Q&A With Physician-Author Dr. Richard Friedman

richard friedman

Dr. Richard Friedman is a professor of clinical psychiatry and a psychopharmacology clinic director at Weill Cornell Medical College, where he focuses on mood and anxiety disorders. In addition to his research, Dr. Friedman has interests in mental health policy and psychiatric practice, and is a classical pianist and long-distance swimmer. He graduated from Duke University in 1978 with a degree in physics before graduating from Robert Wood Johnson Medical School – University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 1982. He has written for The New York Times science section since 2002, and recently became a contributing opinion writer in 2015. He has also written for The New England Journal of MedicineThe American Journal of Psychiatry, and The Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Friedman graciously agreed to talk with me over the phone. This interview has been edited and condensed. Continue reading “Q&A With Physician-Author Dr. Richard Friedman”

Q&A With Stephen Aichele, PhD – Quantitative Psychologist

Stephen Aichele, PhD, is a research scientist in Switzerland in University of Geneva’s Psychology & Educational Sciences Department. Aichele received his bachelor’s degree in biopsychology from University of California, Santa Barbara (1994), followed by a master’s degree with highest honors in quantitative psychology (2010) and a PhD in quantitative psychology (2013) from University of California, Davis. As a graduate research assistant, Dr. Aichele worked on both the The Samantha Project and Savannas Forever Tanzania HIV Research Initiative.
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20 Questions: Kent A. Kiehl, PhD, Criminal Psychopathy

Dr. Kent Kiehl is an associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of New Mexico. He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology with an emphasis in biology from the University of California Davis (1993), and both a master’s degree (1996) and a PhD (2000) in psychology and neuroscience from the University of British Columbia. Dr. Kiehl specializes in the use of clinical brain imaging techniques to understand major mental illnesses, with special focus on criminal psychopathy, psychotic disorders, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse and paraphilias. He has designed the one-of-a-kind Mind Mobile MRI System to conduct research and treatment studies with forensic populations. To date, his laboratory has deployed the Mind Mobile MRI System to collect brain imaging data from over 3,000 offenders at eight different facilities in two states, which represents the world’s largest forensic neuroscience repository.
Currently, Dr. Kiehl is the director of Mobile Imaging Core and Clinical Cognitive Neuroscience, Mind Research Network (a nonprofit organization) in Albuquerque, as well as executive science officer of the Mind Research Network. He is a member of the Society for Psychophysiological Research, Cognitive Neuroscience Society, International Organization of Human Brain Mapping, International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy, Neurotics Society, Society for Neuroscience, and American Psychological Association. He is associate editor for Psychophysiology, an ad hoc reviewer for numerous journals, and has been published in countless journals, including Journal of Personality and Social PsychologyIssues in Criminological & Legal PsychologyPerception and PsychophysicsJournal of Cognitive NeuroscienceClinical NeurophysiologyBritish Journal of PsychiatryJournal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical NeurosciencePsychological MedicineSchizophrenia ResearchPsychophysiology
International Journal of Psychophysiology, Biological PsychiatryBrain ResearchBrain Imaging and BehaviorSocial Cognitive and Affective NeuroscienceBritish Journal of PsychologyJournal of Financial CrimePsychological ScienceJournal of Personality DisordersFrontiers in System NeuroscienceNeurologyJournal of NeuroscienceJournal of Abnormal PsychologyDevelopmental Cognitive NeuroscienceArchives of General PsychiatryFrontiers in Neuropsychiatric Imaging and StimulationJournal of Personality and Social PsychologyJournal of Abnormal Child PsychologyAmerican Journal of PsychiatryBiological PsychologyFrontiers in Human NeuroscienceHuman Brain MappingJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryCriminal Justice and Behavior and Neuroimage.
When did you first decide to pursue a PhD in psychology? Why?
I decided as a junior in college. I realized I wanted to teach and do research. At the time a PhD was the best path to do so.
How/why did you choose the graduate school you attended?
I selected my graduate school because the world’s leader in my field of interest was there. I specifically went to work under his tutelage. That was Dr. Robert Hare, psychopathy expert, at the University of British Columbia. I always recommend people identify a mentor first and then the school.
What surprised you the most about your psychology studies?
In my area, what surprised me most was the realization that the psychopath’s brain is very different from the rest of us.
Why did you decide to also pursue a PhD in neuroscience?
I decided to do so because neuroscience had the tools and techniques to answer my questions about the psychopath’s brain.
If you had it to do all over again, would you have followed the same academic path? (Why or why not?)
Good question. If I was to start over, I might do a combined MD/PhD program rather than a PhD program. The reason is because I enjoy treating individuals, and I would do more treatment if I was clinically involved with the clients. Right now we do treatment in research contexts but it would be interesting and rewarding to do treatment in a clinical context.
Has being a psychologist met your expectations? Why?
Yes it has met my expectations. I very much enjoy the work that I do. I highly recommend people find a path that excites them. One that they look forward to getting up every day and working on. That’s what I did and I’ve always been happy.
What do you like most about being a psychologist? Explain.
The mind/brain is the most amazing organ. I am always fascinated to learn more about it every day.
What do you like least about being a psychologist? Explain.
I can’t point to anything in particular. I was just fortunate to be able to select an educational path that enables me to do the science that interests me. It’s a perfect match.
What was it like finding a job in your field—what were your options and why did you decide what you did?
I realized early on that I had to publish peer-reviewed papers if I wanted to be a successful academic. I enjoy the writing process, even when it is a struggle, and have been able to publish many papers. This has led to much of my successes. I have been fortunate to work at a number of great schools and with nonprofits. I try to educate my graduate students and post docs to always be open to new things and to never let geography limit your job search. You really have to be willing to move any place in the world that helps you do the best science you can.
Describe a typical day at work—walk me through a day in your shoes.
I devote 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. to writing. Then I drive to campus. From 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. there are meetings. I take lunch from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m (usually with my post docs). From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. there are more meetings. Then I head home for family time from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. I try to be in bed by 9 p.m. I travel once per month minimum, and often as frequently as four trips per month. I am also at prisons, often at least three to five days a month, working with my laboratory.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I work 50 to 60 hours per week. I typically run on six hours of sleep. I try to take two weeks off per year. Sometimes more, but usually just two.
Do you feel that you are adequately compensated? Why or why not? 
I’ve been fortunate to generate income from books, lectures, and other consulting. Generally speaking, academics are underpaid relative to peers in law schools or similar.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain? Please explain.
I was a fortunate recipient of NIH student-loan repayment awards. I highly recommend them. Had I not won those awards, I probably would still be renting an apartment rather than owning a house.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself when you were beginning your career?
I would not change anything. I have been very fortunate.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning your studies?
Write even more than I have done. I have so much data that I need to publish. It could be worse…. having no data. I just feel that there is not enough time to write up all the great data we collected.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in health care today?
I lived in Canada and loved the socialized medicine. I think we need to alter the for-profit priorities in the U.S. for health care and catch up with the rest of the world.
Where do you see your specialty in five years?
I see it growing. And hopefully lobbying for more treatment dollars for high-risk youth and adult offenders.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
Mostly education to judges, lawyers, and lay audiences about neuroscience and law.
Do you have family? Do you have enough time to spend with them? How do you balance work and life outside of work?
Yes, I have a wife and a daughter. I do my best, but it is hard to find the right balance between work and life. But finding that balance would exist for me regardless of the career path I chose. I love my work, so I would be working just as hard if I had chosen a different career.
What is your final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing a career in your speciality? 
Write. More. Do the best science you can.

