Marita Campos-Melady
Marita Campos-Melady

Marita Campos-Melady grew up in Santa Fe and saw firsthand the ravages of drug abuse on the community. A 2002 graduate of Santa Fe High School, nearly half of her classmates dropped out before their senior year. She earned a Ph.D. in psychology from UNM this summer. Her research and her work is in science-based psychology to treat substance abusers and people with eating disorders.

Campos-Melady earned an undergraduate degree in psychology and English from Williams College in Massachusetts. She came to UNM for graduate work.

“UNM has the best cohort of substance abuse professors in psychology,” she said, especially acknowledging the support she received from Professor Jane Ellen Smith “She has an amazing mind. She was one of the first female psychology professors at UNM and is now chair. She is recognized for her work in the Community Reinforcement Approach,” Campos-Melady said.

And it was through Smith that Campos-Melady came to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation when they were seeking students for their first cohort. “RWJF appealed to me because of its interdisciplinary approach. My research went along with the goals of the center on health strategy. Their emphasis on research influencing health policy inspired me. Getting the word out through the press and publications in other fields is important for change to happen,” she said.

She added that RWJF supported her academically, financially and personally. “They were foundational in getting me through my degree,” she said.

In her dissertation, Campos-Melady explored the Community Reinforcement Approach and its link to therapists' treatment protocols and successful outcomes. “It is science-based psychological treatment,” she said. Both eating disorders and substance abuse patients face some of the same issues. “Substance abusers face legal issues, but both groups experience the same stigma of moral failure,” she said.

“Some evidence-based treatments can be completed in 10-16 weeks. The Community Reinforcement Approach gives individuals relief and the opportunity to feel normal through social connections. They learn to replace the feeling of high with positive things so that sobriety isn't a lonely, white-knuckle experience. It teaches them that life is more rewarding than substance abuse,” Campos-Melady said.

She explained that the process of addiction is a chain of events. “They become disconnected from friends and family. We work to reconnect them, helping them through communication and job skills so they can build a positive foundation not to use,” she said.

Campos-Melady said that through CRAFT, or Community Reinforcement and Family Training, the family learns to change its responses to substance abusers. The program helps them become like behavioral therapists to reinforce not using and encourage their family member into treatment.

“Many treatment programs rely on willpower or negative consequences of substance use. At the UNM Psychology Clinic, treatment is delivered by graduate students under the guidance of faculty, who are professional experts. They conduct motivational interviewing, Community Reinforcement Approach, and Integrated Behavioral Couples Therapy,” she said.

Campos-Melady advises asking therapists about their treatment philosophy. “Ask if it is evidenced based and whether or not they've had success with people with the same issues,” she said.

The science-based psychology approach works. “Treatment based on evidence could help a lot of people with substance about and eating disorders. Behavioral changes can work as well as or better than medical intervention,” Campos-Melady said.

Regarding eating disorders, self-perception is a problem. They first need to be helped to eat normally and then build other coping skills to maintain diet and weight. “Health professionals don't do a good job. The majority who attend treatment return to eating disorders. Through behavioral therapy, change is attainable,” she said, adding that lack of support is often an obstacle.

Campos-Melady spent the last year in an internship in the Veterans Administration Hospital in Albuquerque. “I am working in behavioral medicine, integrating psychology in a medical care setting,” she explained. She said she would like to stay in New Mexico and likes working in the VA environment. “I want to continue to research, but also stay in the game as a clinician. Good ideas come from it that I can use in a broader way,” she said.