Research Department

The Thresholds Research Department hosts, implements, and supervises evidence based, best practice intervention research studies in partnership with multiple collaborators from national and international universities and academic centers. We work together to develop and implement externally-funded research and training programs on behalf of the agency. We also contribute to external workshops, publications, and technical assistance for the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (PRA) and American Psychological Association (APA), among others.


travis atkinson and nicole pashka at the PRA conference

The Research Department is a team of diverse professionals with an array of skills and experience in research methodology, mental health services, evaluation of evidence-based practices, emerging interventions, data management, and evaluation. The team is purposely structured interdependently; researchers work together in teams to ensure ethical practices and to support accountable, accurate data. The Department builds connections with program clinicians, supported employment specialists, and leadership to foster successful recruitment for multiple, externally-funded studies. This ensures teams are aware of any clinically-significant issues that arise during research interviews/interventions. These efforts are specifically focused on maintaining continuity of care as a priority across departments.

The Research Department supports opportunities for members to engage in research projects evaluating new interventions and promising practices that promote recovery among individuals with serious mental illness. Research Department personnel include staff with advanced training in psychology, social work, public health, psychiatric rehabilitation, and rehabilitation counseling. Department personnel also hold diverse types of licenses, certifications, and credentials including LCSW, LPC, CRC, CPRP, CRSS and CADC.

One of the goals of the Department is to engage in translational science, namely synthesizing research literature and outcomes into sustainable clinical interventions. Staff also provide consultation regarding services for programs related to multiple areas of recovery, such as wellness, needs of young adults, cognitive remediation, SE/IPS programs, and peer-operated services. Department personnel implement neuropsychiatric and other sensitive psychiatric assessments, including the SCID and MATRICS, as well as have experience tracking biological markers and health indicators such as carbon dioxide related to smoking cessation.

Research staff also are experienced in clinical interviewing, qualitative and quantitative methods, data visualization, database construction and management, univariate and multivariate statistical techniques, use of SPSS and other analytic software, grant preparation and submission, and maintenance of required human subjects’ protections and Institutional Review Board (IRB) approvals. Personnel at the Research Department also include individuals who are Bilingual assessors who can provide technical and clinical support.


Lisa A. Razzano, PhD, CPRP
Vice President, Research

Dr. Lisa Razzano is a psychologist and Vice President for Research at Thresholds. Lisa oversees all externally-funded research programs underway within the agency, including studies funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), among others. She has primary responsibility and oversight for development and implementation of new intervention studies and funded research initiatives at Thresholds. Lisa is recognized internationally for her contributions in mental health service research, with particular expertise regarding physical health comorbidities, mental health aspects of HIV/AIDS, evaluation of evidence-based practices, and translation of science into workforce development programs. In addition to Dr. Razzano’s work at Thresholds, she is a tenured faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Psychiatry and Deputy Director of the Department’s Center on Mental Health Services Research and Policy (CMHSRP). She has served as PI, co-PI, or senior researcher for over $30 million in extramural research funding evaluating community mental health services interventions and psychiatric rehabilitation programs. These research contributions have been recognized internationally with research awards, including those from the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Chicago. Dr. Razzano is currently Chair-Elect the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Serious Mental Illness/Severe Emotional Disturbance and a past president of the national Board of Directors for the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association.

Nicole J. Pashka, MS, CRC, CPRP, LCPC
Director, Research

Nicole has been in the field of behavioral health for close to a decade advocating for the rights of individuals living with disabilities. At Thresholds, Nicole currently serves as Assistant Director of Research. Throughout her career, Nicole has consistently sought to advance programs and services that affect change in all areas but especially employment and wellness. In addition to past experience in direct clinical and residential services, Nicole also has diverse and extensive experience presenting information related to mental health services, evidence-based practices, research, and training, including developing, implementing, and evaluating new service models and workforce development programs. Nicole has provided training and education presentations for the National Council for Behavioral Health; Institute for Healthcare Advancement; the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association; the National Sexual Health Conference, SAMHSA’s Alternatives Conference; the U.S. Conference on AIDS; the American Medical Student Association; and for the States of Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia Departments of Human Services. Ms. Pashka is an invited member of the PRA Academy Advisory Council and serves as an appointed Board Member for the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Foundation. In addition to her clinical license and other certifications, Nicole holds a Master’s in Counseling from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where she also has past experience at the Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation.