20 Questions: David Matsumoto, PhD

Dr. David Matsumoto (davidmatsumoto.com) is the founder and director of Humintell (humintell.com), which provides training in the fields of facial expression of emotion, nonverbal behavior, detecting deception and cultural adaptation. He is also a professor of psychology at San Francisco State University (SFSU), and founder and director of SFSU’s Culture and Emotion Research Laboratory, which focuses on studies involving culture, emotion, social interaction and communication. Matsumoto received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and Japanese from University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (1981), and his master’s degree (1983) and doctorate degree in Psychology (1986) from the University of California, Berkeley.

In 2009, Matsumoto was one of the select few to receive the prestigious Minerva Grant; a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to examine the role of emotions in ideologically-based groups. He was the Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology and is an Editor of the Culture and Diversity Section for the Social and Personality Psychology Compass. Matsumoto is also an Editorial Board Member for Personality and Social Psychology Review; Asian Journal of Social Psychology; Asian Psychologist; Journal of Nonverbal Behavior; Motivation and Emotion; Cognition and Emotion; Human Communication; and Journal of Comparative Family Studies. Dr. Matsumoto is the author of numerous books, including: Nonverbal Communication Science and Applications (2013); The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat (2007); Culture and Psychology-4th Edition (2007); The New Japan: Debunking Seven Cultural Stereotypes (2002); The Handbook of Culture and Psychology (2001); Culture and Modern Life (1997); Unmasking Japan: Myths and Realities about the Emotions of the Japanese (1996); Cultural Influences on Research Methods and Statistics (1994); and People: Psychology From a Cultural Perspective (1994).

