Adrian Aguilera

In Funded Scholars
Adrian Aguilera
Adrian Aguilera




Assistant Professor
University of California, Berkeley – School of Social Welfare

Professional Bio

Adrian Aguilera, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley. He was previously a postdoctoral fellow in the NIMH (T32) funded Clinical Services Research Training Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH). He also completed a clinical psychology internship at the San Francisco VA. He graduated from Stanford University (B.A.) in 2002 and received his master’s (2006) and doctoral degree (2009) in Clinical Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Aguilera’s research has focused on studying the influence of culture, community and SES on mental health along with developing interventions to address health disparities in low-income and minority populations. His dissertation examined how acculturation moderates the influence of negative family factors in the course of schizophrenia for Mexican-Americans. Dr. Aguilera’s current work has focused on the utilization of mobile technology to improve mental healthcare for underserved populations to reduce health disparities. He is currently developing and testing a text-messaging adjunct to group cognitive behavioral therapy in English and Spanish that is aimed at increasing treatment adherence and improving outcomes.

Project Description

This project is relevant to the Quality/Equality team’s focus on developing innovative ways to engage patients with their health care providers. The project will continue the development of an automated text-messaging adjunct to improve depression treatment among low-income, ethnic minority (including Spanish speakers) populations. Poor adherence to depression treatments (psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy) limits their effectiveness in community settings. Problems with adherence are especially pronounced in low-income settings. Innovative and cost-effective methods are needed to improve adherence to treatments and maximize mental health resources. Mobile phone based text messaging (or short messaging service: SMS) is a ubiquitous technology that has been used in various health applications across socioeconomic status. This technology has the potential to increase the fidelity of mental health treatments via increased adherence. The proposed research project will test whether adding an automated SMS adjunct to group cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for depression can increase adherence (homework adherence, attendance, medication adherence) in order to improve the quality of care in public sector settings.  The SMS adjunct will 1) prompt patients to monitor mood, thoughts and behaviors, 2) will provide medication and appointment reminders and 3) will send personalized CBT based tips. The information that patients provide will be used within the clinical setting to highlight interrelations between thoughts, behaviors and symptoms. Funding will be used to 1) fund the my time (25%) to work on the project, 2) pay for consultation from a software developer, 3) pay for a part time research assistant, 4) and support travel to conferences and training.

My New Connections Experience

It is a laudable goal to work for the betterment of underserved communities but it is equally important to apply solid science and rigorous methodologies in addressing problems facing these communities. The desire to address these difficult problems is not enough. Instead, the desire must be combined with innovation to make true, lasting, and positive change. The New Connections program provides support and an opportunity to learn not only from leaders in the field of health research, but also, people have had similar life experiences to mine. Being a researcher from a minority & low-income background, I have experienced challenges beyond
the requirements of obtaining advanced degrees. Throughout these challenges, mentors have guided me and helped me find confidence in myself to succeed. It is a privilege to be surrounding by successful researchers who are established and to meet a cohort of new investigators undergoing similar challenges. I am very excited about the prospect of beginning a relationship with the New Connections program and with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation more broadly. In looking for funding opportunities, I have inevitably been led to RWJF grant announcements. I have realized that my career goals and those of RWJF are closely linked and I would be honored to join the ranks of the Foundation’s grantees. The combination of cutting edge science targeted toward improving the lives of disadvantaged and underserved populations is necessary to reduce and ultimately eliminate health disparities.

The New Connections program will help me conduct innovative research and gain access to others involved in cutting edge science, hopefully leading to future collaborations addressing some of the most difficult scientific and public health problems.

Research Interests

My research focuses on understanding the role that culture and socioeconomic status play in mental health and using that knowledge to develop and disseminate innovative and effective interventions to underserved populations. My current research is primarily focused on utilizing mobile phones and text messaging in particular as an adjunct to cognitive behavioral therapy for depression in public sector clinics serving both English and Spanish speakers. This research aims to improve adherence to treatments using cost effective means and to improve the overall quality of care that is provided in resource limited settings.

The Details
  • New Connections Status: Junior Investigator
  • Award Year: 2011
  • RWJF Team/Portfolio: Quality/Equality
  • Project Name:
    Automated Text Messaging to Improve Depression Treatment for Low-Income Populations

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