28 Jun 2017

Six Questions to Ask Before Applying to Any Psychology Grad Program

Six Questions to Ask Before Applying to Any Psychology Grad Program

You've started your search for a doctoral program, but do you know how to pick the one that's right for you?

"In psychology, we pride ourselves on being evidence-based, but sometimes we forget to look at all the data when we're making our most important career choices," says John Norcross, PhD, a University of Scranton psychology professor and co-author of "The Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology" (2010).

According to graduate program directors and other experts, you've done your homework if can answer these six questions:

1. What kind of job do you eventually want?

Imagine your future career, and work backward to determine the kind of training and education you need. If you'd like to help companies select employees and build better teams, look into industrial-organizational psychology programs. If you want to investigate learning and memory, check out experimental psychology programs. If you hope to someday help judges determine who is competent to stand trial, explore forensic psychology programs.

"Talk with the psychology professors at your undergraduate institution about pathways in psychology, and read books and websites about psychology careers," advises Cynthia Belar, PhD, executive director of APA's Education Directorate. Then, check out APA's online database, "Graduate Study in Psychology," which provides descriptions, admission requirements and application deadlines for more than 600 psychology graduate programs in the United States and Canada.

2. How much debt can you reasonably take on?

Figure out how much you can expect to earn once you have your degree, and then use that number to calculate the amount of graduate school debt that's reasonable for you. According to 2009 data from APA's Center for Workforce Studies, the median starting salary for assistant psychology professors is $53,000, while a clinical psychologist can expect to start out earning $58,000. Given those salaries, it could take years to pay off the median debt loads of new psychologists: $120,000 for clinical PsyDs, $68,000 for clinical PhDs and $38,500 for research-focused PhDs.

If you don't want to be eating ramen into your golden years, limit your applications to psychology programs that offer financial aid in the form of fellowships, scholarships, research and teaching assistantships, and traineeships. "While cost shouldn't be your only basis for selecting a doctoral program, you don't want to wind up saddled with debt you didn't expect," says Elizabeth Klonoff, PhD, co-director of the San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology.

3. What is the added value of selecting an APA-accredited program?

If you're studying clinical, counseling or school psychology, choosing an APA-accredited doctoral program increases your career options. Many internships require students to attend an APA-accredited program, and some state licensing agencies and employers — including academic institutions and government agencies — likewise require a diploma from an APA-accredited doctoral program.

APA accreditation also helps provide some assurance that you'll receive a quality education. To be awarded accreditation, a program must demonstrate that it meets a set of standards established by APA's Commission on Accreditation — for example, it has to have qualified faculty and adequate facilities and student support services, and it must publicly disclose its requirements and policies. View a list of APA-accredited doctoral programs.

4. What are the internship match rates of the graduate programs you are interested in?

Before you can earn your degree in clinical, counseling or school psychology, you'll need to complete a yearlong internship. Unfortunately, there's a shortage of internship programs, with a quarter of psychology graduate students unable to find internships through the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Center's match. Not having one can indefinitely delay your degree. So, before you apply to grad school, be sure the programs have good records for matching students to APA-accredited internships, says Klonoff. To find out programs' match rates to all internships (not just APA-accredited ones), visit the APPIC website (PDF, 1.4MB). APA-accredited graduate programs are required to list their match rates to APA-accredited internships on their websites. "A program that has historically matched really well is likely to match well in the future," says Klonoff.

5. What are your potential programs' EPPP pass rates?

Another issue for future therapists: Practicing psychologists must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, a computerized test of 225 multiple-choice questions. It's designed to evaluate your knowledge of core areas of psychology such as assessment and treatment and the biological bases of behavior. Pick a program with a high pass rate — for a list of pass rates by graduate school, visit the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards website

6. Who are the schools' top researchers?

If you're aiming for a research-focused program, study university websites to identify faculty members under whom you'd like to work. Ideally, you should pick a program where several professors are doing research that interests you, says M. Ellen Mitchell, PhD, dean of the College of Psychology at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. "If you want to do developmental psychology, it may not be the best decision to go to a program with only one faculty member whose work is in that area, unless that person's work aligns very closely with what you want to do," she says.

If possible, meet future faculty advisers at professional conferences or when you visit campuses for pre-admission interviews. "That's probably the best way to assess whether there's a good fit," says Rod Wellens, PhD, who chairs the University of Miami psychology department. "Also, look at the past performance of a potential faculty mentor — are their students publishing and getting good postdocs or other employment positions?" Check the professors' webpages for a list of their current students and postdocs. Then enter those students' names into PsycINFO and Google to search for their publications or other information about their work. 

If a particular faculty member shows he or she is really interested in working with you, that school should zoom to the top of your list, says Norcross. That's because a good faculty adviser is key to graduate school success. "They can offer individualized advice, serve as role models, and assist you in selecting an internship and launching your career," says Klonoff.

By Jen Uscher,  a writer in Brooklyn, N.Y.


This article was originally published in the September 2011 gradPSYCH Magazine

Did you find this article useful?

1 0
27 Jun 2017

Coaching Adults, Students and Young Kids with ADHD

Coaching helps clients cope with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder while helping psychologists flourish without relying on insurers

Children, adolescents and adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) don't necessarily need psychotherapy, says psychologist Abigail Levrini, PhD. What they often do need is help getting themselves organized and reaching their goals—coaching, in short.

To fill that niche, Levrini founded an ADHD coaching business called Psych Ed Connections in 2008. Demand for her services has been so great that the company now has three offices in two states. And what's good for consumers with ADHD has also been good for Levrini by allowing her to fulfill her dream of building a practice independent of insurance companies.

"I had heard many unfortunate horror stories about psychologists not getting reimbursed for the clients they had seen and worked with," says Levrini. "Fortunately, I have never had to go that route and have been able to make it without it."

Whether ADHD coaching is a full-time business or just a small supplemental income stream, it's a real growth area, says Frances Prevatt, PhD, the Florida State University psychology professor who developed the evidence-based ADHD coaching intervention that forms the basis of former student Levrini's coaching practice. "More and more people are being diagnosed," says Prevatt. "And there aren't that many people who specialize in treating those with ADHD."

A specialized business

Prevatt developed the coaching intervention 14 years ago when she realized she had no place to send students she was diagnosing with ADHD as director of Florida State's Adult Learning and Evaluation Center. "Other than recommending medication and accommodations, we didn't really have anything good to offer them," says Prevatt.

Grounded in cognitive-­behavioral therapy principles, the intervention she developed is an eight-week program that matches clients with doctoral psychology students who serve as coaches as a practicum experience. Working one-on-one, the coaches and their clients identify two or three goals to tackle, such as improving time-­management strategies, managing long-term projects, passing a specific class or even learning to do laundry. Each week, the pair identifies intermediate steps and brainstorms how to overcome obstacles, with rewards and consequences built in to boost motivation. "We're not telling them what to do," says Prevatt. "We're teaching them the problem-solving process."

