• Adjunct Instructor, Psychiatry
  • Faculty Affiliate, Global Change and Sustainability Center
  • Professor, College Of Social Work

Research Summary

My primary research focuses on the therapeutic outcomes of outdoor and nature-based interventions for a range of populations, including adolescents, young adults, and military veterans. I have also investigated attachment dynamics in in various populations: attachment and mental health in adolescent refugees, attachment shifts among adolescents in a wilderness therapy program, attachment measurement among preschool populations, and attachment processes in psychotherapy with adolescents.


  • B.A., English with Honors, with Minor in Environmental Studies, Dartmouth College. Project: Living what you taught us as truth: The legacy of race and gender in female-authored literature of the civil rights movement.
  • MSW, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Utah
  • Ph.D, Social Work, Smith College School for Social Work. Project: Shifts in attachment relationships: A quantitative study of adolescents in brief residential treatment


Joanna Bettmann Schaefer is a Professor at the University of Utah College of Social Work and a licensed clinical social worker. She received her B.A. with honors from Dartmouth College in 1993, her MSW from the University of Utah in 1999, and her Ph.D from Smith College School for Social Work in 2005. Dr. Schaefer has received numerous honors, including the 2019 Council on Social Work Education’s Summer Scholarship for Harvard Institutes of Harvard Education, the 2013 Dean’s Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award, the 2011 Psychoanalytic Psychodynamic Research Society Award, a fellowship with the American Psychoanalytic Association, and the 1993 Lawrence Marx Jr. Award of Dartmouth College. She serves as clinical faculty in the University of Utah department of Psychiatry and has an appointment in the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs healthcare system.

She worked as a field staff, field therapist, director, and researcher at wilderness therapy and residential treatment settings for troubled youth from 1994 to 2016. She has also worked as a clinical social worker in several community mental health agencies, the University of Utah Counseling Center, and in private practice. She is trained in disaster response and served as a social worker for the American Red Cross response to Hurricane Katrina in Utah and Mississippi.

Dr. Schaefer writes and researches on a range of topics, including nature’s impact on mental health, wilderness therapy, residential treatment, and attachment. She is incoming Editor in Chief of the Journal of Experiential Education. She has published articles in Psychological Services, Journal of Child and Family Studies, Research on Social Work Practice, Journal of Counseling Psychology, International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, Journal of Experiential Education, Child and Youth Care Forum, Clinical Social Work Journal, Residential Treatment for Children and Youth, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, and Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. She authored the book Evidence-based psychotherapy with adolescents: A primer for new clinicians (published by Oxford University Press in 2019). She also co-edited the book Attachment-based clinical work with children and adolescents (published by Springer in 2012). She has presented her research nationally and internationally at professional conferences over the last 20 years. Dr. Schaefer has received grant funding to support her research agenda, including grants recently from the Sierra Club to investigate the mental health and psychosocial outcomes of peer-led immersive wilderness trips for military veterans.