Psychology Professor to Lead Society for Prevention Research

By Jenn O’Hanlon

UTEP News Service

Intending to study mechanical engineering as an undergraduate, Felipe Castro, Ph.D., found himself reading his roommate’s abnormal psychology textbook. Fascinated, he found that psychology is where he belonged. Since then, he has taught at The University of California, Los Angeles; San Diego State University; and Arizona State University, and is currently mining minds at The University of Texas at El Paso.

“I started off thinking I would be a psychotherapist when in reality I became a research investigator,” Castro said. “I was interested in looking at issues of stress, coping and addiction in human populations. I started with treatment options and eventually moved on to prevention.”Psychology Professor Felipe Castro, Ph.D., was elected Society for Prevention Research president elect. Photo by Laura Trejo/UTEP News ServicePsychology Professor Felipe Castro, Ph.D., was elected Society for Prevention Research president elect. Photo by Laura Trejo/UTEP News Service

Castro was recently elected Society for Prevention Research (SPR) president elect. His two-year presidency will begin June 1, 2013. Castro is the director of UTEP’s health psychology program and works closely with the University’s Hispanic Health Disparities Research Center.

The Society for Prevention Research is an organization dedicated to advancing scientific investigation on the etiology and prevention of social, physical and mental health, and on the translation of that information to promote health and well-being. The multi-disciplinary membership of SPR is international and includes scientists, practitioners, advocates, administrators and policymakers with an interest in prevention science.

“Dr. Castro will be an outstanding president for SPR and an excellent academic ambassador from UTEP to that organization,” said Pat Witherspoon, Ph.D., dean of UTEP’s College of Liberal Arts. “A leader in his discipline, as well as a new leader at UTEP, he embodies the kind of scholar who guides universities as they become national research universities. We are very proud to have him in the College of Liberal Arts as an important change agent.”

Castro earned his master’s in social work from The University of California, Los Angeles and his doctorate in clinical psychology from The University of Washington.

In his research, he identifies the risk and protective factors keeping humans from getting involved in behaviors that can lead to disease or illness. He seeks to find ways to prevent illness like cancer, diabetes and substance abuse by learning how these events happen and developing tailored preventive interventions. Doing something to stop a naturally occurring process from becoming dangerous to a person or causing an illness often rids the need to treat a patient, he said.

“It is important to take a systemic approach to my research,” Castro said. “Working on risk factors from several fronts proves to yield the best outcomes, as no single variable changes risk behaviors.”

In addition to his prevention research, Castro also studies resilience in humans. He is interested in helping people to be resilient either initially or once they have had a difficult life event.

“By learning what stress and coping look like in response to a major life stressor, we can discover how people deal with those stressors from the inside out,” Castro said. “The goal is always to develop an intervention that promotes resilience, which is defined as the ability to bounce back after adversity.”

Castro has been involved with SPR since 2000. As associate editor for the magazine that is the voice for prevention research, Prevention Science, he focuses on promoting the cultural factors in research, including race, ethnicity and gender.

During his time as president of SPR, Castro intends to work with members of Congress to promote prevention science issues. He says the challenges are large due to budget cuts, but that prevention is imperative.

“Prevention is better than a cure,” Castro said. “It is clear to us that to prevent addiction with science is the best way, and the tools we have need to be put on the table so grant funding can be applied.”

Making prevention science a household idea is important to Castro. He thinks it is vital to break a negative cycle with solutions that are proven to work. He believes in tested and effective interventions that are validated by rigorous scientific research. By adapting interventions to local culture, the needs of the local community are met.

“Dr. Felipe Castro brings academic strengths about cultural issues that are of paramount importance to UTEP and to the Paso del Norte border community,” said Eddie Castañeda, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at UTEP. “He fits perfectly with borderland issues about cultural factors and their influences upon health-related outcomes, with emphasis on acculturation, family traditions, ethnic pride and resilience. His expertise will facilitate cross-disciplinary collaborations, engage the community and enhance the University’s capacity to train our students to give back to the community by helping to pipeline them to advanced careers in research and service. It is particularly exciting that his arrival at UTEP brings a focus on so many issues directly relevant to El Paso’s population.”

Through his involvement with SPR, Castro said he hopes to increase UTEP’s visibility within the organization.

“I am proud to represent UTEP in this capacity,” Castro said. “As the first Mexican-American to serve as president for SPR, I am delighted. My election as president will provide national visibility to UTEP within the important field of prevention science. This will offer new opportunities for UTEP faculty, graduate and undergraduate students to participate in and contribute to the development of prevention science.”