Levrini was one of Prevatt's coaches at Florida State and studied the intervention for her dissertation. Once she graduated and launched her own practice, she took that model, tweaked it and established it in Ponte Vedra, Florida; Alexandria, Virginia; and Ashburn, Virginia. One key difference is that the coaches are all licensed psychologists and other mental health professionals. Because the Florida office is located in an underserved area, it offers services beyond coaching, but coaching represents at least half its business.

Educating children and adults about the difference between coaching and therapy is a crucial first step, says Levrini, who often compares being an ADHD coach to being an athletic coach for kids. "You'd never expect to be able to just put on a uniform and go out onto a sports field and play effectively on your own, so why should people with ADHD expect that they should just be able to figure out ways to stay organized or manage their lives effectively without help?" she says. "A coach can help you learn the rules of the game, see where your strengths and weaknesses are and help you 'play' more effectively, in sports or in life."

Coaches and clients then meet each week to outline "baby step" actions and track progress on two to four overall goals. These goals must be specific, measurable, action-driven, realistic and time-sensitive, says Levrini. They should also focus on the process of achieving them as well as the outcomes, she adds. "A student with ADHD might procrastinate, stay up until 3 in the morning to work on a project and still get a good grade," she points out. "But doing so generates a lot of stress and anxiety in the process, so it's important not to encourage positive outcomes that are not a result of healthy processes." As in the Florida State program, Levrini's coaches also use external rewards and consequences to help clients who need an extra dose of motivation.

Another twist on the original program is that coaches and clients don't necessarily meet face to face, thanks to Psych Ed Connections's online coaching option. That expands the potential client base to include the entire country or even the whole world, says Levrini.

A helpful sideline

For psychologist Peter C. Thomas, PhD, of Atlanta, a small ADHD coaching sideline represents a way to help his clients while bringing in a little extra income.

In his practice, Thomas focuses on evaluating children for ADHD and learning disabilities and providing psychotherapy to children, adolescents and families. About 20 years ago, he realized his clients needed something more: ADHD coaching.

What people with ADHD need most is help structuring their time, says Thomas. "Having someone to check in with helps them stay focused on what they want to accomplish," he says, adding that his clients tend to be disorganized college students and adults. "Coaching can help them learn to develop the habits that they're having trouble developing on their own."

To get the training he needed to launch his coaching business, Thomas attended a three-day workshop conducted by child psychiatrist and ADHD expert Edward Hallowell, MD, EdD, founder of the Hallowell Centers, which offer ADHD treatment in Boston MetroWest, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Conducted by Hallowell and other coaches, the workshop focused on the intervention as well as the business aspects of coaching.

As a result of that training, Thomas developed a simple coaching intervention he dubbed FOCUS (From Organized Coaching Ultimate Success). The process begins with coaches interviewing new clients—who come to the service via referrals from other psychologists, psychiatrists, word of mouth and Thomas's own practice—about their problems and goals.

Clients then call their coaches each morning during the work week to discuss the three main goals they want to accomplish that day. Together clients and their coaches discuss how to accomplish those goals and make a plan. The process takes from five to 10 minutes. Clients renew their contracts and prepay with credit cards every two weeks as long as they need, which may be several months or even years. As clients internalize these problem-­solving skills, the calls taper off. To help keep the service affordable, Thomas doesn't provide coaching himself. Instead, he trains psychology graduate students to offer coaching services and monitors their work on an ongoing basis. He then splits the proceeds from the coaching with his coaches.

"It's not a big money maker, but it's slow and steady," says Thomas, who estimates that ADHD coaching represents 1 percent of his income. "It brings a little extra into the revenue stream."

Additional reading

ADHD Coaching: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals
Prevatt, F., & Levrini, A. APA, 2015

ADHD Coaching With College Students: Exploring the Processes Involved in Motivation and Goal Completion
Prevatt, F., et al. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 2017

By Rebecca A. Clay


 This article was originally published in the March 2017 Monitor on Psychology

Did you find this article useful?

2 0
27 Jun 2017

The Men America Left Behind

The Men America Left Behind

They suffer from the the largest shortfall of jobs. Their mortality rate has been rising. What are psychologists doing to help?

For as long as America has been a country, the straight white American man has been king of the hill. But as society changes and culture evolves, the ground beneath that hill is growing shaky. Economically, physically and emotionally, many American men are fighting to maintain a foothold.

"What it means to be a man today is different than what it meant 20 years ago," says James O'Neil, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Connecticut who studies gender role conflict. "There's a paradigm shift occurring in our country regarding what it means to be masculine, and many men have had difficulty adjusting to that transition."

That shift might have been a factor in the 2016 presidential race. President Donald J. Trump's vow to "make America great again" seemed to resonate with the nation's male voters: Exit polls showed the widest gender gap among voters since exit polling began in the 1970s, with men favoring Trump over Hillary Clinton by 12 percentage points and women favoring Clinton over Trump by the same margin—for a total gender gap of 24 percentage points.

In red states and blue states alike, many men are struggling to figure out their place in 21st century America, says Ronald F. Levant, EdD, a former APA president who studies men and masculinity as a professor of psychology at the University of Akron.

"With globalization, automation, the evolution of manufacturing, the increase in disparity of both income and wealth, there are all kinds of things going on that have had a devastating impact on white working-class men," he says.

Distress and disconnection

Several recent analyses highlight the modern challenges for white, working-class men in America. In a working paper released in October, Princeton economist Alan Krueger, PhD, reported that more than 11 percent of men age 25 to 54 were unemployed and not seeking work (Boston Federal Reserve Bank, 2016). That figure has been trudging upward for decades, but particularly during the last 20 years. Survey data suggest that nearly half of those men sitting on the sidelines of the workforce take pain medication on a daily basis, Krueger reported.

Indeed, the United States is in the midst of what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has described as an "opioid epidemic." Between 1999 and 2014, the number of opioid prescriptions in the United States nearly quadrupled, according to the CDC—and deaths related to opioid overdose, including prescription painkillers as well as illicit drugs such as heroin, also quadrupled during that period.

Other data suggest many of the nation's white men—as well as women—are struggling with both physical and mental health problems. While other ethnic and racial groups have seen their health improve over the years, death rates have increased for middle-aged white Americans with no college education. Princeton economists Angus Deaton, PhD, and Anne Case, PhD, analyzed health data and found that increase can be explained by an epidemic of deaths related to alcoholism, substance abuse and suicide, a category sometimes referred to as "despair deaths" (PNAS, 2015).

While the latter data apply to both men and women, experts say that some cultural changes appear to be affecting men in uniquely troubling ways. "Society is changing, but we don't talk to white men and ask them what they are struggling with," says William Liu, PhD, a professor of counseling psychology at the University of Iowa who studies masculinity. "There's a tendency to minimize it, yet the distress and disconnection are very real."

Over the last several decades, working-class men have seen jobs in manufacturing and mining grow scarcer. Meanwhile, the economic disparity between the haves and have-nots has only gotten wider. "Working-class men look into the future and see that their options are limited. They're not sure what their role in society is," says Liu.

