Heidi M. Levitt, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

Heidi M. Levitt, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Clinical Psychology program within the Department of Psychology at The University of Massachusetts Boston.  She is president of the Society of Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology, section of Division 5 of APA (Quantitative and Qualitative Methods). In addition, she has been an Associate Editor for the journals Psychotherapy Research and Qualitative Psychology She was awarded the Carmi Harari Research Award for Inquiry by the American Psychological Association’s Division 32 (Humanistic Psychology). Also, she has been awarded Fellow status by the American Psychological Association via Division 5 [Quantitative and Qualitative Methods], Division 29 [Psychotherapy], Division 32 [Society of Humanistic Psychology], and Division 44 [Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues]. 

In addition to her research, Dr. Levitt supervises and teaches students to conduct experiential therapies and is a licensed psychologist. She adopts an integrative approach to psychotherapy practice that is rooted in constructivist and humanistic psychotherapy orientations.  She conducts trainings and workshops on a variety of topics.  Please see the sidebar on this website for links to webpages about these activities as well as about her curriculum vita, research interest statement, publications, and a webpage for applicants to the Clinical Psychology Graduate Program.  

The following sections summarize her central areas of expertise:

Psychotherapy Research

In response to the extensive research that demonstrates equivalence across major psychotherapy orientations, Dr. Levitt has worked to shed light upon those psychotherapy experiences that undergird change across all therapy approaches.  In this programmatic line of mixed methods research, she has studied common factors such as significant moments, emotion, narrative, and silence within psychotherapy.   Throughout this work, she particularly pays attention to clients' experiences within the therapy process.  Although clients are estimated to contribute more variance within analyses of outcome than factors such as the psychotherapy orientation or the therapist, their experiences and theories of change are rarely considered and much of the history of psychotherapy research has focused sharply on therapists' theories of change.  In contrast, Dr. Levitt's work draws attention to the agentic role of clients as they intentionally make decisions about their engagement in change processes.  It points out how clients can hide their concerns, fears, insights, or decisions and can exert control over the therapy session without comment.  Within this body of work, she developed the Pausing Inventory Categorization System, which is a process measure that is uniquely empirically grounded.  It is based in qualitative research on clients’ experiences and has evidence of both client-rater and inter-rater reliability, an empirically derived sampling system, and has been associated with outcome in research using both efficacy and effectiveness databases.  Notably, she has promoted a strategy for forming sets of empirically-based principles grounded in qualitative research that guide therapists through critical issues common across therapy orientations and important to clients.  This work has made accessible clients’ internal experiences and therapists' unspoken intentions to guide therapists to better conceptualize and respond at decisional points within their sessions.    

LGBTQ Research

Dr. Levitt  has developed a mixed method program of research that has studied the construction and evolution of gender identities within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) cultures.   In this 20-year program of research, she has investigated the development and meanings of LGBTQ genders and the influence of these genders on issues such as discrimination and healthcare.  This body of work has been concerned with studying the historicity of these communities – examining how gender identities arise over time in relation to evolving social realities and the competing social understandings of gender (see Levitt & Ippolito, 2014 for an overview of this program of research).  Her empirically-based theory of LGBTQ gender speaks to the commingling of essential and constructed aspects of gender and to how genders are formed in relation to both mainstream heterosexual and LGBTQ communities. It asks why certain LGBTQ gender identities coalesce and thrive at certain points in time. This research highlights members of a community unite to claim sets of values in order to claim power and resist marginalization by larger groups.  It examines the foundation for the development of gender aesthetics that define desirability within a community, as these values are embodied and expressed materially.  In addition, using survey and qualitative research, she has documented sexual and intersection minority stressors and their effects, especially as they interact with gender identities and expressions and racial identities.

Qualitative Research

Within the field of psychology, Dr. Levitt has demonstrated national leadership in qualitative research methods in a number of ways.  In consultation and collaboration with experts from across qualitative methodological approaches in psychology, she has developed contributions that generate standards for evaluating, designing, and reporting qualitative research across qualitative methods.  She is Chair of the Task Force on Publishing Qualitative Research of the Society of Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology, a section of the American Psychological Association’s Division 5 [Quantitative and Qualitative Methods].  She created an APA film called, Recommendations for Reviewing Qualitative Research, to provide guidance for reviewers of APA journals via their Continuing Education Program  In addition, she is Chair of the working group to develop qualitative reporting standards for the upcoming edition of the APA Publication Manual, which will, for the first time, include guidelines for the reporting of qualitative methods in psychology.  Her writings guide researchers to appreciation the functions of methodological procedures, rather than to adopt cookbook approaches to methods.  As graduate education in qualitative research is only relatively recent, most of the reviewers and editors of psychological journals have not had access to qualitative methods education.  Given the role of qualitative research in developing pragmatic solutions to practical problems, promoting social justice and transformation, and facilitating the development and clarification of theories, understandings, or empirically-based hypotheses--especially from marginalized perspectives or on understudied topics--the development of guidelines can aid the field in many capacities.