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Top fully funded PhD programs in Psychology focused on sexual trauma and abuse in minority populations

June 10, 20248 min read

Start here if you’re looking for the best programs in Psych to study sexual trauma within minority populations

Psychologists play a large role in helping communities through trauma, and many psychologists are looking to gain training in programs with a specific focus on trauma topics within minority populations they hope to serve.

Most psychology PhD programs (not PsyD) are fully-funded. However, each psychology department at each school has a different flavor and different focus areas. A focus on trauma and/or minority identities and/or racial trauma generally fall within a “Clinical”, “Behavioral”, “Social”, or “Women’s and Gender Studies” sub-group within the psychology department. 

Below, we’ll describe top fully-funded psychology programs that have faculty with deep expertise in the field of sexual trauma within minority populations. When you’re looking for ideal PhD programs, you want to make sure they have faculty and a robust ecosystem working on the topics you want to work on. Hence, this list of programs with just that. Many other programs exist in this space, but we’re highlighting our top 9.

1. Boston College Counseling Psychology

Boston College Counseling Psychology program is APA accredited and guarantees full funding for 4 years. They have a long history of supporting and encouraging their students in social justice with research, clinical work and outreach. 

Many faculty in this department work on sexual trauma, race, and social justice research. Professor Dr. Lisa Goodman focuses on intimate partner violence and how survivors use social networks for healing. Professor M. Brinton Lykes focuses on how to support mental health and human rights, mostly for women, in many international and minority communities. Professor Dr. Alex Pieterse works on race based trauma and health impacts. 

Dr. Pieterse is also the director of the Institute for the Study of Race and Culture. If you were considering going to this program as a PhD student, you want to have as many centers and people doing the work you care about as possible, and this school has plenty of great researchers to help you create your best work.

2. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Clinical Psychology

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Clinical Psychology program is accredited by the APA and ranks high in many school rankings. They seek to train scientist-practitioners who will conduct research and work with patients. The PhD program is fully funded, and practices a “junior colleague” model to encourage doctoral students to be included and trained as future colleagues.

Professor Dr. David Dilillo leads the Violence Intervention for Survivors of Trauma and Abuse (VISTA) research lab, and researches how to inform prevention, intervention and treatment efforts.  Professor Dr. Susan Rosowski also researches how to improve mental health within relationship processes. The Trauma Recovery Clinic is also on-site at UNL and offers ways for doctoral students to gain experience working with these types of clients.

3. University of Michigan Clinical Science Psychology

The University of Michigan Clinical Sciences PhD program is APA accredited and has a long history in the areas of trauma, gender psychology and diversity. PhD students are fully funded and can choose to participate in a joint degree program focused on education, social work, or women’s and gender studies. This program guarantees 5 years of full funding support to new PhD students.

The diverse team at UofM researches emotional health and trauma in many contexts. Professor Dr. Sara McClelland focuses on gender and feminist psychology, sex and sexuality as well as how mis-measurements and unintended biases can influence how these phenomena are studied and reported. Professor Dr. Craig Rodriguez-Seijas researches gender minority populations and trauma and impacts on mental health also with a lens of how race impacts outcomes. Professor Dr. Sandra Graham-Bermann’s work focuses on trauma and family violence and how mental health is impacted within diverse groups.

4. University of Massachusetts-Amherst Psychological and Brain Sciences

The UMass-Amherst’s Psychological and Brain Sciences department offers fully funded roles to their PhD students and the department is APA accredited. With a dedicated research lab focused on understanding the effects of domestic violence and trauma in diverse populations (the Violence & Trauma Across the Lifespan (ViTAL) Lab), UMass-Amherst is a leading psychology research group in this space.  Additionally, the Family Relationships, Affective Science, & Minority Health (FAM) Lab researches mental health impacts from people from diverse racial backgrounds. The Psychotherapy Research Lab also offers PhD students the chance to gain experience and research how to improve in-patient processes to improve treatment outcomes.

Professor Dr. Maria Galano researches how early-life exposure to violence affects mental health and development in diverse populations. She also directs the ViTAL lab. Professor Dr. Lisa Harvey examines racial and ethnic differences in parenting and child behaviors, and emotional regulation. Professor Dr. Christopher Martell researches psychotherapy treatment development and outcomes, and has focused on sexual minority groups. Dr. Maureen Perry-Jenkins focuses on socio-cultural factors (e.g, race, ethnicity, gender, class) affect mental health and relationships.