Many men feel their masculinity ideology is under attack, Levant adds. That ideology is built on a set of gender norms that endorses features such as toughness, dominance, self-reliance, heterosexual behaviors, restriction of emotional expression and the avoidance of traditionally feminine attitudes and behaviors. "These gender roles come through our parents, male relatives, teachers and peers, and we're socialized into these roles starting in infancy," Levant says.

Men who strive to meet these masculine "ideals" might feel threatened, consciously or otherwise, by societal shifts, including the increasingly powerful role of women in the workplace or the growing acceptance of same-sex relationships. "The culture is changing, and it no longer privileges [the stereotypical male] point of view," says Liu.

Unfortunately, that viewpoint can be self-defeating, say experts who study gender role conformity. In a new meta-analysis, Y. Joel Wong, PhD, a professor of counseling psychology at Indiana University Bloomington, and colleagues found that overall, men who conformed to traditional masculine norms had higher rates of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and stress, and lower rates of positive mental health outcomes, such as life satisfaction, self-esteem and psychological well-being (Journal of Counseling Psychology, 2016).

In particular, Wong found conformity to three masculine norms—playboy behavior, power over women and self-reliance—were significantly linked to psychological maladjustment. That suggests that sexist attitudes might have detrimental effects on men's mental health, Wong says. And men who assign a great deal of value to self-reliance are less likely to seek help when they need it, he explains. "Self-reliance may have been helpful in the past, but it is becoming increasingly outdated in our interdependent world," Wong says.

The traditionally male trait of "restrictive emotionality" also works against men's well-being, adds O'Neil. Many men haven't been given the tools to discuss their feelings in healthy ways. "Men are experiencing the loss of [traditional male] stereotypes but they don't have the capacity to process the loss emotionally. Men don't know what to put in place of what they're giving up," he says.

Gender role conflict doesn't just damage the way a man sees himself, Liu adds. It can also strain the relationships a man has with male family members and friends. If a man starts to challenge traditional "locker-room talk," for example, he might find he doesn't know how to connect with his father or his brother as easily as he once did. "A lot of men are socialized into messages and mottos and identities that have been passed down. That allows them to relate to important people in their lives," he says. "As society changes, individual narratives start to change, and that puts stress on the intergenerational connections men have."

Masculinity gets in the way

Endorsement of traditional gender role norms can be a challenging issue to address, says Levant. "In many ways, masculinity is the problem—and it also gets in the way of the solutions."

One traditional male norm, for example, is to avoid all things feminine. Yet some of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States are in fields traditionally embraced by women, such as child care, health care, education and food preparation, Levant says. "Men who strongly endorse these masculine norms probably wouldn't consider a 'pink-collar' occupation," he says—a catch-22 for men who are unemployed and struggling to find a place in modern society.

The men America left behindBut while traditional gender roles are deeply entrenched, they aren't immutable. One of the best ways to chip away at old-fashioned gender norms, Levant says, is with education. "Working-class, less-educated men tend to believe it's very important for men to meet these standards. More educated men have more occasions to challenge these ideas," Levant says.

He proposes targeted campaigns to challenge gender roles, such as public service announcements that encourage men to pursue careers traditionally thought of as feminine. He points to projects such as the Man Up Campaign, which engages youth to promote gender equality and end violence against women.

Levant also encourages men in positions of power to violate outdated male norms. A politician crying during a press conference, or a popular pro athlete talking openly about his depression, can go a long way toward breaking down those barriers, he says.

In addition, the psychology field has to get creative to reach the men who are struggling. One example is "Boys Don't Cry," a YouTube video produced by APA's Public Interest Directorate, which was designed to let boys know it's OK to show emotions.

"Therapy should always be there, and we should always advocate for it. But we know masculine norms that are correlated with mental health problems also prevent men from seeking psychological help," Wong says. "We need to look beyond therapy to find other ways to reach men."

Liu agrees, and says psychologists must be proactive in reaching out to men through channels such as blogs, TED talks or social media. While academics often talk in nuances and approximations, he says, the public responds best to language that is direct and discrete. "We have to make our message more easily digested," he says.

It's especially crucial to give psychology a new public face, he adds, since so much of the information on the internet reinforces toxic male stereotypes. "Instead of the positive masculine scripts we could be putting out there, we're competing against YouTube channels that talk about how to be alpha men. When you type in 'masculinity,' that's what you get," he says.

But creating a digital presence is only one place to start, Liu adds. Psychologists also need to make themselves more visible in the real world, offering talks, discussions and workshops for the lay public. That might mean partnering with local agencies or workplaces to start getting positive messages of masculinity into the minds of men who might be struggling.

Wong acknowledges that men who are most in need of outreach are the least likely to attend workshops or talks. Instead, he's been pondering the idea of reaching them through their friends. He suggests providing training in schools and community centers to teach progressive men how to talk about and model gender-egalitarian behavior to their traditional male friends, and how to challenge toxic masculine norms in everyday conversation.

"These men can serve as a bridge to traditional men," he says. "As psychologists, we have to be more publicly engaged and visible," Liu adds. "That's the way we can disseminate our science."

Additional reading

Measurement of Masculinity Ideologies: A (Critical) Review
Thompson Jr., E.H., & Bennett, K.M. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 2015

Men's Gender Role Conflict: Psychological Costs, Consequences, and an Agenda for Change
O'Neil, J.M., American Psychological Association, 2015

Meta-Analyses of the Relationship Between Conformity to Masculine Norms and Mental Health-Related Outcomes
Wong, Y.J., Ho, M.R., Wang, S., & Miller, I.S.K., Journal of Counseling Psychology, 2016

The Psychology of Men and Masculinities
Levant, R.F., & Wong, Y.J., 2017

By Kirsten Weir


This article was originally published in the February 2017 Monitor on Psychology

Did you find this article useful?

0 0
27 Jun 2017

Cultural Competence is Key

Cultural Competence is Key

When working with refugees or asylum-seekers, something as seemingly straightforward as greeting new patients with a handshake can compromise trust, says psychologist Rehman Abdulrehman, PhD, co-author of an online guide called "Working with Refugees from Syria and Surrounding Middle Eastern Countries," published by the Public Mental Health Initiative he directs.

"Some Muslims believe that any kind of cross-gender contact is disrespectful," says Abdulrehman, an assistant professor of clinical health psychology at the University of Manitoba and a member of APA's Committee on International Relations in Psychology. Let Muslim patients make the first move, he suggests. If they don't offer their hands, you could put your hand over your heart and nod instead.

Noting that most psychologists don't get training in working with refugees, asylum-seekers and asylees, Abdulrehman and others offer several tips for working with those who have fled their homelands:

Learn about patients' contexts. You'll need to learn about your patients' culture, religion and other factors, says Abdulrehman. Without that insight, it can be easy to mistake normal activities for pathologies, such as mistaking Muslims' pre-prayer washing ritual for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Build competence by reaching out to members of the particular community, he suggests. In addition, be sure to understand the sociopolitical context of the country people have fled as well as the country where they've resettled, says Rita Chi-Ying Chung, PhD, a professor of counseling and development at George Mason University who has worked with nongovernmental organizations to serve refugees. Also, find out about laws affecting refugees, the asylum process, family reunification policies and how to connect patients to medical, legal and social services, she says.