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20 Questions: Darcy Lockman, PhD, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Darcy Lockman is a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. She attended University of Michigan, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in American culture (1994). After taking several years off, Lockman attended City University of New York-Hunter College, where she earned a master’s degree in psychology (2003) and wrote her master’s thesis on the relationship between adult attachment style and sexual behavior. In 2008, Lockman earned a PhD in clinical psychology from Adelphi University, where she specialized in individual adult and group psychotherapy with a concentration in psychological testing, writing her doctoral dissertation on the relationship between the referential process and adult attachment style. She completed a one-year pre-doctoral internship at Kings County Hospital, and after her graduation, she completed a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at Bieuler Psychotherapy Center.
In addition to being in private practice, Dr. Lockman is adjunct clinical supervisor at City University of New York. Dr. Lockman specializes in inpatient and outpatient psychotherapy and psychological testing with adolescents and adults; psychological evaluation in the emergency room setting; health psychology; and family therapy. Last year, Doubleday published her memoir, Brooklyn Zoo: The Education of a Psychotherapist.
When did you first decide to become a doctor? Why?
Like many people who become psychologists, my first exposure to the field was as a patient. I started therapy at 22, when I was beginning a career in another field, and I became enamored of the way my psychoanalyst thought. She helped me understand myself in a complex way that also felt very true, and I wanted to be able to offer others what she gave to me.

How/why did you choose the school you attended?

There are different schools of thought in psychology these days, and because of my personal therapy, I knew which one felt the most interesting and stimulating to me. I chose to apply to graduate programs based on what we call the “orientation” of the programs. I wanted a psychodynamic program, so I hunted those down and then applied to them.
What surprised you the most about your studies?
How all encompassing it became. I went back to school at 30, feeling like I already had a full social life and didn’t want to make friends. I ended up becoming very involved with my classmates, because we were all so excited about what we were doing. For the five years I was in school, for better or worse, I didn’t have a lot going on outside of it. Luckily, my other friends were happy to see me regularly again once I graduated. I’m happy to have friends who are not psychologists.
Why did you decide to specialize in clinical psychology?
People get in their own way in life time and again. Helping people to see how they do this, and to show them other ways of being, is very gratifying to me. If everyone were in therapy, the problems of the world would be much more easily resolved. If everyone could get out of their own way.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a clinical psychologist? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
Yes, I’d do it all again. I love my work. It’s never dull, though it’s often emotionally difficult.
Has being a clinical psychologist met your expectations? Why?
Yes. I had been self-employed as a freelance writer and loved the freedom of that. I have that as a psychologist as well, and really appreciate it, especially now that I have small children. Also, honestly, there’s never a dull moment.

What do you like most about being a clinical psychologist?

I love getting to know people really well, hearing their stories, and helping them to strive toward building a life that feels meaningful and fulfilling to them, in whatever way they define that.

What do you like least about being a clinical psychologist?

The student loan debt will be with me for a lot of my life. It was worth it, but it has felt burdensome, especially in my first years out of school. Also, the work can be painful. When the work is going well, patients bring up difficult feelings in their providers. It’s part of my job to work through those, which ultimately serves me well, but it can be tough in the thick of it.

What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?

In the current health care climate, hospital jobs for psychologists are more rare than they should be. The “jobs” that are available (e.g. nursing home work, which is almost all I see posted on job sites these days) are not necessarily gratifying, or what one envisions for oneself. I knew I ultimately wanted to be in private practice, so I did other side jobs while I built that. The first years out of school are not easy by any means.
Describe a typical day at work.
I go to my office. My patients come see me. We talk. I have breaks throughout the day and I do my patient notes then, or eat lunch, return phone calls. Because I set my own schedule my day is only as hectic as I make it, and I control my own environment. I have a very comfortable chair, and I’ve picked all the décor. Typical hours are completely at my discretion. I could work 6 a.m. to midnight if I wanted, or noon to 5 p.m. Some therapists work weekends–patients who work full time are certainly willing to come in then.

On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?

I’m currently home part time with a baby, so I’m doing about 18 patient hours a week. Between writing and practicing, I’ve usually worked about 35 hours per week. I don’t sleep as much as I’d like, but this is because of my small children and not my career. My husband is a psychologist, too, and he works more than I do. He is away from home two evenings a week because that’s when many people need to see their therapist. That can be one drawback of the work—not being home for dinner. Vacation is tricky when you’re self-employed, but I’ve probably been taking two full weeks a year, and then long weekends here and there.

Are you satisfied with your income? Explain.

Yes. It takes time to build a practice, but once it’s built you can make a comfortable living. You will not be rich. Especially if you live in New York City.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain? Explain.
It was an incredible strain for the first couple years out of school. As a psychologist, you are not licensed for at least a year after graduation (which means you can only do very low paying work) but that first loan payment is due as soon as you graduate. This is a huge problem in clinical psychology education/licensing regulations right now. I was working six days a week simply to make ends meet for the first year out of school. It was exhausting and disheartening.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself when you started your medical career?
Work more during school to try to take out less loans.