5. Teachers College Columbia University Counseling and Clinical Psychology

Teachers College Columbia University has been a leader in psychology, and continues to be a prestigious and well connected PhD program. PhD students are fully funded and the program is APA accredited. The community focus and social justice lens make this a great program for those interested in research trauma and interventions. A long history of conducting research in this space makes Teachers College a leader in research on trauma and emotional well being studies.

Professor Dr. George Bonanno leads the Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab where they have been researching how trauma affects outcomes for the past 25 years. Professor Dr. Melanie Brewster co-leads the Sexuality, Women, & Gender Project where they focus on gender identity, prejudice, minority stress and how sexual identity and race impact consequences of violence.

6. Georgia State University Community Psychology

The Community Psychology department at Georgia State University offers a concentration in clinical-community (CLC) that aligns with research focused on trauma and sexual/racial trauma and how to improve outcomes for individuals and communities. Georgia State offers PhD students full funding, and also awards a doctoral fellowship in trauma intervention

Multiple researchers work together at Georgia State to address research on trauma and impacts across diverse populations. Professor Dr. Sierra Carter researches racial health disparities and stressors on mental and physical health outcomes. She runs the Health Equity, AGency, Racism & Trauma research group which examines how oppression and racism affect psychosocial and health outcomes. Drs. Kevin Swartout and Sarah Cook conduct research on network influences on sexual violence, bystander interventions, and typologies of sexual violence perpetrators. They lead the Violence Against Women Prevention Research team.

7. City University of New York Critical Social/Personality Psychology

The City University of New York (CUNY) Critical Social/Personality Psychology department is situated in New York and in a very diverse community, and they take full advantage of this cornucopia of influences and people to interact and work with. Many PhD students work on community-based research projects and can diversify their interests within many groups of people. Full funding is not guaranteed, but most PhD students receive five-year funding packages (see funding info here).

Professor Dr. Susan Opotow’s work focuses on how justice and injustice is directed at marginalized groups. Professor Dr. Valentina Nikulina researches the impact of child abuse and sexual abuse so we can improve effective interventions. Professor Dr. Danielle Berke examines resilience in those who experience sexual violence and focuses on sexual and gender minorities.

CUNY also has many graduate centers which will help PhD students strengthen their research ideas, such as the Center of African AMerican and Caribbean Diaspora and the Gender-Based Violence Lab.

8. University of Missouri-St. Louis Clinical Psychology

The University of Missouri-St. Louis Clinical Psychology PhD program offers fully funded positions to their PhD students. This program takes a scientist-practitioner approach, where they train their psychologists to become both practitioners and researchers. Other programs may take a clinical science approach where more of a focus is placed on clinical research and less on becoming practicing clinicians working with patients day-to-day. The PhD program is affiliated with a specialty clinic, the Center for Trauma Recovery, which will be an excellent resource to take advantage of during your PhD.

Dedicated teams and research groups work together to create meaningful work and outcomes related to evidence based interventions for trauma and other psychological disorders. Professor Dr. Rachel Wamser's research focuses on trauma exposure on children and adults and evidence-based trauma-focused interventions. She leads the Trauma, Hope, Resiliency and Interventions for Victims of Adverse Experiences research group which explores gun violence, traumatic stress, race perceptions and PTSD. Professor Dr. Steven Bruce leads the Center for Trauma Recovery and researches how to treat PTSD and how resource-limited regions can improve their trauma informed care.

9. University of Pennsylvania Psychology

The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) psychology program offers fully funded PhD positions to their students. While it is unclear if UPenn researches specific minority populations from their website, it is clear they study a range of emotional issues and focus on different populations for different studies.

The diverse faculty at UPenn make an excellent place to dive deeper into nuanced research topics on emotional regulation, and impacts of race, gender, and class on mental health outcomes. Professor Dr. Dara Jaffee researches at-risk families and children and how stressful or traumatic environments affect development. Professor Dr. Ayelet Meron Ruscio examines mental disorders and how emotional disturbance impacts a person’s lifespan. Professor Dr. Rebecca Waller researches antisocial behavior and empathy and how environmental stress affects child development.


These universities all have robust and strong research groups focused on understanding and improving mental health outcomes for those facing trauma, racial discrimination, and other impacts to minority groups. 

If you’re interested in applying successfully to these and other PhD programs, take this short quiz to determine your competitiveness and learn how to improve your odds of getting in and fully funded.

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