Main Stage

The Violence Project

 Thursday, 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM ET

Frustrated by reactionary policy conversations that never seemed to convert to meaningful action, special investigator and psychologist Jill Peterson and sociologist James Densley built the Violence Project, the first comprehensive database of mass shooters. Using data from groundbreaking research, Dr. Jillian Peterson and Dr. James Densley will chart new pathways to holistic violence prevention that addresses the root causes of violence. The audience will hear first-person accounts from the perpetrators themselves and will leave the session with tangible skills and data-driven solutions including crisis intervention, de-escalation, suicide prevention, crisis response teams, and trauma-informed institutions. 


Jillian Peterson, PhD 

Dr. Jillian Peterson is a forensic psychologist, professor of criminology at Hamline University, and previous investigator on death penalty cases in New York City.  She is the co-author of the highly acclaimed book, The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic, based on four years of in-depth research into the lives of mass shooters. Dr. Peterson believes the best way to prevent violence is to deeply understand the life histories of people who commit it. 

She has interviewed perpetrators of murder in Cook County Jail and Rikers Island, and perpetrators of mass shootings across the country, leading her to an understanding of the root cause of violence and how we can address it. She is the co-founder and co-president of The Violence Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center dedicated to reducing violence using research and analysis. 

Dr. Peterson’s areas of expertise range from mass shootings and violent crime, to holistic violence prevention, crisis intervention and de-escalation, and promoting mental wellness in schools and workplaces. Dr. Peterson holds a MA and Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine. She is a regular media commentator in outlets like the New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and The Washington Post. 


James Densley, PhD 

James Densley is Professor and Department Chair of Criminal Justice at Metropolitan State University and co-founder and co-president of The Violence Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center best known for its mass shooter database. Densley has received global media attention for his work on street gangs, criminal networks, violence, and policing. He is the author of seven books, including the acclaimed, The Violence Project: How to Stop A Mass Shooting Epidemic, 50 peer-reviewed articles in leading scientific journals, and over 80 book chapters, essays, and other works in outlets such as CNN, The Guardian, HuffPost, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. He is also the co-author of On Gangs (2022), a diverse and comprehensive survey of the available theories for understanding this social issue as well as the broad range of responses to it, and Contesting County Lines: Case Studies in Drug Crime and Deviant Entrepreneurship (2023). 

Densley has been an invited or plenary speaker on four continents. He is a former middle school special education teacher and in 2017 he was awarded the Points of Light Award for outstanding community volunteerism by the British Prime Minister. Densley earned his doctorate in sociology from the University of Oxford. 

For more information including key research findings, methodology and additional resources please go to If you are interested in purchasing the Violence Project book we recommend these two online booksellers: This seller supports independent bookstores. Click here to purchase. Click here for a direct link.

Where Do We Go From Here: How MFTs Can Shape the Future of Mental Health

 Friday, 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM ET

In our modern post-pandemic world, the future of mental health care is at the top of nearly everyone’s mind.  The impact of loneliness, systemic oppression, widespread health, and economic disparities have all increased the need for more inclusive and accessible approaches to mental health.  Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are uniquely poised to be at the forefront of transforming our modern mental health care system.  Our dedication to systems theory, inclusivity, and understanding individuals within the context of their personal, cultural, intergenerational, and societal connections make us ideal leaders in transforming mental health care to be more inclusive and accessible for all. MFTs can spearhead positive changes in the field and facilitate more collaboration amongst other mental health specialties to provide a more holistic approach to clinical care and policy advocacy.  However, to fulfill our potential as a profession we must first prioritize the well-being and empowerment of our students, colleagues, and researchers.  By modeling the communal care and systemic approach we bring to our work, we can revitalize our programs, and develop more effective advocacy plans, and strategic partnerships to truly change the landscape of mental health care for generations to come.

Esther Boykin

Esther Boykin, LMFT

Esther Boykin is a marriage and family therapist who wants to live in a world where
everyone believes that Therapy Is Not A Dirty Word. Whether in her role as CEO of Group Therapy Associates, a coach, consultant, author, or media expert, she works daily to make mental health accessible, innovative, and culturally relevant for all people.

In 2004 with a Master of Science from Virginia Tech and a vision of making mental health widely accessible to all, Esther Boykin began her career as a marriage and family therapist. Five years later, with her passion for therapy and relationships growing, Esther began her entrepreneurial journey by opening Group Therapy Associates—a psychotherapy practice in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

After several years as CEO of Group Therapy Associates, Esther expanded the company to include a new division called Therapy Is Not A Dirty Word. This side of the company is focused on bringing therapy ideas and therapists outside of the office and into modern culture through media, events, and retreats that focus on her relentless mission to increase access and reduce the stigma around mental health.

In addition to her role as a licensed marriage and family therapist and entrepreneur, Esther stays engaged in academic and professional development circles. Her presentations on compassion fatigue in therapists of color and the role of marketing in mental health advocacy have been well-received in industry circles. She also served as an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech teaching a course she developed called the Business of Therapy, which is also the foundation for her small group consulting program by the same name. Esther is also author of two books and a sought-after relationship and mental health expert. She has worked with Verizon, Deluxe Media, Ellevate and many other leading corporations. Recently named a top 21 relationship expert by Cosmopolitan magazine, Esther has appeared on NBC’s Today show, Bravo’s Real Housewives of Potomac, HuffPost, Good Morning Washington, The Wall Street Journal, Coveteur, and a myriad of other media outlets.

When she’s not running a business, being a therapist, or wowing an audience, Esther is geeking out on design, searching for the perfect espresso, and figuring out how to make spaces around her even more beautiful. You can connect with her online via Instagram
@estherbmft or on LinkedIn.