What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning your medical studies?

Get as much clinical experience as you can while you’re taking your courses. It’s hard for the reading/theory to really sink in when you haven’t worked with/aren’t working with patients.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in health care today?
Availability of/interest in psychological services. We live in a society quick to medicate, eager for quick fixes. The rewards of psychotherapy are slow-won. “Slow” is not the way of our current culture. The drug companies have done their best to make the public believe that there is something wrong in their brains as opposed to in their lives/minds. They’ve gotten rich but have done the public a huge disservice in this (not that medication can’t be wonderfully helpful, but it has its limits).
Where do you see clinical psychology in five to 10 years?
I hope the pendulum swings back in the direction of psychological mindedness, and that the broader culture begins to value the development of self-understanding over pills and six session miracle treatments.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I work on a sliding scale with patients with financial need. I am a volunteer with the City of New York’s emergency medical corps.
Do you have family? If so, do you have enough time to spend with them? How do you balance work and life outside of work?
I have a husband and two young daughters. I set my own schedule so I can be with my children more than my friends who are traditionally employed, though of course I have financial obligations to meet, which means working.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing clinical psychology as a career?
It’s really interesting and rewarding work–do it.

Publishing Research in Psychology: Creating Opportunities

By definition, doctoral degrees in psychology, especially PhDs, should have a strong grounding in research, including publication. However, data from the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral Internship Centers indicate that more than half of internship applicants have not published any peer-reviewed journal articles by the time they apply for internship. Although publishing is obviously not a mandated component of graduate education, doing so may open up a broader range of career options post-graduation and increase understanding of the research and publication process. Furthermore, publishing before internship has been linked to higher internship match rates!
The prospect of publishing can feel overwhelming, especially to students who have not been through the publication process before or who are not part of a formal lab. This article contains some tips regarding publishing as a graduate student that I’ve taken from both my own experiences and those of friends, professors, and colleagues. Hopefully, they will assist you in finding new opportunities to publish early in your career!
Finding opportunities to publish
Some graduate students work in a very productive labs where opportunities to publish abound. Other students may attend more balanced programs where seeking out research opportunities may require more effort. Either way, it is important to be aware of ways to increase your research and publication productivity and efficiency!
Know the expectations upfront and make yours known as well. If publication is a goal for you, make that clear to faculty upfront. Don’t demand that you get published, but be clear that that is something that you’d like to work towards. Many graduate students have little or no interest in publishing and so faculty may not automatically assume that authorship on a journal article is a goal for you. Also, make sure you have a good understanding of what the faculty members and co-authors expect of you in return for authorship. Some people suggest negotiating authorship order upfront, but in my experience, this can be pretty fluid throughout the writing process, as people’s contributions tend to wax and wane over the course of a project or manuscript.
Have something to offer. When approaching faculty about conducting research or publishing, have something to bring to the table. Don’t overstate your abilities or brag, but do make it clear what you can contribute. For example, if you’ve taken advanced stats courses or have excellent coding skills that are relevant to a project, be sure to mention that. If you’ve done previous research in the area, mention and demonstrate a strong knowledge of the relevant literature. Make yourself valuable, even if you have to prove your skills first.
Hone your writing skills. Being known for being a good writer can be extremely helpful in securing publication opportunities. The process of writing a manuscript can be a long and tedious one and even more so when large parts of the manuscript have to be essentially re-written for clarity. Thus, co-authors who can write well can speed up the preparation process significantly and are seen as an asset to the research team.
Ask if there are any old manuscripts or projects that need work. Academic life is overwhelming, and perfectly good data and manuscripts sometimes get shoved in the file drawer when more pressing projects—or life!–intervene. Offering to take on an “orphaned” project or manuscript may be a good way to get a feel for the publication process without the responsibility of running an entire study right off the bat. You aren’t likely to be first author on these manuscripts, but if you contribute substantially, you should be an author on the manuscript.
