Lisa O'Donnell

Lisa O'Donnell

Associate Professor and MSW Director

 Expert in biopolar disorder and severe mental illness

5447 Woodward Avenue,

Detroit MI, 48202

Office # 030


Lisa O'Donnell


Lisa O’Donnell is joined the WSU Social Work faculty in 2017 as an Assistant Professor, became the MSW Director in fall 2023 and associate professor in winter 2024. She received her PhD from the University of Michigan’s Joint PhD program in Social Work and Clinical Psychology in 2016. Following her doctoral studies, she was a post-doctoral scholar under the Max Gray Fellowship in the Child and Adolescent Mood Disorders Program (CHAMP) within UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry with Dr. David Miklowitz.

Research interests include the examination of the nature of functional outcomes, particularly employment, and quality of life among individuals with mental health conditions, as well as the impact of stigma of mental illness on employment outcomes. Further, her research interests include the development and dissemination of culturally appropriate, psychotherapeutic and employment-related interventions for underserved and economically disadvantaged populations as well as academic and mental health outcomes among social work students.

O'Donnell is also a member of The Collaborative RESearch Team to study psychosocial issues in Bipolar Disorder (CREST.BD). This is a multidisciplinary collaborative network of researchers, healthcare providers, people living with bipolar disorder, their family members and supporters.

O’Donnell received her MSW in 2005 from the University of Michigan School of Social Work and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the state of Michigan. She has been trained in various evidence-based treatments and has years of experience providing individual and group psychotherapy to adolescents, adults and families.

Click here to view Curriculum Vitae

Degrees and Certifications

  • Ph.D., University of Michigan, Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Clinical Psychology
  • MSW, University of Michigan, School of Social Work, Interpersonal Practice and Mental Health
  • B.A., University of Michigan, Communications and Psychology


Teaching Interests

  • DSM-5
  • Interpersonal practice with children, adults and families
  • Cognitive behavioral theory and practice
  • Integrative Theory and Practice


Areas of Expertise


  • Identifying biopsychosocial predictors of quality of life and functional deficits among adolescents and adults with bipolar disorder
  • Examining the impact of stigma and discrimination in the workplace for individuals with mental health conditions
  • Examining evidence-based interventions on improving functional and quality of life outcomes among adolescents and adults with severe mental illness
  • Mental health interventions for underserved and economically disadvantaged populations
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Family-focused therapy


  • Intervention research
  • Survey research
  • Longitudinal analysis
  • Qualitative analysis


Research Project

Public Attitudes among Coworkers and Supervisors on Working with Individuals with Bipolar Disorder

Role: Principal Investigator

Occupational functioning is among the most problematic impairments that individuals with bipolar disorder experience. Disclosure of the illness and the attainment of appropriate workplace accommodations can prevent impaired functioning, leading to improvements in employee and employer satisfaction with job performance. However, due to the potential risk of stigma in the workplace, people with bipolar disorder are faced with the difficult dilemma of whether to disclose their illness at work. Directed by Dr. Lisa O’Donnell, the primary objective of this study is to examine attitudes about working with individuals with bipolar disorder among the general public of employed adults. The relationships between attitudes towards work functioning, visible depressive and manic symptoms commonly exhibited by those with bipolar disorder, and the disclosure of a bipolar disorder diagnosis are examined. A clear understanding of the stereotypes (positive or negative) specific to bipolar disorder that may exist among coworkers and supervisors will help to clarify further the risks of disclosing one’s illness and thereby inform the development of intervention strategies to address these risks better.

