Dr. Na Zhang is a prevention researcher and family scholar. At the center of her work is the intersection of mindfulness and parenting interventions. In her research she examines the biopsychosocial determinants of parenting behaviors and evaluates parenting interventions’ effects on improving children’s mental health, mechanisms of change, and implementation processes. In particular, she is interested in studying how parents’ self-regulation influences parenting, how these variables impact parents’ responsivity to interventions, and how to strengthen intervention effects for those who do not benefit. One way to strengthen interventions is to integrate mindfulness training to address parents’ self-regulation and mental health.
Na discovered her passion for scientific research during her study at Tsinghua University, where she gained training in clinical science with a focus on group-based interventions. For her Master’s thesis she delivered and evaluated an 8-week mindfulness-based intervention to reduce loneliness in college students. While she was preparing to study abroad, she was a director of positive youth development programs at a corporate company and she enjoyed working with children and adolescents. She came to the United States in 2014 as an international student. During her doctoral study at the University of Minnesota and postdoctoral training at Arizona State University, she worked with secondary datasets of randomized controlled trials of different parent training programs. These programs focused on teaching practical skills such as behavior management and positive parent-child relationships. What Na noticed was that these parent training programs were missing the “inner work” of parenting – being non-reactive, compassionate, flexible, patient, and non-striving. She began to focus her research on integrating mindfulness to enhance evidence-based parenting programs. For example, she is working on a narrative review paper to discuss her work with investigators at Arizona State University integrating self-compassion into an evidence-based parenting program for parentally bereaved families.
Na practices mindfulness meditation and gained training in delivering mindfulness-based stress reduction program. She hopes to become a certified teacher someday. She co-translated the Chinese version of the book The mindful way through depression: Freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness. The longest silent teacher-guided meditation retreat she has attended was 10 days – no phone, no computer, no books, no talking, just sitting and walking meditation sessions. It was healing and unforgettable. Now she is on another non-silent baby-guided meditation retreat – much more challenging and longer, but unbelievably rewarding.
Na loves writing, reading, watching movies, traveling to new places, and gardening. Her Japanese skills were very good until she stopped practicing. She has two cats and no siblings.