Using your time and effort efficiently
Concrete your efforts. Although it is okay to have publications and research experience in multiple areas, your CV should form a clear portrait of you in as a researcher, especially if you have an interest in academic positions.
Consider two graduate students, each with the same number of publications. Student A has five journal articles on applied behavior analysis in autism, two on health outcomes in people with autism, and one on smoking cessation. Student B has one article on smoking cessation, two on applied behavior analysis in autism, one on domestic violence, two on OCD in adults, and two on bipolar disorder.
You can clearly see Student A’s interest in autism, despite the one “out of place” article on smoking cessation. However, there is no clear picture of what Student B’s research interests or areas of expertise are. Although some degree of “scatteredness” can be expected early in one’s research career, the sooner you can develop a coherent and focused research agenda, the better. Plus, writing multiple manuscripts on similar topics allows for you to become in expert in one or two areas of published literature, thus streamlining the writing process.
Use classwork to your advantage. Your area of focus should extend to your classwork whenever possible. Be creative—are you taking a class on consultation and interested in autism? Consider writing a paper on consultation in the context of applied behavior analysis. Taking a class on ethical issues and interested in psychometrics? See if you can write a paper discussing the minimal standards that a test or measure should meet before it should be considered a valid option in an assessment battery.
Even if you don’t end publishing what you write, there’s a chance some of that knowledge and those references may come in handy for future manuscripts. There are some situations where this may not be possible or advisable, and you are and should be expected to gain broad, generalist knowledge in grad school. However, writing ten papers each in two or so broad areas is probably a better use of your time than starting on a completely new topic for every single class.
That term paper (or thesis) may just become an article! If you have to write a “review paper” for a class, consider going the extra mile and making it a very thorough or even systematic review or an innovative theoretical or best practices discussion that may intrigue editors and reviewers. Don’t write the same paper that’s been written a thousand times before—look through the literature in your area of interest for a novel or needed niche that your assignment may be able to fill. Although your term paper is unlikely to be submission-ready the day you turn it in, with some careful planning and later revision, it may become a viable manuscript.
Many faculty are happy to work with you to revise a good term paper for publication, often in exchange for authorship. You won’t publish everything you write in grad school, but having two to four term papers that become articles over the course of grad school would put you very much ahead of the crowd in terms of publications and do so in a time efficient manner
This also applies to your thesis and dissertation. When you are choosing a topic with your advisor, try to choose a topic and approach that could yield a viable manuscript or two after revision. Your thesis or dissertation is unlikely to be revolutionary, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t go beyond your defense!
A note on working with multiple faculty
Some graduate students may find success in working with multiple professors in the department, particularly if there is overlap in research interests between faculty members. Before doing this, check with all faculty involved, especially your advisor! Some departments or faculty members have cultures that strongly discourage working with multiple professors. This is not something you want to find out after the fact! Even if your department and advisor allow and encourage cross collaboration, they may appreciate a “heads up” on your overall research activities.
In general, the key to creating research opportunities in graduate school lies in being proactive while being realistic. Make your desire to research–and hopefully publish–known, but be knowledgeable and respectful of the culture of your department, lab, and of academia in general. Being perceived as pushy, entitled, or very over committed can seriously backfire, so weigh your words and actions carefully. Above all, make yourself useful–develop skills and knowledge that will make you an asset on research and publication teams. Finally, as cliche as it sounds, don’t give up! You may get turned down by faculty, have projects fizzle out, and/or get rejected by journals. These sorts of setbacks happen to most everyone at some point, even prolific, successful researchers. Learn from negative outcomes and adjust accordingly if needed, but stay focused on your goal. It’s worth it when you finally see your work–and your name–in print!
1. Association of Psychology Post-doctoral and Internship Centers [APPIC] (2011). “2011 APPIC Match: Survey of Internship Applicants: Part 1.” Retrieved from http://www.appic.org/Match/MatchStat…2011Part1.aspx
2. APPIC (2011). “2011 APPIC Match: Survey of Internship Applicants: Part 2.” Retrieved from http://www.appic.org/Match/MatchStat…2011Part2.aspx

