Child Clinical Psychology, University of Washington
Cohort Five Fellow

Academic Mentor
Katie McLaughlin
Department of Child Clinical Psychology, University of Washington

Policy Mentor
Lucy Berliner
Director, Harborview Center for Sexual Assault & Traumatic Stress

Research Interests
Childhood adversity; social cognition; cognitive neuroscience; adolescent psychopathology; intergenerational transmission of violence

Area of Expertise

Evidence-Based/Evidence-Informed Programs, Mental Health and Well-Being, Longitudinal Data Analysis, Regression Modeling, Structural Equation Models, Adolescents and Young Adults, Low-Income Families and Individuals, Preschool-aged Children, School-aged Children


Upon graduating from Dartmouth College in 2006, Charlotte Heleniak spent a year and a half as a youth counselor at a rural group home for adolescents. Following her time as a youth counselor, she provided support and legal information to survivors of domestic violence in the Brooklyn court system. These two clinical experiences inspired her to pursue research examining etiology and treatment of adolescent psychopathology. To this end, she began her work as a research assistant in the lab of Moira Rynn, MD, Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University, for two and a half years. In this role, Ms. Heleniak provided research and clinical support for a range of studies examining novel treatments for treatment-resistant pediatric psychiatric disorders. Currently, Ms. Heleniak is pursuing her Ph.D. in child clinical psychology at the University of Washington. Charlotte’s research as a graduate student in Dr. Kate McLaughlin’s Stress and Development Lab investigates how emotion regulation, social cognition, and the neural systems that support these processes serve as mechanisms linking childhood adversity with adolescent psychopathology.


Violence Exposure, Social Cognition and Aggression

The goal of this dissertation is to examine disruptions in social cognition processes underlying empathy, and neural function in brain regions that support these processes, as a potential pathway linking childhood interpersonal violence exposure to aggression in adolescents. To that end, it will examine the relation of interpersonal violence exposure with performance on social cognitive tasks of emotion recognition, cognitive and affective theory of mind, and moral reasoning, and how deficits in these domains are correlated with aggressive behavior. This conceptual model will be tested by acquiring self-report, behavioral, structural and functional MRI data in a sample of 13-17 year old teens, half with exposure to interpersonal violence and half without violence exposure. The proposed study builds on existing research on the cycle of violence by examining how childhood experiences of violence influence multiple social cognitive processes and neural function in the networks that support these processes in adolescents. Identifying these mechanisms will not only enhance knowledge of how violence exposure alters neural function in ways that might increase risk for aggression, but will also indicate possible targets for prevention efforts aimed at reducing risk of aggressive behavior in victimized children.