Reg Williams, Ph.D.
“Helping people who suffer from depression develop their ‘sense of belonging,’ the idea that they are valued and have a place in society, is one of the most important things we can do to help them feel better.”
For Reg Williams, the path to his life’s work in nursing, teaching, and mental health was abundantly clear from an early age. “I found my niche very quickly and realized that working with people was what I really wanted to do. When you are a teenager that path is not always self-evident. It was a calling,” he says.
Williams developed a particular interest in stress and depression after working in the Navy during the Vietnam War, caring for soldiers burdened by wounds both visible and invisible. Later, working in intensive care settings, he found great reward in helping some memorable patients experiencing psychological difficulties. “I feel like what I do is my passion and that has made my work a lot of fun,” he says.
Williams has conducted extensive research with soldiers to help them find ways to manage stress and depression, a natural outgrowth of his own experiences working with patients in the military, and a part of his research portfolio that continues to grow and change. “Stress and depression are nicely ‘married,’ so it was a natural evolution for me to move into depression and to look at ways in intervening when people are under stress that can positively affect their own mental well-being,” he says.
To help people combat the damaging influence of stress in their lives, Williams co-developed an interactive web tool called “Stress Gym.” Originally designed for the military to address the special needs of its active-duty personnel, Stress Gym applications have been adapted and expanded for anyone in the general public to use.
In his clinical work, Williams uses his research experience to select the evidence-based strategies that will most benefit his patients. Williams attributes his success in helping patients work through depression to a philosophy of ‘meeting them where they are.’ “I do not impose what I think they need,” he says. “You have to help people find their direction without telling them their direction because they need to do the work to be successful.”
“I tell all my patients that one of my goals is to have them never experience another depressive episode, and when you really meet that goal, that’s pretty exciting. Not only for them, but you’re helping them manage an illness that in the past wouldn’t have been so manageable,” he says.
Williams applauds the advances that interdisciplinary collaborations within the Depression Center provide for patient care as well as research. “If I have a patient with a sleep issue or a substance abuse problem, I have the resources and experts here to help provide collaborative care for my patients,” he says. I can ask others for help and find truly the best solutions for my patients due to interaction of those in the Center’s membership. This provides huge pay-offs for patients.”
“The idea that you do research in isolation – I think those days are gone,” he says.