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Newsletter | Fall 2021 | South Central MIRECC

SC MIRECC Affiliate Profile: Claire Houtsma, PhD

Dr. Claire Houtsma
Dr. Claire Houtsma

Tell us a bit about your educational and career background.

I received my PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi after completing my pre-doctoral internship at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System (SLVHCS) in 2020. Since completing my graduate training, I have been working as a Suicide Prevention Coordinator at SLVHCS and a Clinical Investigator with the SC MIRECC. I also hold an appointment as Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Tulane University School of Medicine.

What do you like about doing research with Veterans?

I love working with Veterans because they are eager and willing to participate in research, particularly if they believe their participation may help a fellow Veteran. The camaraderie among Service members and Veterans is such a moving and long-lasting bond that has been incredible to watch play out during research recruitment. It also helps develop strong partnerships for the type of community- and Veteran-engaged research I hope to continue doing in the future. It is really exciting when your research participants are as passionate as you are about suicide prevention.

Do you have any ongoing or upcoming studies or projects that you want to highlight?

I’m very excited about starting my Career Development Award (CDA-1). In this study, I will be evaluating the feasibility and acceptability of peer-delivered lethal means counseling among firearm-owning Veterans. Essentially, I’ll be training Veterans to talk with other Veterans in a non-confrontational manner about their reasons for their current firearm storage practices and the motivations they may have for storing their firearms more safely. Then, I’ll be asking both parties about how they felt this conversation went and whether it resulted in any changes in their firearm storage.

I also recently began a SC MIRECC Pilot Award project wherein I will examine the feasibility and acceptability of a suicide prevention intervention, Caring Contacts, among Veterans who recently separated from military service. Caring Contacts is a brief, non-demanding text-message based intervention that is used to provide messages of care and concern to individuals during periods of acute suicide risk. Given that the year following separation from military service is a high risk period for Veterans, this intervention may prove useful in mitigating risk. This will be the first study, to my knowledge, to examine the acceptability and initial utility of Caring Contacts among transitioning service members. If it is acceptable and demonstrates some initial utility, it would be exciting to formally evaluate the effectiveness of this intervention within this population.

How will you use your SC MIRECC affiliation to grow your research career?

The SC MIRECC has already helped me establish myself as an early career scientist. For example, the support, guidance, and resources offered by the MIRECC Implementation, Design and Analysis Support (MIDAS) strengthened my CDA-1 application, which ultimately helped me obtain funding for this project. Furthermore, the SC MIRECC Pilot Award I received has helped me dive into a new area of suicide prevention research, thereby creating networking opportunities within the SC MIRECC and beyond. I hope to continue working with the SC MIRECC in this way to pursue collaborations with other core researchers. Ultimately, it would be exciting to leverage these connections to launch a larger, multi-site study evaluating a suicide prevention intervention across VA facility anchor sites.

Are there any people who have played important roles in your professional development that you would like to mention?

I have many people to thank for helping me grow as a professional. First, my graduate school mentor, Dr. Mike Anestis, whose guidance has helped me develop my research skills and whose support has been invaluable. Second, the Assistant Chief and Chief of Psychology Service at SLVHCS, Dr. Laurel Franklin and Dr. Ken Jones. Without their confidence in me as a colleague and researcher, I would not have had the opportunity to continue research within the VA. Third, my research colleague, Dr. Amanda Raines. Dr. Raines showed me what a research career in VA could look like. Furthermore, her enthusiasm and drive continuously bolster my resolve and excitement for our work. Finally, my primary and secondary mentors from my Career Development Award, Dr. Gala True and Dr. Joseph Constans. Drs. True and Constans graciously incorporated me into their firearm suicide prevention research during my clinical internship year and have been amazing mentors ever since. Their support has been integral to my grant-related achievements and I have learned a great deal from them.

What would your dream research study be if funding weren’t an issue?

I would love to conduct a large, longitudinal study evaluating suicidal ideation and behaviors among individuals who join the military, regardless of their final disposition with regards to Veteran-status (e.g., discharged during basic training, Veteran but not within the VA system, etc.). By evaluating this broad range of individuals at baseline and following them for years afterwards, we may gain important insight into the various experiences and factors with the most robust impact on suicide risk. Furthermore, it may provide valuable information about which interventions are likely to reach which individuals, depending on their access to healthcare (e.g., no healthcare, VA-eligible, etc.).

Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you would like our readers to know about you or your work?

Although firearm suicide prevention is my main area of research focus, I am interested in examining interventions that target the most commonly used suicide methods within various populations. For instance, I have conducted some research with veterinarians which suggests that easier access to euthanasia medication poses similar risk to access to firearms among Veterans. This is an example of “practical capability for suicide” as defined by a modern theory of suicide (i.e., Three-Step Theory; Klonsky & May, 2015). I hope to continue examining how practical capability impacts various subgroups, as I believe this is vital to designing and tailoring interventions that will have the best chance for success.

How can people get in touch with you if they have questions?

My email address is, feel free to reach out!


Last updated: October 25, 2021