Emphasize trust building. Seeking help from a psychologist is not something many refugees and asylum-seekers are comfortable with. "The notion of coming to a stranger you've never met and spilling out your most embarrassing, shameful secrets is very foreign," says Adeyinka Akinsulure-Smith, PhD, a senior supervising psychologist at the Bellevue/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture. Chung agrees. When she goes into a refugee community, she doesn't want to be seen as an expert. Many refugees come from countries where psychologists could be seen as part of the government and intake questions seen as disturbingly intrusive. "They might perceive it as, ‘Oh, my gosh, I might suddenly disappear the next day,'" says Chung. Instead, she asks community leaders how she can help, then engages in active listening while working with people on everyday tasks. "I might be working with women in the kitchen, with difficult topics coming up," she says.

Focus on symptoms. Some refugees and asylum-seekers, especially Muslims, come from countries where talking about feelings isn't as accepted as it is here, says Abdulrehman. That's why he uses cognitive-behavioral therapy with his Muslim clients. In addition to focusing on symptoms, cognitive-behavioral therapy also has a practical, solutions-oriented approach that helps restore clients' sense of control over their lives, he says.

Build strong relationships with professional interpreters. Bringing another person into the therapy session introduces potential new complications, says Akinsulure-Smith. The patient may worry about confidentiality; an interpreter from the same country may have their own issues when hearing about the patient's experiences. Spend some time with the interpreter before the session, be clear that you expect word-for-word translation and debrief afterward, she suggests.

By Rebecca Clay


This article was originally published in the January 2017 Monitor on Psychology

Did you find this article useful?

3 0
27 Jun 2017

Work-life Balance Still a Struggle for Most Psychologists

Work-life Balance Still a Struggle for Most Psychologists

When Pamela Hays, PhD, began her psychology career, she tried to do it all: clinical work, writing, research and teaching. But she couldn't sustain it. After a decade of going full tilt, she developed neck problems and carpal tunnel syndrome so severe she had to start using a voice-activated computer system.

"I was driven," she says. "But I drove myself into health problems I couldn't ignore anymore."

Hays, now a clinical psychologist practicing in Soldotna, Alaska, might be an extreme case. Or maybe not. Work-life balance is something that many psychologists struggle with.

The unfortunate irony is that psychologists know better than anyone the importance of making time for self-care. "We talk about it a lot with patients, but we don't practice what we preach," says Chelsi Day, PsyD, a behavioral health provider at Windrose Health Network in Indianapolis.

Psychologists might even have a false sense of invulnerability, says John F. Christensen, PhD, a psychologist in Corbett, Oregon, and past co-chair of the APA Advisory Committee on Colleague Assistance (ACCA). "We study burnout and think that applies to the people we're trying to help," he says. "In fact, health is on a continuum, with well-being at one end and burnout at the other. And most of us, during a professional career, slide back and forth on that continuum depending on what's going on in our lives."

Finding balance, however, is easier said than done. "The sin of the early 21st century is being nonproductive," Christensen says. "We're conditioned by our culture to equate value with productivity."

Of course, as psychologists well know, no one is as productive as they can be when they are exhausted and overworked. Burnout is a legitimate phenomenon, marked by feelings of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a diminished sense of accomplishment. "When we move into burnout, we get impatient, we treat others as objects, and we start treating ourselves as task-processing machines," Christensen says. "Our empathy tank has run dry."

For psychologists in clinical practice, neglecting well-being can even impair professional competence, making the matter an ethical concern. As Erica H. Wise, PhD, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and current co-chair of the ACCA, argues in a recent article, it's much harder to stay competent when you're burned out. "Competence … is an essential ethical obligation and provides a critical link between ethics and self-care," Wise and her colleagues conclude (Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 2012).

Practical balance

Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all strategy for achieving personal-professional equilibrium. Stressors and obligations are different for everyone, and they also change over the course of an individual's life. "It is important for psychologists to stay attuned to these issues throughout their professional life span, since personal and work-related stressors tend to shift over time," Wise says. "Work-life balance isn't a once-and-done thing."

Some people start by establishing a career with some balance built in. Day, a sport psychologist, recently decided not to pursue an opportunity that she described as a dream job — building a counseling and sport psychology center at a Big 10 school. Although the opportunity thrilled her, after she factored in the long commute, the fact that she'd be on call 24 hours a day and her desire for personal and family time, the job didn't sound quite so dreamy. "Work-life balance is important to me," she says. "I don't want to burn out in 10 years."

After working herself into physical health problems, Hays left academia and moved back to her home state of Alaska to start a clinical practice. She joined a yoga class and a book group, started spending more time with family, and wrote the 2014 book "Creating Well-Being: Four Steps to a Happier, Healthier Life."

But finding balance doesn't necessarily mean you have to change jobs (or move to Alaska). You can start by taking a critical look at your commitments.

Wise recommends doing either formal or informal self-care assessments, which can remind you of your goals and help you figure out which daily activities energize you — and which feel like a slog. "From that, you have critical information that you can factor into your choices about your personal and professional activities," she says.

Jim Davies, PhD, a faculty member at Carleton University in Ottawa, says that for him and many of his colleagues, a lot of work commitments are self-imposed. "They are projects we are passionate about and take on whether we have the time to commit to them or not," he says. "We're too busy because we're overcommitted, not because our jobs are too onerous."

Davies uses a rigid strategy to balance personal and professional time. Every morning, he fills in a detailed spreadsheet with activities for each half hour of his waking day. "Crucially, I also schedule in my breaks," he says — including lunch, coffee breaks and even daily naps. "For me, prioritizing life means putting it in the schedule like all the other important things."

Still, for many people, time management isn't really the problem, says Sandra Lewis, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Montclair State University in New Jersey and founder of The Living Source, a company that helps clients improve well-being and achieve their goals. "People focus a lot on time management, but I think in terms of personal energy management. If you have enough energy, you make better use of your time," Lewis says. "In the same way we charge our cellphones, we need to charge ourselves."

Yet when we're overextended, even activities that energize us can feel like one more item on an endless to-do list. So Wise suggests taking advantage of smaller moments. You might not have an hour to go to the gym, but you could take a 10-minute lunchtime walk. If you can't fit in a yoga class, take five minutes between appointments to breathe or stretch or meditate. "Find self-care strategies that you can integrate in rather than add on," she says. "Honor the smaller things."

While such strategies are helpful, more needs to be done to change the culture of workplaces from the top down, says Christensen. Too many organizations value busyness and productivity at the expense of their employees' well-being, he says. "Often in this kind of professional workplace, when you're working with other smart, committed people, the way to excel is to overwork."

Christensen has been collaborating with health-care systems in Oregon to measure well-being among clinicians, including physicians and psychologists. He's optimistic that many such organizations are starting to realize that helping employees avoid burnout is not only good for employees, but also for patients and the financial bottom line. That kind of sea change is crucial for making work-life balance more attainable, he says. "The things we as individuals can do will take us only so far."

