Meet our Students: Chris Winkler

"Although there are effective treatments for anxiety... many people don't respond"
Chris Winkler is a practicing clinical psychologist who is undertaking a PhD to better understand how overcome fear through experiences in therapy.

Chris WinklerSupervisors: Professor Kim Felmingham & Professor Lisa Phillips

1. Tell us briefly about your research areas of interest, what prompted you to do a PhD in this area?

I am interested in how and why psychological therapy works for anxiety disorders.  I have been a practicing clinical psychologist for many years and love helping people with anxiety problems.  Anxiety is the most common mental health issue worldwide and it can be very life limiting.  Although there are effective treatments for anxiety, but many people don’t fully respond. We need to clarify how our treatments are working to then optimize therapy outcomes.  I wanted to be part of this effort and hopefully advance our understanding and treatment of anxiety.

2. Tell us about your PhD project. What is it about? What did you/do you hope to find?

I am investigating how we overcome fear and excessive anxiety through psychological therapy. Facing your fears is the cornerstone of most anxiety therapy and current theory suggests that we learn that situations are safe when we face them but discover that our fears don’t come true.  This is called “threat prediction error” in the scientific literature and we know it is linked to safety learning in laboratory-based research.  However, we don’t know whether it drives learning when studied in real world contexts like therapy.  I aim to test whether threat prediction error during therapy for anxiety is related to treatment outcomes.  This will tell us whether our best model of anxiety therapy is working as we think it is. If it isn’t then we will need to revise our understanding of what we are doing as therapists!

3. What is the most valuable thing that you have learned so far from doing a PhD at UoM?

I’ve learned a lot of things but the most valuable is how to be flexible, creative, and problem solve.  I started my project before COVID-19 and so I had to re-think everything and adapt the project on the fly to the new pandemic world.


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