“I divide my time between research and working directly with the children our research will impact,” explains Dr. Sara Ahola Kohut. “I get to see what affects these kids and what bothers them, then bring that knowledge back into the research.”
A paediatric psychologist by training, Dr. Kohut also cares for children and youth within the Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Centre at SickKids. Her research aims to develop psychosocial interventions for children and youth with chronic health conditions.
Dr. Kohut’s work bridges naturally to the MPA’s demonstration projects, which are running in collaboration with programs across SickKids, Trillium Health Partners, and community partners. As an MPA Clinician-Scientist, she provides research counsel to these projects. This includes everything from initial study protocol and design to knowledge translation of the findings.
With Dr. Danielle Ruskin, a psychologist in the SickKids’ Chronic Pain Program, Dr. Kohut is also co-investigator of a demonstration project studying mindfulness interventions for children with chronic pain. Chronic pain affects as many as three million Canadian youth, compromising their quality of life. This demonstration project is the first large controlled study of a mindfulness intervention for these youth. It aims to teach mindfulness techniques to help them cope with their pain.
Dr. Kohut is also leading a study looking at providing mindfulness and acceptance-based interventions online to teens with IBD, in order to improve access to these patients, wherever they are.
“We have to try to keep these children socially engaged. We need to help them keep doing the things that they want to be doing,” says Dr. Kohut. “By teaching them self –management skills, they can learn to better cope with symptoms and, in turn, do what is important to them like go to school and see their friends. We want to do this for children before they get to a point where they have to manage both a physical and mental illness at the same time.”
Another demonstration project is focused on optimizing mental health outcomes for children with early brain injury. To date, there has been little research informing clinical care and interventions for these patients. The group leading this project, which includes SickKids neuropsychologist Dr. Trish Williams, worked with Dr. Kohut when developing a new tool called the Parent Experiences Questionnaire, in order to assess the experiences and needs of families following neonatal brain injury.
“We hope that these MPA child and youth demonstration projects will help us identify approaches and interventions that will show promise of implementation on a large scale in a sustainable way,” says Dr. Antonio Pignatiello, MPA Director of Child, Youth and Family Health and the Associate Psychiatrist-in-Chief at SickKids. “Already, these projects have allowed us to develop partnerships internally and externally in the child and youth health system that we would not otherwise have had
When Dr. Sara Ahola Kohut isn’t caring for young patients in her clinic, she’s providing scientific expertise to more than 16 MPA child and youth demonstration projects. These projects are aimed at finding innovative ways to care for children with both physical and mental health needs.