Meanwhile, Wise argues that instead of focusing only on reducing stress, the field of psychology should do more to promote and maintain well-being broadly. "We need a more positive vision," she says. "As a profession, whether we practice or do research, whether we're being mentors or treating patients, we need to be aware that keeping ourselves healthy is important."

Further reading

  • Hays, P. H. (2014). Creating well-being: Four steps to a happier, healthier life. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Walsh, R. (2011). Lifestyle and mental health. American Psychologist, 66(7), 579–592. DOI: 10.1037/a0021769
  • Wise, E. H., Hersh, M. A., & Gibson, C. M. (2012). Ethics, self-care and well-being for psychologists: Reenvisioning the stress-distress continuum. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 43(5), 487–494. DOI: 10.1037/a0029446

By Kirsten Weir


Did you find this article useful?

0 0
23 Jun 2017

How Did You Get That Job? A Q&A with NIH Technology and Innovation Executive Dr. Matthew McMahon

The knowledge, skills and experience gained through your psychology training can successfully transfer to a variety of jobs. As the Director of the Office of Translational Alliances and Coordination at the NIH’s Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Dr. Matthew McMahon uses his psychology background to help academic researchers convert their laboratory discoveries into therapies and cures through entrepreneurship and product development training, seed funding for projects, and mentoring by business and industry experts. Learn how you can apply your psychology education to a similar career path.

Matthew McMahonSpeaker:

Matthew McMahon, PhD, leads the Office of Translational Alliances and Coordination to enable the development and commercialization of research discoveries funded by the Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Dr. McMahon previously created and led the National Eye Institute’s Office of Translational Research to advance ophthalmic technologies through public-private partnerships with the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. His previous experience includes service as the principal scientist for the bionic eye company Second Sight Medical Products and as a staff member on the Senate and House of Representatives committees responsible for science, technology, and innovation policy.

Garth FowlerHost:

Garth A. Fowler, PhD, is an Associate Executive Director for Education, and the Director of the Office for Graduate and Postgraduate Education and Training at APA. He leads the Directorate’s efforts to develop resources, guidelines, and policies that promote and enhance disciplinary education and training in psychology at the graduate and postdoctoral level.

Did you find this webinar useful?

1 0
20 Jun 2017

Stop Wasting Time: Keys to Great Meetings

Stop Wasting Time: Keys to Great Meetings

Whether it's a gathering of health-care providers, faculty, students or a mix, here's how to make your meetings productive

Meetings that start late, last too long and accomplish little can stress attendees far beyond that lost hour, says Steven Rogelberg, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who studies meeting science. Research shows bad meetings can lead to job dissatisfaction, employee fatigue and what he calls "meeting recovery syndrome"—time spent cooling off after a frustrating meeting, which often includes destructive commiseration with colleagues.

"The next thing you know, the weight of the crappy meeting is higher, and it can spill over into other areas of work," he says.

How can everyone make meetings more effective, even enjoyable? The best gatherings happen when meeting leaders view themselves as stewards of everyone else's valuable time, says Rogelberg. Good stewards plan meetings thoughtfully, manage group dynamics, find out in advance why people want to meet and promote other people's contributions rather than their own.

Here is more wisdom from experts for attendees and leaders on how to meet-up better.

Be on time. Arriving late to meetings undermines productivity from the start—and upper management members are often the worst offenders, says Daniel Post Senning, co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and great-great-grandson of manners guru Emily Post. "Often, they believe the rules don't apply to them."

Lateness may cause more than irritation: In a paper under review, Rogelberg and Joseph Allen, PhD, found that when a person showed up less than five minutes late for a meeting, productivity didn't suffer. But when an attendee or leader showed up five to 10 minutes late, "satisfaction, effectiveness and productivity of the meeting dropped dramatically," says Allen, an associate professor of industrial-organizational psychology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Wallace Dixon, PhD, psychology department chair at East Tennessee State University, leads by example by starting and ending his monthly faculty meeting precisely on time. "If you don't, you insult the people who got there on time, reward the people who got there late and convey to everyone their time isn't that important," he says.

Be prepared. Arriving "late, frazzled, with nothing but a leaky coffee cup doesn't leave a good impression," Senning says. Bring something to take notes with and a steady attention span. Complete any assigned reading in advance. "Nothing is worse than showing up to the meeting and finding that no one has read the documents that [you sent, and] you then have to explain to everyone what they should have read," says Allen.

Make your phone (mostly) invisible. Despite the leave-the-device-at-the-door practice made popular by President Obama and Amazon, in most settings it is considered OK to bring your smartphone to meetings if you keep your attention on the speaker, says Senning. He recommends telling people in advance if you plan to use your phone to take notes or images of PowerPoint slides. But if people are gravitating to their devices in meetings, it may be a sign that the meeting needs to be more engaging, says Rogelberg. "Devices are signals," he says. "Psychologically, the person is trying to regain control of the time."

Diversify the discussion. No one attendee should monopolize the conversation—and no good facilitator should let anyone do it. Dixon says he will pull faculty aside later if they are talking too much in meetings because it bothers other staff and "they will lose faith in you as a leader if you don't handle it," he says. All attendees can share in that responsibility by making an effort to contribute even if public speaking isn't their forte, says Allen. His research has shown that when people make an effort to participate in a meeting—especially when there is a decision-making component—they are happier with the meeting's result and the meeting is more effective.

Move it along. Dixon places a time limit on each discussion item when he plans his faculty meetings and enforces those limits with his smartphone's timer. Another way to prevent run-on discussions and create a sense of urgency, Rogelberg says, is to switch from hourlong weekly or monthly meetings to shorter, more frequent "huddles": 10- to 15-minute meet-ups designed to save time and boost efficiency. If a leader has a difficult time staying on task, any attendee can help move a meeting forward by tactfully redirecting his or her attention to the agenda, says Allen.

Be constructive. Meetings can unravel when attendees cut one another off, dismiss each other, hold side conversations or argue. Avoid such tension, such as by saying, "I agree with some of what you're saying" instead of a short-tempered, "I just don't agree with you," says Brenda Fellows, PhD, of the Haas School of Business, University of California. Along those lines, Dixon advises the department chairs he mentors never to put a contentious issue to a vote in a meeting because it makes people uncomfortable. "Voting only divides, it never unites," he says. "When you resort to a vote, you have stopped talking."

Additional reading

Participate or Else! The Effect of Participation in Decision-Making in Meetings on Employee Engagement
Yoerger, M., Crowe, J., & Allen, J.A. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 2015

Meeting Design Characteristics and Attendee Perceptions of Staff/Team Meeting Quality
Cohen, M.A., Rogelberg, S.G., Allen, J.A., & Luong, A. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2011

"Not Another Meeting!" Are Meeting Time Demands Related to Employee Well-Being?
Rogelberg, S.G., Leach, D.J., Warr, P.B., & Burnfield, J.L. Journal of Applied Psychology, 2006

By Jamie Chamberlin


This article was originally published in the December 2016 Monitor on Psychology

Did you find this article useful?