20 Questions: Heidi Squier Kraft, PhD

Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft is a clinical psychologist in San Diego, Calif. She attended U.C. San Diego, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She went on to attend San Diego State University for her master’s degree in clinical psychology (1994). In 1996, at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine (San Diego State University Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology), Kraft earned her doctor of philosophy in clinical psychology with specialization in behavioral medicine. Then, Dr. Kraft served an internship in clinical psychology/medical psychology at Duke University Medical Center. Post college, she joined the Navy and attended Aviation Safety Officer School at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, and Naval Flight Surgeon School at Naval Operational Medical Institute in Pensacola, FL.
Since 2007, Dr. Kraft has been a clinical and outreach consultant for the U.S. Navy Combat/Operational Stress Control (COSC). As clinical and education/outreach consultant for the COSC, she focuses on the mitigation of combat and operational stress and PTSD in Naval personnel. Her primary focus is on providing outreach and education through public speaking venues to medical personnel as part of Navy Medicine’s Caring for the Caregivers program. She’s also a consultant to Marine Corps and Navy leadership on matters of combat stress and suicide prevention, as well as a consultant on multiple coordinated efforts for research in the area of destigmatization of mental health treatment for combat stress. In volunteer clinical practice at Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Battalion – West, Dr. Kraft provides evidence-based clinical treatment of active duty Marines and supervision of psychologists in prolonged exposure for PTSD and combat trauma. She is also an adjunct professor at San Diego State University.
Dr. Kraft is an invited peer reviewer for Journal of Women’s Health and Military Medicine. In 2007, her book, Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital, was published by Little, Brown and Company. She has also been published in Preventive Medicine, American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, and American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. She is a member of the American Psychological Association, Division of Trauma Psychology and the American Psychological Association.
When did you first decide to become a clinical psychologist? Why?
I decided to become a clinical psychologist about two years into pre-med study at UCSD. The psych courses I took were so fascinating to me, that I knew I wanted to specialize from the outset. I had always been intrigued by the anatomy and function of the brain, but for the first time had a real desire to interact with and help patients on a personal basis as well.
How/why did you choose the graduate school you went to?
I attended the Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at UC San Diego/SDSU. It was based alongside a medical school and offered a behavioral medicine tract, which I was sure I wanted. The intersection of medicine and psychology – it looked perfect. Co-located with the VA hospital in San Diego and UCSD Medical Center, I was excited about the many and varied opportunities the program offered. I considered myself then – and still do – very lucky to be accepted to this competitive program.
What surprised you the most about your clinical psychology studies?
I knew my courses would be tough, very scientifically based, and a lot of work. I knew there would be long hours of clinical rotations. The part I could never have been prepared for was the insane pace at which my life would be lived during that fourth year, while I juggled my dissertation committee and trying to get the five busiest people on the planet in a room at the same time, the writing of the study itself, clinical rotations, and applying for internship. It was dizzying. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t know in advance. Being clueless can be a good thing sometimes.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a clinical psychologist? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
If I had to do it again, I would definitely become a clinical psychologist again. No doubt in my mind. There was a point during grad school that I second guessed myself and my decision to choose psychology over medicine. But now, having lived my experiences as a psychologist, especially as a combat psychologist, I would not trade them for anything.
Has being a clinical psychologist met your expectations? Why?
When I made the choice to become a psychologist, I hoped to do good. I hoped to help a few people breathe easier and be part of the healing process for a few others. These goals have been met, I think. It is remarkably humbling and rewarding to be able to say that. I am a happy woman.
What do you like most about being a clinical psychologist?
The best thing about being a psychologist is that wonderful moment when I can see in my patient’s eyes an understanding — of the path ahead, the way to his or her healing – and in that moment, knowing I was a small part of guiding that person there.
What do you like least about being a clinical psychologist?
The worst thing about being a clinical psychologist is losing a patient – to war, to disease, to suicide. A little part of you dies, too.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
I joined the Navy during internship. I knew I wanted to serve my country as my father had, and decided to practice psychology in uniform. My nine years on active duty took me to Africa, to Asia, to Europe, and finally to combat, alongside my Marine patients. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Why did you choose the specialty you did?
My specialty chose me. I originally thought I would go into behavioral medicine and be a transplant psychologist forever, as I loved medicine and wanted to be in the middle of a surgical team. But after joining the Navy, deploying to combat, and returning changed and to a changed world, I knew my place would always be in the care of our service members who suffer from combat trauma. So here I am.
Describe a typical day at work.
No day is typical for me, as I travel a fair amount to speak on behalf of the Navy. I do see patients once a week and supervise one unlicensed psychologist, which I love.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I work between 35 and 60 hours per week, depending on whether I’m traveling for speeches. I try to sleep at least eight hours a night, and most of the time I do. I take three-plus weeks of leave a year.
Are you satisfied with your income? Why (or why not)?
My income as a Navy contractor is very generous and I am so happy with both the income level and flexibility I have in this current position.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
I am still paying off my loans. But I have a good interest rate and they have never been a hardship. They were not terribly high, as I was very lucky that my program provided a stipend.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
Ten years ago the war in Iraq had not started. I had just delivered my twins and was preparing to move to another command. Perhaps I would say something like: “You will deploy to combat with the Marines. It will be the best and worst seven months of your life. You will be changed forever. But after you recover, you will be a better mother, a better friend, and a much better psychologist. Forgive yourself.”
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning your clinical psychology studies?
I only wish I’d known how important it would always be to seek supervision and mentorship, and not to be afraid to ask for help and guidance. Otherwise, the internal (and sometimes painful) process of becoming a really good clinical (and combat) psychologist is something I needed to learn on my own.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in mental healthcare today?
Stigma continues to be the biggest hurdle to effective mental healthcare, both in the military and general civilian population. Once we as a society decide it is permissible to seek help for wounds we can’t see, we will be in much better shape regarding the mental health of our country.
Where do you see clinical psychology in 10 years?
With military psychologists and psychologists in two states already able to apply for prescription privileges after fellowship, I think that will be the way of the future for clinical psych. There is a place for clinical psychologists prescribing a limited formulary for their patients, and will make mental health care much more effective.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
My current job involves a great deal of outreach in working to de-stigmatize mental health care for combat trauma. I am part of Give An Hour and donate proceeds of my book to the Semper Fi Fund, a charity that helps combat wounded Marines and Sailors.
Do you have family? If so, do you have enough time to spend with them? How do you balance work & life outside of work?
I have been married almost 13 years and we have 10-year-old twins. I was deployed when they were babies. I still travel a fair amount for work but my current job allows a lot of flexibility when not traveling. So at the moment my family/work balance is really terrific. More difficult in a full time hospital situation with call, which thankfully I’m no longer in. But even that is doable – it’s about priorities and boundaries. We can have them, just as we teach our patients to have them.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing clinical psychology as a career?
Clinical psychology is a wonderful career. I’ve loved my career and wouldn’t change a thing. If you love it, go for it — you will never be bored and helping people is amazing and rewarding.

