Faculty Spotlight - Tierney Lorenz

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Tierney Lorenz


Tierney Kyle Lorenz Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

Date that you joined UNL: August 2018

Hometown: New York, NY

Describe your research and how it contributes to alleviating or understanding health disparities?
The Women, Immunity and Sexual Health (WISH) lab is dedicated to understanding the interactions between women’s mental, physical, and sexual and reproductive health. Our work focuses on how behaviors – including sexual and reproductive behaviors – influence the body’s hormones, immune system, and stress physiology. This is a critical part of understanding why women and sexual minorities are at disproportionate risk for experiencing chronic mental and physical health conditions. Another important part of our research is on ways to help women with mental and physical health disorders to have happy, healthy sexual lives. Very often, healthcare does not address the sexual and reproductive health needs of people with mental and physical health conditions; we aim to reduce this disparity by developing scientifically-backed, accessible, patient-centered strategies for improving sexual wellbeing in these populations.

What inspired you to study health disparities and/or your field or research?

I first got interested in reproductive health psychology because of a genuine fascination with how the mind and body interact, and intense frustration that sex and sexuality is so often left out of scientific research on stress and health. But as I started learning more and more about stress and health – and as I worked as a clinician helping survivors of sexual trauma to reclaim their lives and sexual wellbeing – I came to see how much of chronic mental and physical illness is due to exposure to systemic factors, like discrimination, poverty, and poor access to education and healthcare resources. So increasingly, our work has shifted to understanding how minority status (as a woman, a sexual minority, as a person with mental or physical disability) intersects with wellbeing.

How does your research contribute to your research area at MHDI?
A lot of my work is in folks with sexual trauma histories, who experience higher rates of mental and physical health problems. Also, much of our work investigates how sex and sexuality interact with immune function, hormones, and stress reactivity in ways that could contribute to women’s mental health. For example, we have found that sexual activity may direct how inflammation changes over the course of a menstrual cycle, which may contribute to inflammation-related mood symptoms that many women experience right before their period.

What advice would you give to incoming students (graduate or undergraduate) who are interested in studying health disparities?
Learn to think mechanistically. It is usually easier to see differences in health outcomes between groups of people, than to understand why those differences happen. Look for factors that cut across groups, and ask yourself how and why they lead to those outcomes. When we look for mechanisms we often find ways to connect research from different fields and that synergy can lead to incredible leaps forward.

What advice would you give to incoming faculty who are interested in health disparity research?
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate! The best way to learn more is by pairing up others who have complementary interests or skills. Reach out to the MHDI – we can help identify collaborators at UNL and other institutions who can help!

What would your colleagues/students be surprised to learn about you?
Growing up in NYC I relied on public transit, and even after I moved away I biked and bused everywhere for years because I was too scared of driving. But, in my thirties I bit the bullet and finally learned – and now I love driving and taking spontaneous road trips!

Learn more about Tierney Lorenz