3 0
20 Jun 2017

Care and Legal Help for Patients in Need

Care and Legal Help for Patients in Need

Medical-legal partnerships are bringing lawyers and paralegals to health-care teams to improve the health and well-being of underserved populations

When Jack Tsai, PhD, treats veterans at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, they often have problems that go beyond the scope of his work as a psychologist. Many have post-traumatic stress disorder or cognitive disabilities and are fighting for disability benefits. Others are embroiled in housing disputes, are facing eviction or have already become homeless.

While psychologists can treat their mental health concerns, these veterans need legal help, too. "A lot of these patients have never had anyone advocate for them in court," says Tsai, who has dual appointments at the VA and the Yale School of Medicine.

Enter the medical-legal partnership, or MLP, a model that embeds lawyers and paralegals into health-care teams to detect, address and prevent social conditions that harm health. Those legal experts typically work on-site in health-care settings, either part time or full time, where they can access patients' medical records and even sit in on clinical meetings. The legal services are offered at no charge to the patient. Programs are typically funded through a combination of philanthropy, law schools and civil legal aid agencies, with a handful of contributions from health-care partners.

Psychologists are obvious candidates for getting involved in MLPs, Tsai says. They already have long-term relationships with their clients and understand how their legal problems might be interfering with their mental health and well-being. Plus, psychologists are often accustomed to working on interdisciplinary teams.

Unlike sending patients to a legal aid clinic, Tsai adds, the process is streamlined when the legal team is located inside the hospital. "We can walk patients down the hall and do a warm handoff," he says.

Helping underserved populations

The current MLP model was developed at the Boston Medical Center in 1993 but didn't begin to catch on until the late 2000s when it was embraced by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. To date, nearly 300 hospitals and health centers nationwide have developed MLPs, according to the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership.

Adding a legal expert to the team helps underserved populations in a variety of ways: They can help patients apply for food stamps and disability benefits; press landlords to improve substandard housing; help tenants avoid eviction; advocate for special education services; fight employment discrimination; and assist with issues related to immigration, child custody and domestic violence—just some of the many factors that can undermine a patient's health.

"I can't imagine what things would be like without having the MLP, because they do so much," says Britt Nielsen, PsyD, an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University and clinical psychologist at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. In 2015, the MetroHealth MLP provided assistance to 839 people. Of those, 43 percent had mental health disorders.

MetroHealth began its MLP program 14 years ago in the pediatrics department, Nielsen says. Though it has since expanded to assist adult patients as well, advocating for kids is still a focus. "We do a lot of advocacy as psychologists, talking to teachers or writing letters to a patient's school," Nielsen says. "But MLPs have a great working knowledge of the law, and the things they're able to do go beyond what I can do in a phone call or a letter."

Often, families in underserved populations don't understand what rights they have when it comes to education, living arrangements or Supplemental Security Income, she adds. In addition to helping families directly with legal issues, she says, the MLP has also made physicians more aware of patients' rights, helping to ensure more patients get the services and support they need.

In some cases, MLPs highlight a bigger need that goes beyond a single patient. Nielsen points to a case where a local school district wasn't providing students with the special education services required by law. "The MLP was able to take the district to court and get restitution for those families," she says.

Need for data

While anecdotal evidence suggests MLPs are valuable, few studies have assessed their effectiveness. The National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership is developing metrics to systematically measure the effects of MLPs on patient well-being and health-care costs. Meanwhile, some smaller studies have found the partnerships provide benefits.

A study by Mary M. O'Sullivan, MD, at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, and colleagues found asthma patients had reductions in asthma medications and their hospital admissions and emergency room visits declined after an MLP was put into place (Journal of Asthma, 2012). And a pilot study of a Tucson-based MLP by Anne M. Ryan, JD, and colleagues at the University of Arizona found patients' perceived stress levels decreased and overall well-being increased after receiving help from an MLP (Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 2012).

Evidence also suggests that MLPs make economic sense. In one example, Kerry J. Rodabaugh, MD, at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and colleagues studied the benefits of an MLP for cancer patients and their health-care institution. Between April 2004 and December 2007, the program assisted terminal patients with legal issues such as guardianship, estate planning and benefits advocacy. During that period, the MLP helped overturn denials of insurance benefits for 17 patients, preventing economic hardship for patients while recovering $923,188 in reimbursements to the hospital (Journal of Palliative Medicine, 2010).

Tsai and his colleagues recently received a grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation to evaluate whether the MLP model improves mental health and quality of life for patients at four VA sites in Connecticut and New York over the next two years. Aside from his study, however, little research has been done focusing on the mental health benefits of such programs, he says.

Those data are sorely needed, says Tsai, especially as many MLPs are struggling to find funding through grants and donations. "There's huge potential for mental health researchers to help these legal clinics collect data and evaluate outcomes," he says. "It's an area ripe for psychologists."

For more information on medical-legal partnerships, visit the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership http://medical-legalpartnership.org.

To watch a video on how medical-legal partnerships work, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdvE5wbumYw.

When Jack Tsai, PhD, treats veterans at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, they often have problems that go beyond the scope of his work as a psychologist. Many have post-traumatic stress disorder or cognitive disabilities and are fighting for disability benefits. Others are embroiled in housing disputes, are facing eviction or have already become homeless.

While psychologists can treat their mental health concerns, these veterans need legal help, too. "A lot of these patients have never had anyone advocate for them in court," says Tsai, who has dual appointments at the VA and the Yale School of Medicine.

Enter the medical-legal partnership, or MLP, a model that embeds lawyers and paralegals into health-care teams to detect, address and prevent social conditions that harm health. Those legal experts typically work on-site in health-care settings, either part time or full time, where they can access patients' medical records and even sit in on clinical meetings. The legal services are offered at no charge to the patient. Programs are typically funded through a combination of philanthropy, law schools and civil legal aid agencies, with a handful of contributions from health-care partners.

Psychologists are obvious candidates for getting involved in MLPs, Tsai says. They already have long-term relationships with their clients and understand how their legal problems might be interfering with their mental health and well-being. Plus, psychologists are often accustomed to working on interdisciplinary teams.

Unlike sending patients to a legal aid clinic, Tsai adds, the process is streamlined when the legal team is located inside the hospital. "We can walk patients down the hall and do a warm handoff," he says.

Helping underserved populations

The current MLP model was developed at the Boston Medical Center in 1993 but didn't begin to catch on until the late 2000s when it was embraced by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. To date, nearly 300 hospitals and health centers nationwide have developed MLPs, according to the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership.

Adding a legal expert to the team helps underserved populations in a variety of ways: They can help patients apply for food stamps and disability benefits; press landlords to improve substandard housing; help tenants avoid eviction; advocate for special education services; fight employment discrimination; and assist with issues related to immigration, child custody and domestic violence—just some of the many factors that can undermine a patient's health.