20 Questions: Jeffrey J. Skowron, PhD, BCBA-D

Dr. Jeffrey J. Skowron is senior vice president for clinical services at Guidewire Inc. (formerly Sullivan & Associates), located in Springfield, Massachusetts, with additional offices in Pittsfield and West Boylston. He is also a visiting assistant professor at Westfield State College in the psychology department, where he teaches Adult Psychology and Treatment in the psychology master’s degree program. Prior to his work at Guidewire Inc. and Sullivan & Associates, Dr. Skowron was program director at The May Center for Education and Neurorehabilitation in Brockton. Prior to that, he was director of community consultation for the Center for Children and Families at St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River. Dr. Skowron has also worked with The May Center for Education and Vocational Training, May Institute Inc. School and Family Consultation Program, and The Groden Center Inc./Behavioral Associates of Massachusetts.
Dr. Skowron earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1992, a master’s degree in clinical psychology in 1998 and a PhD in clinical psychology in 2000 all from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is a licensed psychologist and a doctoral level board certified behavior analyst (BCBA-D). He is also a certified Non-Violent Physical Crisis Intervention instructor through the Crisis Prevention Institute. He is a member of the Berkshire Association for Behavior Analysis and Therapy and the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts. Dr. Skowron has been published in Behavioral Interventions, Brain Injury, Encyclopedia of Behavior Modification and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Volume 2- Child Clinical Applications, and Handbook of Gender, Culture, and Health.
When did you first decide to become a clinical psychologist? Why?
During and following my undergraduate education, I worked in several clinical settings such as nursing homes, rehab centers, and special education schools. As a result, I became very interested in human behavior, with a more specific interest in the behavioral problems associated with neurological impairments, such as acquired brain injury and dementia. It wasn’t until a practica student from a local clinical psychology program began working at the same facility as me that I realized the connection between my interests and clinical psychology.
How/why did you choose the school you went to?
I had completed my undergrad at UMass Amherst, and was still living and working in the area two years later when I met a practica student from the clinical psychology program. She introduced me to the work of the professor who would become my future mentor and encouraged me to apply. Though I did apply to a few other programs, I was really only interested in UMass. My partner (who would become my wife at the end of my first year) and I loved the area, and we both had stable jobs that we didn’t really want to leave. We were very fortunate to not have to move for graduate school.
What surprised you the most about your studies?
Having worked and socialized with students from the program for about a year before applying, I think I was pretty well informed of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the program. I was probably most surprised at the lack of emphasis on grades and GPA. While classes were important, they were (appropriately, in my opinion) seen as complementary to the primary learning we did on our clinical and research teams. I was also a little put-off by the whole focus on “theoretical orientation.” It seemed that professors and students had this need to define people by their orientation, and made a lot of assumptions about your clinical strengths (e.g. what clients you would be successful with in the training clinic) based on this orientation. As self-identified “behavioral” person, I found that I was routinely assigned cases that involved simple phobias, test anxiety, etc.- clients who the more psychodynamically oriented intake clinicians had deemed to be “less psychologically sophisticated.” I had not seen such a focus on theoretical orientation before graduate school, nor have I since.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a clinical psychologist? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
I would definitely do it all over again. I really enjoyed my time at graduate school, as well as the internship and post-doctoral training. I’m still enjoying my career, and it has worked out well for me and my family. If I didn’t take the clinical psychology route, I think I would have still ended up working in human services in some capacity, either in medicine/rehab, or as a social worker, behavior analyst, or case manager. The only hesitation I would have about doing it again would be the cost. Even though my program was fully funded, I still have substantial student loan debt. Though I’m able to make a good living now, it can take awhile to get your career going relative to other fields, and there may be more cost effective degrees out there.
Has being a clinical psychologist met your expectations? Why?
It really has. I had always wanted to work in a senior-level clinical/operational capacity within a human-services or health-services agency. My training as a clinical psychologist provided me with the skills and credentials, as well as the personal and professional contacts to do so. While I think I may have been able to get bits and pieces of my training in other programs (e.g. social work, behavior analysis, experimental psychology), I think the clinical psychology PhD program, combined with my pre- and post-doctoral training, afforded me a more comprehensive (and marketable) skill set.
What do you like most about being a clinical psychologist?
