Rachel Williamson, Ph.D.

Rachel Williamson, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Clinical Psychology

Home Department: Psychology
Office: Skaggs 203
Fax: (406) 243-6366

Current Position

Assistant Professor, Clinical Psychology

I plan on accepting a graduate student to begin Fall 2022. Please reach out via email for more information. 


Fall 2021:
PSYX 551 Advanced Personality


Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, Palo Alto University (2017 - predoctoral internship completed with the Alaska Psychology Internship Consortium at Norton Sound Health Corporation)
M.S., Clinical Psychology, Palo Alto University (2015)
B.A., Psychology, Minor: English, University of Alberta (2011)

Research Interests

My research interests focus primarily on the application of existential theory and social psychological theories of meaning-making to psychological trauma. Although clinical conceptualizations of trauma, i.e., PTSD, are often included in my work, I am most interested in studying symbolic trauma. This involves the examination of situations and experiences that are impactful, not necessarily due to a literal threat to one's safety, but because of a threat to one's existential security. I view my research program as theory-based and with an emphasis on applied statistical modeling. By attending to the influence of statistical choices on theory development and paradigm design, both the precision and possibilities of research increases, and isn’t that exciting! 

I have begun expanding research practices to reflect feminist methodologies and plan to continue incorporating qualitative data collection and practices that are inclusive and community-centered in future projects. Collaborations with students and colleagues, locally and internationally, are important components of my research program. The diversity that students and other collaborators bring to the research process is a resource and a strength—I am always happy to merge my interests and skillset, when appropriate, to support specific topics meaningful to my students and colleagues.   


Ongoing Projects (not exhaustive)

Global Collaboration on Traumatic Stress: Ongoing research collaborations with academics and clinicians from around the world on projects related to cross-cultural experiences of traumatic stress (e.g., current projects related to mental health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide:

Perpetrator Trauma: Ongoing research that builds on a developed theory of traumatic dissonance, which describes the socio-cognitive mechanisms responsible for traumatic responses to one's own act of perpetration (Williamson, Reed & Wickham, 2020). Traumatic Dissonance suggests that a violation of one’s symbolic source of self-esteem and meaning, without reconciliation, represents a traumatic experience that can produce significant psychological distress. This model supports existing research documenting the potential psychological impact of certain acts of perpetration but re-conceptualizes the phenomenon in terms of general existential motivations.

Feminist Existential Psychology: Ongoing line of inquiry aimed at expanding the current empirical literature within existential psychology to include underlying existential concerns specific to the gendered aspects of being. Much of the existing research related to gender within experimental existential psychology focuses on how others experience the female body, rather than on the experience of being in a female body. In such research, women remain objects to be related or reacted to, rather than subjects and owners of their own experience. Forthcoming paper (Williamson, Courtney, & Goldenberg) provides a step towards addressing this gap through the application of theory and findings from experimental existential psychology to the experience of women during the MeToo movement.

Teaching Experience

Full-time Faculty
St. Lawrence College, Kingston, Ontario (2018-2021): Statistics, Psychometrics, Personality Theory, Abnormal Psychology, Honors Thesis Supervision

Professional Experience

My clinical experience is largely based in community mental health, including homeless shelters in the San Francisco Bay Area and health clinics in remote Alaskan communities. Across these different sites, I have worked with a diverse population with a wide range of chronic and acute mental health problems, including, mood disorders, complex trauma, chronic suicidality, substance abuse, and psychosis.