"I can't imagine what things would be like without having the MLP, because they do so much," says Britt Nielsen, PsyD, an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University and clinical psychologist at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. In 2015, the MetroHealth MLP provided assistance to 839 people. Of those, 43 percent had mental health disorders.

MetroHealth began its MLP program 14 years ago in the pediatrics department, Nielsen says. Though it has since expanded to assist adult patients as well, advocating for kids is still a focus. "We do a lot of advocacy as psychologists, talking to teachers or writing letters to a patient's school," Nielsen says. "But MLPs have a great working knowledge of the law, and the things they're able to do go beyond what I can do in a phone call or a letter."

Often, families in underserved populations don't understand what rights they have when it comes to education, living arrangements or Supplemental Security Income, she adds. In addition to helping families directly with legal issues, she says, the MLP has also made physicians more aware of patients' rights, helping to ensure more patients get the services and support they need.

In some cases, MLPs highlight a bigger need that goes beyond a single patient. Nielsen points to a case where a local school district wasn't providing students with the special education services required by law. "The MLP was able to take the district to court and get restitution for those families," she says.

Need for data

While anecdotal evidence suggests MLPs are valuable, few studies have assessed their effectiveness. The National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership is developing metrics to systematically measure the effects of MLPs on patient well-being and health-care costs. Meanwhile, some smaller studies have found the partnerships provide benefits.

A study by Mary M. O'Sullivan, MD, at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, and colleagues found asthma patients had reductions in asthma medications and their hospital admissions and emergency room visits declined after an MLP was put into place (Journal of Asthma, 2012). And a pilot study of a Tucson-based MLP by Anne M. Ryan, JD, and colleagues at the University of Arizona found patients' perceived stress levels decreased and overall well-being increased after receiving help from an MLP (Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 2012).

Evidence also suggests that MLPs make economic sense. In one example, Kerry J. Rodabaugh, MD, at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and colleagues studied the benefits of an MLP for cancer patients and their health-care institution. Between April 2004 and December 2007, the program assisted terminal patients with legal issues such as guardianship, estate planning and benefits advocacy. During that period, the MLP helped overturn denials of insurance benefits for 17 patients, preventing economic hardship for patients while recovering $923,188 in reimbursements to the hospital (Journal of Palliative Medicine, 2010).

Tsai and his colleagues recently received a grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation to evaluate whether the MLP model improves mental health and quality of life for patients at four VA sites in Connecticut and New York over the next two years. Aside from his study, however, little research has been done focusing on the mental health benefits of such programs, he says.

Those data are sorely needed, says Tsai, especially as many MLPs are struggling to find funding through grants and donations. "There's huge potential for mental health researchers to help these legal clinics collect data and evaluate outcomes," he says. "It's an area ripe for psychologists."

For more information on medical-legal partnerships, visit the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership http://medical-legalpartnership.org.

To watch a video on how medical-legal partnerships work, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdvE5wbumYw.

Additional reading

  • Medical-Legal Partnerships: Transforming Primary Care by Addressing the Legal Needs of Vulnerable Populations, Sandel, M., Hansen, M., Kahn, R., Lawton, E., Paul, E., Parker, V., Morton, S., and Zuckerman, B. Health Affairs, 2010
  • The State of the Medical-Legal Partnership Field: Findings from the 2015 National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership Surveys, Regenstein, M., Sharac, J., and Trott, J.

By Kirsten Weir 


This article was originally published in the November 2016 Monitor on Psychology

Did you find this article useful?

0 0
20 Jun 2017

NIH Toolbox Offers Easier Data Collection

NIH Toolbox Offers Easier Data Collection

The set of measures is useful for both researchers and clinicians alike—and can save money and time over traditional tools

For years, neurobehavioral researchers often couldn't compare data across studies or even within the same longitudinal study because they lacked a "common currency" for collecting data on various aspects of research participants' functioning.

"People used all sorts of different measures and assessments," says Molly V. Wagster, PhD, a psychologist who heads the behavioral and systems neuroscience branch in the National Institute on Aging's neuroscience division. And because there were different tests for different age groups, she says, "people had to resort to all sorts of different measures to follow someone over a period of time." Plus, she adds, researchers looking for quick-and-easy assessments sometimes resorted to tools designed for diagnosing disorders, not assessing function.

Now all that has changed, thanks to the National Institutes of Health's creation of the NIH Toolbox® for Assessment of Neurological and Behavioral Function. Developed by more than 250 scientists, many of them psychologists, the toolbox offers brief measures—some already existing and some created especially for the project—for assessing cognitive, emotional, sensory and motor functioning in research participants ages 3 to 85.

Introduced in 2012 and adapted for the iPad in 2015, the NIH Toolbox offers researchers a comprehensive set of tools for collecting data that can be compared across existing and future studies, says Wagster, the lead federal project officer for the toolbox.

The NIH Toolbox saves researchers time, says psychologist Richard C. Gershon, PhD, the NIH Toolbox's principal investigator and a professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "You can administer the equivalent of a one- or two-day neuropsych battery in two hours," says Gershon. The complete cognition battery can be administered in about 30 minutes.

The toolbox can also save money, says Gershon. Take the test used to assess people's sense of balance, which could be used to gauge older people's risk of falling. "Our test arguably replaces between $10,000 and $100,000 worth of equipment with a $160 iPad," he says.

Clinical psychologists could find the NIH Toolbox useful, too, says Abigail B. Sivan, PhD, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern, who helped develop it. In the future, a clinical psychologist might use the toolbox's assessments to help distinguish between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and anxiety, for example, or between Alzheimer's disease and normal age-related changes in memory, she says. Clinicians could also use the NIH Toolbox to track patients' progress over time, she says.

Available as an app at iTunes, the NIH Toolbox can be downloaded on up to 10 iPads for an annual subscription fee of $500. Users can try it out for free for 60 days.

For more information, visit www.nihtoolbox.org.

By Rebecca  A. Clay


This article was originally published in the December 2016 Monitor on Psychology

Did you find this article useful?

0 0
20 Jun 2017

Psychology Offers Many Options When It’s Time to Take a Different Direction

Psychology Offers Many Options When It’s Time to Take a Different Direction
Patricia Arredondo, EdD, had been working as an assistant professor for three years at Boston University when she realized she had to re-route her career plans. Even though she had a strong track record of publications and was leading a three-year federally funded grant, a professor told her she was not going to get tenure.

The news rattled her confidence, but also fueled her motivation to seek out alternatives. So, she attended career planning workshops and evaluated her interests and skills. At a guided meditation at one of the workshops, Arredondo imagined what she wanted to be doing in 10 years, and envisioned a job that would allow more creativity and interaction with the public.

That reflection led her to launch Empowerment Workshops Inc., a consulting business focused on helping companies create and implement a diversity strategy in the workplace, often working to increase the presence of women and ethnic minorities. "Each time it was like working with a new client in therapy because every organization had a different narrative to tell, and the variety gave me an opportunity to be creative and adaptable," she says.

