Forneris receives Mary G. Clarke Award

Catherine Forneris, PhD, ABPP, professor of psychiatry, received this annual award from North Carolina Psychological Association. The award honors a psychologist for outstanding contributions to psychology in North Carolina over a number of years.

Forneris receives Mary G. Clarke Award click to enlarge Dr. Cathy Forneris, PhD, ABPP

The Mary G. Clarke Award was established by the North Carolina Psychological Association in 1983. It honors career contributions that reflect the qualities of dedication, competence, high ethical standards, advocacy for the field of psychology, and sensitivity exemplified by Mary G. Clarke. Dr. Clarke was the first recipient of NCPA’s distinguished service award, and the award was named after her when presented to her in 1983. Dr. Clarke passed away in November of 1997.  

This year is the 31st year since the award was established.

About Dr. Forneris
Catherine A. Forneris, PhD, ABPP, received her master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from SUNY-Albany She came to North Carolina in 1996 as a Pre-Doctoral Research Assistant at UNC and has never left. Nominator Dr. Steve Mullinix said that he first met Dr. Forneris at NCPA’s 50th anniversary conference. He noted, “Little did I know that she would go on to develop an extensive track record of research, clinical experience, program management and public advocacy for a broad demographic of those needing relief from abuse, trauma and family violence.”  

He also said that as he was catching up on professional reading he found an article co-authored by Dr. Forneris that was the feature story for the July, 2013, issue of the “Research Newsletter” from the US Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality.  Here she was succinctly and cogently explaining the effectiveness of various psychotherapies for the prevention and treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder through her collaborative project with the RTI-International – University of North Carolina Evidence Based Practice Center.  

Clearly, Dr. Forneris is one of those rare psychologists who engages practice in its many settings and venues. And one rarely gets to see them all. When you talk to various colleagues from NCPA, what you hear is that Dr. Forneris performs each of her roles with the utmost professionalism, competence, commitment to service and humility.

While you may get to know Dr. Forneris in one capacity, her work is multifaceted.

In the world of clinical work, training and teaching, she is best known for providing expert Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Dialectic Behavior Therapy, and she directs the training program for the latter in the Department of Psychiatry at UNC. At UNC Hospitals, she has taught the theory, method and clinical practice of cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy in a variety of settings and formats to psychiatry residents, psychology interns, graduate students, and clinicians from a variety of professional backgrounds. A clinical psychology graduate student provided this perspective:

“She effectively teaches therapeutic strategies, healthy boundaries, and work-life balance through direct instruction, invaluable modeling, and sometimes just a few keen observations that quickly address the core of an issue at hand. As students, we leave feeling respected, supported, and challenged in ways that greatly contribute to our development as clinical psychologists.”

Dr. Forneris has also been active in teaching and training activities across the state, particularly as a presenter for the NC Area Health Education Centers.

In addition to her clinical and training work, Dr. Forneris keeps an active research program in her portfolio and has also contributed to book chapters and research articles. She’s involved as an investigator with several major grant projects at UNC Hospitals studying women’s mood disorders, HIV/AIDS, and the study mentioned above with RTI evaluating psychotherapy and medication treatments for Major Depressive Disorder. Her own book chapters and research articles from the mid-90s through the present cover a range of topics from prevention of PTSD in trauma survivors to issues for women veterans, women subject to domestic violence and motor vehicle accident victims.

Dr. Forneris has served as Co-Director of the Beacon Child and Family Program at UNC Hospitals since 2006. The program provides comprehensive, coordinated care to UNC Health Care System's patients, families, and employees experiencing a variety of family violence. It provides medical and psychological assessments, counseling, and education for patients. Any patient who has experienced fear, physical danger, threats, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, or other violence is eligible. Dr. Forneris has been a major organizer of the Center’s annual fund-raising event for a number of years.

In her spare time, Dr. Forneris completed paralegal training and obtained her certification with the North Carolina State Bar.  She is currently enrolled in the part-time evening Law School Program at NC Central University.   

As noted at the start, Dr. Forneris is an individual you may get to know in one of the many aspects of her career. As you can see, the sum of the parts adds up to a psychologist whose contributions are academic and applied and certainly reflect the qualities of dedication, competence, high ethical standards, advocacy for the field of psychology, and sensitivity exemplified by Mary Clarke.  

About the Mary G. Clarke Award
After graduating from Woman’s College in 1940, Dr. Clarke obtained a master’s degree at the University of Minnesota in 1943. She earned her doctoral degree from Duke University’s Department of Psychology in 1954. Despite personal losses during this period and the challenges of pursuing a professional career as a woman of that time, Dr. Clarke went on to a distinguished career as one of the most well-known and influential early psychologists in the state.

In 1956, Dr. Clarke was appointed to the faculty in the UNC-Chapel Hill departments of Psychiatry and Psychology, and went on to serve as the head of the Psychology Department and Director of Clinical Training at N.C. Memorial Hospital for many years. Following passage of the Practicing Psychologists Licensing Act in 1967, she served as the first Chair of the North Carolina Board of Examiners of Practicing Psychologists and held license number one.  

Her professional achievements were numerous, and those colleagues, students, and friends interviewed for an article in The North Carolina Psychologist consistently remarked in the most glowing terms on her ability to blend her acute scholarly skills with a caring and insightful personal style. She was described as a positive, giving person who made you feel you had her full attention, and she was always willing to do whatever she could to help others go beyond where they thought they could go. In person, she was petite, gentle, and soft spoken, with a quiet sense of humor. But her “humble and understated” manner masked a sharp, focused mind and clinical skills that left many of her students and colleagues alike “in awe” of her – they adored her.  

Dr. Mary G. Clarke not only represents the best of NCPA’s first 50 years, her life and contributions continue to serve as a model for those still working to define, redefine, and integrate roles as clinician, supervisor, administrator, and activist.