., “how, or through which mechanisms does an individual develop mood disturbances or sexual dysfunction?” and ultimately, “how can we improve functioning?”. Clinical research allows me to explore these questions, whilst applying findings to help individuals living with MS.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
The translation of research into efficacious disease modifying treatments has been profound. Further, the increasing awareness of depression and anxiety symptoms as predictors of negative prognostic factors has been significant, owing to a growing body of psychological research in MS, individuals sharing their stories, and the questions that health professionals are asking. More recently, increased research attention to sexual dysfunction in MS has been critical to understanding MS as a whole-body disease, significantly impacted by psychological factors, and acknowledging that the attribution of sexual dysfunction to disease features has been overestimated.
Tell us about your current research project...
My PhD focuses on understanding the psychological factors contributing to the development and maintenance of depression, anxiety and sexual dysfunction. These constitute highly prevalent symptoms in MS that have a range of life and disease altering complications but are misunderstood and often overlooked in research and clinical practice. Our aim is to investigate a range of psychological factors that may underlie these symptoms, with the hope of providing a more coherent understanding of these symptoms, improving existing transdiagnostic psychological interventions for depression and anxiety, and informing the development of targeted psychological treatments for sexual dysfunction.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
Rates of sexual dysfunction and clinical levels of depression and anxiety are higher in MS relative to the general population and various other disease populations. With known effects on suicidal ideation, general and sexual-related quality of life, infertility, MS-related hospitalisation and pain and fatigue, these symptoms have a significant burden on individuals living with MS. Our understanding of the psychological mechanisms maintaining these symptoms remains limited. There is no evidence-based model to inform existing transdiagnostic psychological interventions for depression and anxiety, and no psychological interventions exist for sexual dysfunction. This research may assist in developing models for understanding these symptoms and isolating important targets for intervention.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
Co-facilitating the Mood and Anxiety Disorders laboratory at The University of Melbourne, under the directorship of Dr. Litza Kiropoulos, offers me the opportunity to learn from others with diverse interests and expertise, and develop as a researcher in the context of a supportive environment. It is incredibly motivating to be around others that share a similar curiosity for the human mind. Further, having worked in a neuroimmunology clinic and other medical settings involved in the treatment of MS, I treasure learning from a multidisciplinary team of neurologists, nurses, other allied health professionals and patients with MS. One of my current challenges is balancing research and clinical work as a developing scientist-practitioner. However, having said that, developing and using skills in both of these areas is also the greatest privilege! The possible symbiosis of research and clinical practice is appealing to me.
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Rebekah Allison Davenport