Anabel Ruiz, MS
Best Practices Manager, Research

Anabel is the Manager of Research Best Practices at Thresholds. She oversees the implementation of Evidence-Based Practices and promising practices to teams and programs at the agency. Anabel has been in the field of behavioral health for over a decade. She leads, trains, and supports Thresholds staff and programs in learning, implementing and sustaining high fidelity to care models for Thresholds members. These care models include health and wellness, IPS, Cognitive Remediation and interventions for persons with dual disorders. Anabel lead implementation of a Cognitive Remediation intervention to program participants as part of the NIMH-funded randomized controlled trial (RCT), “A Dismantling Study of Cognitive Remediation” in collaboration with Boston University and continues to support implementation of services to improve cognition across the agency. She also has experience working with the Supported Employment programs, where she is a past team supervisor and trainer for new Employment Specialists. Anabel holds a Master’s of Science in Mental Health Counseling from Purdue University and is fluent in Spanish.

Karley Nelson, MA
Senior Research Specialist

Karley is Senior Research Specialist at Thresholds, where her work focuses on implementation and evaluation of studies of chronic health conditions, employment, cognition, and other evidence-based interventions for individuals with serious mental illness. Karley is the project manager for the Threshold’s Longitudinal Health Study, and leads recruitment and administration for a study that aims to enhance the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model of Supported Employment. She also has experience administering high level clinical assessments, such as the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-5 (SCID-5), the MATRICS Consensus Cognitive Battery (MCCB), and others. Karley has worked in the mental health field for many years, including roles in direct clinical service, research, and project management. She also has experience in program development and evaluation; specifically, in the areas of child development, higher education, and special education. Karley received her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Boston College, where she studied mental health topics such as psychometric evaluation; individual, family, and group counseling; the ethical foundations of counseling, and more.

Carla Elliott, CRSS
Intervention Specialist

Carla Elliott is a peer leader and researcher in the department. She has been a lead group facilitator for interventions including Vocational Empowerment Photovoice (VEP), a form of hermeneutic photography. Carla facilitates classes, teaching skills that support vocational recovery by empowering participants to engage in vocational services and pursue employment through the enhancement of their vocational hope, sense of vocational identity, and work-related self-efficacy. She also serves as a trained facilitator for the group component for a randomized controlled trial (RCT) examining the impact of a skills intervention on cognitive function among individuals with psychiatric disabilities. In conjunction with other senior research department staff, she delivers interventions focused on compensatory strategies designed to help participating members cope with various cognitive difficulties, including collaboration staff and clinical teams, presenting findings and suggesting intervention strategies that can increase participants’ abilities to obtain employment and to promote better functioning on the job. She has been part of the Thresholds workforce for nearly 10 years, with past experience as a Job Club Coach who developed and implemented a DRS-funded job club and as a Recovery Specialist for the Work Choice program, offered as the control group for a NIDRR-funded study on IPS-Supported Employment for consumers with justice backgrounds.

Tovah Lieberman, MPH
Senior Research Specialist

Tovah is a research specialist supporting research activities on multiple studies. Her projects include leading the evaluation activities for a randomized controlled trial (RCT) examining the impact of an electronic decision support system (EDSS) designed for adults with schizophrenia who are smokers. In addition, Tovah conducts complex neuropsychological assessments as part of the department’s collaboration with Boston University to evaluate the effectiveness of computerized interventions that address cognitive skills to support individuals with mental illness to acquire and retain employment. She also collaborates with other department staff to screen members who may be eligible to participate in ongoing pharmacological intervention studies conducted in partnership with other academic centers, including Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Tovah holds a Master’s in public health from Indiana University Bloomington School of Public Health.