Arredondo later returned to academia when she was ready for another transition, and eventually moved into administrative roles at several universities. Her latest position was president of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Chicago campus.

Arredondo's story is just one example of a psychologist who for one reason or another decided to make a career change.

"We all experience some type of work transition whether we choose it or not," says Patrick Rottinghaus, PhD, an associate professor of counseling psychology at the University of Missouri in Columbia. "The occupational landscape is different now than in the past. Most people shift careers multiple times."

Some are forced to make changes involuntarily when there are layoffs, an organization closes or senior workers are asked to retire, says Nadya Fouad, PhD, chair of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Some make subtle changes by, for example, moving from one practice specialty area to another. Others retire and take on psychology-related volunteer work. Others voluntarily opt to revamp their careers when they start feeling restless or want to gain new expertise.

"Most people who choose to make a change voluntarily have been thinking about it for a long time," says Sue Motulsky, EdD, associate professor of counseling and psychology at Lesley University in Massachusetts. "They may start noticing signs of burnout, such as loss of interest in what they're doing, mistakes and lack of judgment or increased impatience."

Whatever the reasons may be for contemplating a new direction, the prospect of making a career shift can be daunting. Here's some advice from experts in vocational psychology and psychologists who have successfully navigated a transition.

See a career counselor

The process of career transition is not easy, and it is especially difficult to do in isolation, says Motulsky, who maintains a private practice in career counseling in addition to her work as a professor. "This is almost impossible to do by yourself, and a counselor will help you start the journey of exploring your options."

A counselor can provide self-assessment inventories that will tease out vocational interests, skills, values and life roles, which all come into play when making a career change, explains Rottinghaus. Motulsky also encourages psychologists to consider seeing a career counselor who has a doctorate because he or she will understand what is involved in earning this degree and how that investment of time and money can influence career decisions.

Listening to your frustration can be good

Sherry Benton, PhDSherry Benton, PhD, felt overwhelmed by the demands of directing a university counseling center, but her frustration took her in a different direction.

"I really liked doing therapy and working with students, but I found it intolerable that we didn't have the capacity to treat everyone who needed help," says Benton, who directed the Counseling & Wellness Center at the University of Florida. "If we made students wait a month for an appointment, that could have a significant impact on their well-being."

She searched for models to increase access and capacity, and discovered a tool in Australia that used brief phone contact with a therapist and online educational modules to teach cognitive behavioral strategies. She created her own version of the program, which included interactive online education and a dashboard that enabled therapists to track a patient's progress. For example, therapists could see details of patient entries in the interactive exercises and how patients were rating their behavioral health at different points in time. She tried the new model at the wellness center, and it was so successful that she started a business to market the product.

Benton hired four employees, and TAO (Therapist Assisted Online) officially launched in July 2015. TAO offers online tools for client education, interaction, accountability and progress assessment. For example, the modules include animation and real actors portraying situations that clients can relate to as well as interactive exercises.

"It's really scary and completely worth it," Benton says. "It's satisfying to pursue your dream and make it happen, but it's not easy. I would describe it as a mix of elation and terror."

Be honest with yourself

Robert Youmans, PhD and familyRobert Youmans, PhD, started his career as an assistant professor specializing in applied cognition, but he slowly discovered that the world of academia what not what he had envisioned. Although he enjoyed teaching—first at California State University, Northridge, then at George Mason University in Virginia—it was difficult to find funding in his area of interest, design thinking and processes.

Living on a faculty salary was also trying, and he started consulting on the side to supplement his income. He founded Human Factors Design Consulting and worked with companies that needed his expertise in user experience research. The work was lucrative, and he enjoyed building new products. "It was an odd experience," he says. "On one hand, I had more work offers coming in from companies than I had time to accept, but at the same time I had trouble getting funding to study those areas within academia."

He made numerous contacts through his business, and they would often suggest that he apply for full-time positions at their companies, but he wasn't ready to leave academia. Finally, in 2013 he was open to a career change. He and his wife were expecting their first child, which elevated his sense of financial responsibility. In 2014, he accepted a position as a user-experience researcher in a product area called Streams, Photos and Sharing at Google.

"When I was younger I had these romantic notions of what it meant to be a professor, but the day-to-day of being a professor wasn't always what I had hoped it would be," Youmans says. He knew he would miss teaching, and was nervous about leaving his colleagues and job security, but he hasn't looked back. "Now I'm doing interesting and rigorous science research—and I earn many times what I earned in academia," he says.

Be open to change

Andrew Adler, EdD, had worked as a school psychologist in Nashville, Tennessee, for 28 years when he started considering retirement. He was surprised when a recruiter called to see if he was interested in a job as a mental health clinical director contracted to the Tennessee Department of Correction. He had experience working with students whose parents were incarcerated, and had previously consulted as a psychologist in the Tennessee prison system. So, recognizing he had the right background, he accepted the job in 2012.

"School psychology set me up well for working in a prison," Adler says. "Prisons, like schools, serve all of society and have people with a range of social problems and diagnoses. Inmates are ripe for remedial and rehabilitative support."

Like Adler, Joyce Jadwin, PsyD, started working in the prison system a few years ago. Unlike him, it was her first full-time job as a psychologist. She managed a program for female sex offenders in Ohio, but after a year in the role she realized the work was not a match with her interests.

"I wanted to use skills beyond being an individual provider," says Jadwin, who had worked as a college administrator before she earned her doctorate in psychology. "I was used to making independent decisions and influencing policy and procedure."

Jadwin applied for a role as assistant director of faculty development in the medical school at Ohio University, and got the job. "My psychology training allows me to bring a clinical perspective to my role, which gives me credibility with physicians because I understand what they are going through in the medical world."

Start now

Although it's natural to implement many of these strategies when a job transition is imminent, Rottinghaus urges psychologists to take time to nurture career development each year. He often uses Jane Goodman's "Dental Model," which advises people to conduct a career check-up annually, like a regular visit to the dentist. Taking time regularly to evaluate job satisfaction and reiterate long-term goals can reduce the chances of frustration later, he says.

"Strategically engage with mentors over time, even when times are good," Rottinghaus says. "Once you get out into the workforce, nurture those mentoring relationships so you can articulate your professional objectives. Mentors are there to provide support, and they may have connections if you need to transition into another role or setting."

Without such strategies and an overall plan to guide them, people are at risk of letting others define their career trajectories and reacting to events rather than defining their own future, he says. In fact, most people who make a career transition wish they had done it sooner, says Motulsky.

"If you let yourself explore different options that you are drawn to, you may discover something that will make life more satisfying and meaningful," she says. "I've seen many people go through the career process and find a job that makes them far happier, which is important because most people spend a lot of time at work."

Ready for a change?

  1. Talk to a career counselor to guide you through self-assessment.
  2. Listen to your frustrations since they can lead you to new paths.
  3. Do a gut check. Is this really what you want in your life?
  4. Don't wait. Most people who make a switch wish they had done it sooner.

By Heather Stringer


This article was originally published in the September 2016 Monitor on Psychology

Did you find this article useful?

1 0