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Emma Černis

Dr Emma Černis is a clinical psychologist in Professor Daniel Freeman’s Oxford Cognitive Approaches to Psychosis (O-CAP) research group. She is the trial coordinator of Dr Felicity Waite’s SleepWell trial, and has recently completed a DPhil funded by a Wellcome Trust Clinical Doctoral Fellowship on the topic of dissociation in psychosis.

Tell us a little about yourself, and what attracted you to studying/working at the University of Oxford?  

Ever since my undergraduate degree in the Experimental Psychology Department, I’ve been in Oxford in one way or another. I worked as a research assistant in Daniel Freeman’s team when he first joined the department, and completed my clinical psychology qualification ‘over the carpark’ at the Oxford Institute of Clinical Psychology Training before re-joining O-CAP for my DPhil. Safe to say the city feels like home now! 

What is your vision for the team/project/research you study/work with?

My research is about dissociation. In my DPhil I defined a key subset of dissociative experiences that featured a ‘felt sense of anomaly’ and began identifying their underlying psychological factors. I would love to continue this work. The next steps would be developing a cognitive model and piloting a psychological intervention. The ‘big picture’ vision is ultimately about improving care for people with depersonalisation and dissociation – these experiences are incredibly under-recognised clinically. 

What is currently at the top of your To-Do List?

Meeting the recruitment target for the SleepWell trial – a feasibility trial for 14 to 25-year-olds with sub-clinical psychosis symptoms who want to improve their sleep via a CBT talking therapy. (And applying for a postdoctoral fellowship to continue my dissociation research!)

How did you get to where you are today?

The straightforward answer is that I followed a pretty straight line of psychology from undergrad, through an MSc at King’s College London, and into clinical training and research. But as a ‘first generation’ university student, and the granddaughter of Lithuanian immigrants, this is a multi-layered question for me. What really got me here was a combination of hard work and sacrifice on my family’s part; luck, privilege, hard work, and probably a little over-ambition on my part; and a lot of amazing people who have generously helped and guided me along the way. 

Who or what inspires you?

What motivates me in clinical research is the chance to make a real and meaningful change to improve people’s lives. So, at the risk of sounding cheesy, Daniel [Freeman] and his whole team really inspire me. The O-CAP research group holds an almost radically person-centred approach, whilst aiming for the highest-quality precision science. That ethos comes directly from Daniel, and it’s something I’ve seen with my own eyes making a real difference in the world – I hope to be able to take that approach into my own research group one day. 

If you were not in your study programme/job currently, what would you like to be doing?

If they ever need a clinical psychologist with niche complex mental health expertise in Formula 1, I will be on the next plane!