Feasibility Studies Assessing Attitudes of a Work Intervention

Role: Principal Investigator

There are currently few available treatments that effectively address work-related outcomes for individuals living with mood and anxiety disorders. Evidence-based psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are primarily designed to improve clinical outcomes for individuals struggling with these disorders. Work-specific interventions designed for those with severe mental illness, such as Individual Placement and Support (IPS), mainly focus on attaining employment and do not address workplace performance and job retention for employed adults, thereby leading to a critical gap in efforts to increase job satisfaction and functioning for these individuals. There is a need for treatment innovations that address occupational impairments within the workplace to help enhance work performance and maintain employment. This body of research is being conducted to determine the feasibility of a technology-driven workplace intervention to improve work outcomes for individuals with mood and anxiety disorders. The primary aim of the first study, directed by Dr. Lisa O’Donnell and in collaboration with Henry Ford Health System, is to determine the relevance and logistic feasibility of a simulation-based workplace intervention for adults diagnosed with mood and anxiety disorders in the Detroit area by examining the attitudes of both mental health clinicians and patients diagnosed with mood and anxiety disorders. The primary aim of the second study is to assess attitudes and obtain concrete feedback from professional stakeholders (e.g., human resource managers, vocational specialists, rehabilitation counselors) to inform the tailoring of this intervention. Findings from these studies will inform the development of an intervention to improve employment outcomes for individuals living with mood and anxiety disorders.

An Investigation of Master's in Social Work Student Success with the Association of Social Work Boards License Exam.

Role: Co-Principal Investigator

One of the missions of The School of Social Work (SSW) at Wayne State University (WSU) is to engage in continuous improvement of the School’s educational culture and preparation of students’ success with the ASWB Social Work Licensure exam. For MSW graduates to feel prepared for the exam, there must be ample opportunities to practice taking it while in school and further develop their test-taking skills as they transition from MSW students to professional social workers. Graduates must also feel they are prepared for the exam, specifically in ways relevant to their employment. Students report a gap between their ability to apply what they have learned in their educational programs to their work settings and meeting the licensure exam expectations. This challenge implicates a shared responsibility between students and the university and the need for a long-term approach and commitment when designing interventions to support student success in taking the social work licensure exam. Therefore, the purpose of this 3-year, longitudinal research is to evaluate whether MSW students in the WSU-SSW perform better on the ASWB Licensing Exam after the provision of practice exams by the SSW compared to MSW students who prepare for the exam on their own. In addition, this study will examine student sociodemographic characteristics as predictors of practice exam performance to determine the differing student needs in preparation for the exam. The results from this study will inform strategies to better prepare all MSW students in the School of Social Work to pass the licensing exam.

An Investigation on Biopsychosocial Predictors of Occupational Functioning in Individuals with Bipolar Disorder

Role: Collaborator

This research is in collaboration with the Prechter Research Lab at the University of Michigan. The study aims to identify biopsychosocial predictors of long-term employment outcomes (work functioning and status) among individuals with bipolar disorder by determining the effects of clinical, neurocognitive, interpersonal, and environmental features on long-term employment outcomes. The current focus of this project is to identify how stigma, exclusion at work, and undermining towards coworkers with bipolar disorder impact clinical outcomes and work outcomes such as their degree of satisfaction at work, productivity at work, and job security. The primary translational aim of this work is to inform novel approaches to improving work cultures for employed individuals with bipolar disorder, remediating poor occupational functioning, and, ultimately, improve the overall wellbeing of individuals with bipolar disorder.

Grand Challenges Project

O’Donnell’s research portfolio at Wayne State University spans many of the Grand Challenges for Social Work, including advancing long and productive lives, reducing extreme economic inequality, building financial capability for all, and achieving equal opportunity and justice. The primary translational aim of her work is to promote social and economic justice for individuals struggling with mood and anxiety disorders who have historically been stigmatized and oppressed in our society. To that end, her clinical and intervention research examines employment outcomes for mood and anxiety disorders, including efforts to develop, refine, and implement evidence-based treatment.

O’Donnell’s work examines the nature of employment deficits among individuals with bipolar disorder and other severe mental illnesses. Employing clinical trial methodology, she examines evidence-based treatments for underserved and economically disadvantaged populations including youth and adults with depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders. Two of her most recent projects examine the nature of interpersonal work challenges (stigma, disclosure, requesting work accommodations, social support, negative impact of one’s condition) and work performance impairments in affected adults and tests the feasibility and acceptability of a simulation-based, work-related intervention that provides training in complex interpersonal skills through interactions with virtual characters in a simulated work environment.

Courses taught by Lisa O'Donnell

Fall Term 2024 (future)

Winter Term 2024

Winter Term 2023

Fall Term 2022

Winter Term 2022

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