Dr. Heidi Ellis studies refugee youth mental health, with a particular emphasis on understanding trauma exposure, violence, and how the social context impacts developmental trajectories.  For more than a decade she has built a Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) program with Somali refugees.  Through this research program she has investigated the role of discrimination in refugee youth mental health, and developed and evaluated a school-based mental health intervention for Somali refugee youth.  In response to national concerns that a small number of Somali refugee youth have travelled overseas to join violent extremist organizations, Dr. Ellis has also investigated how experiences post-resettlement may lead some youth to be more vulnerable to violent extremist ideology.   Through a Research Faculty Development pilot grant she identified that trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder and social marginalization place youth at risk for greater openness to violent extremism.  Building on this preliminary data, Dr. Ellis received funding from the National Institute of Justice and the Department of Defense Minerva Research Initiative, and currently is conducting a multi-site, international longitudinal study examining the role of trauma, mental health and social bonds in diverse developmental trajectories of young Somalis, including violent extremism, gang-involvement, criminality, and positive civic engagement.  She received additional funding to further conduct comparative analyses of processes leading to gang involvement vs. support for violent extremism.

Dr. Ellis is also the co-developer of Trauma Systems Therapy, a treatment model for traumatized children that explicitly addresses the interaction of social-environmental stressors with a child’s capacity to regulate emotions.  This model (Saxe, Ellis, and Kaplow 2006), has growing empirical support suggesting that it effectively engages families in treatment and reduces symptoms (e.g. Ellis, Fogler, Hansen et al., 2011; Saxe, Ellis, Fogler and Navalta, 2011).  Dr. Ellis works with clinicians and researchers from around the country to iteratively adapt, evaluate and disseminate Trauma Systems Therapy.  She also adapted the model for refugees (TST-R) (Ellis et al., 2011; Ellis et al., 2012); this model is now nationally and internationally recognized as one of few empirically-validated models of interventions for refugee youth Dr. Ellis also continues to lead the Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center (RTRC), a partner in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.  This Center is dedicated to developing and disseminating refugee child and family interventions. In partnership with other RTRC faculty members, Dr. Ellis is working to developing and adapt a web-based Refugee Services toolkit designed to assist providers from a variety of service sectors, adapt and disseminate Trauma Systems Therapy with Somali and Bhutanese refugees in locations around the country, develop and implement an innovative web-based intervention for refugee youth focused on promoting a positive social identity, analyze and disseminate findings related to refugee youth from a national database, and provide national leadership in the area of refugee trauma.


Dr. Heidi Ellis received her B.A. from Yale University, her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Oregon and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Ellis is currently the Director of the Refugee Trauma and Resilience at Boston Children’s Hospital  and an Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.