I really like the variability and flexibility in my work. I am able to be involved in direct clinical work, clinical supervision, systems level work, teaching, and research. I have a relatively flexible schedule that fits in well with the needs of my family. Also, despite the costs of getting here (both monetary and opportunity costs), I’m able to make a decent living.
What do you like least about being a clinical psychologist?
Mental health services are too often a slave to government budgets, insurance reimbursement, etc. It can get frustrating and discouraging when you know that there is a solution to someone’s mental or behavioral health problems, but they can’t access that solution due to resource limitations. I spend way too much time in meetings, and many of these meetings are only indirectly related to the clinical needs of the clients.
On a more personal level, I think people sometimes don’t know how to act around you when you tell them you’re a clinical psychologist. I find that sometimes people think that you have some kind of magical ability to know what is secretly wrong with them just from a few social interactions. There is an overall lack of understanding in the general population regarding the empirically derived techniques underlying the professional practice of clinical psychology. I think people often think that all it takes to be a clinical psychologist is the right type of personality and a “gift” for listening. This discounts the years of hard work involved in learning the science and acquiring the necessary skills to be competent in this field.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
I was very fortunate that my mentor put a big emphasis on personal and professional mentoring. She emphasized the importance of presenting my work at regional and national conferences, not just to build up the vita, but to meet people in the field who I may want to collaborate with or need something from in the future. She encouraged me to join and volunteer for special interest groups (e.g. the Behaviorism and Aging and the Autism SIGs of what at the time was the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy). Through these endeavors, I met the directors of both my future pre-doctoral internship and post-doctoral placement and job during my first few years of training. When it came time to apply to internship, I already knew many of the faculty at the sites I applied to. My first “real job” was working for a colleague of my mentor, and my jobs since then have resulted from the agency contacting me to see if I was interest in their open position, rather than my having to apply blindly to a posted position.
Why did you choose the specialty (or specialties) you did?
I have been interested in applied behavior analysis since undergrad. I worked summer and work study jobs in residential special education schools, and these led to my first full-time job after graduating undergrad, working as the behavioral services coordinator in a brain-injury rehab center. I followed this with a similar position at a specialized nursing facility for patients with dual psychiatric and medical illness. It was there that I refined my interests in applied behavioral analysis with psychiatric population, and during graduate school and internship I was able to expand this work to include school-aged and developmental disabilities populations. During this time, the field of applied behavior analysis did a very good job of better defining itself, including developing an international certification board. I was able to obtain my board certification in behavior analysis last year. The combination of clinical psychology and applied behavior analysis are very complementary and beneficial within my current position, as most of the individuals we support in my current agency have both psychiatric and developmental disabilities and benefit from a combination of approaches. Also, the combination of board certification in ABA and licensure as a clinical psychologist allows me to provide supervision to practica students from both clinical psych and ABA programs. This has allowed me to vary and change some of the official practica placements within my current agency to better meet the needs of the clients at any given time.
Describe a typical day at work.
I currently spend my day doing mostly clinical supervision, systems level analysis and program development, and administrative work. In a typical day, I’ll spend an hour or so reviewing incident reports. I’ll usually have either a clinical staff meeting or another type of internal meeting (e.g. with residential managers). As a senior vice president of my agency, I spend a lot of time in meetings with the chief executive officer and other VPs, analyzing and planning for the overall operations of the agency (e.g. strategic planning; employee relationships; marketing). I generally will spend an hour or two total in either formal or impromptu meetings with the master’s level clinician who I supervise. There is usually some daily phone or email contact with someone from one of our funding sources (e.g. state Department of Developmental Disabilities). I may have to put together some data for a risk meeting or other quality improvement related project. I make an effort to review at least one journal article per week. If I’m lucky, I may even get to spend a few minutes providing direct services to individuals or groups. Depending on the time of year, I may have to spend some time in the evening preparing/delivering a lecture or correcting papers for an evening graduate course I teach at a local university.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I’ll generally work around 45 hours per week when I’m not also teaching. That will go up to around 60 during the semester I am teaching. I sleep about six hours per night. I get six weeks paid vacation per year.
Are you satisfied with your income?
I am very happy with my current income. I am compensated fairly for the work I do, and in line with other psychologists who do similar work. It has only been in the past year (12 years post PhD) that I have felt like I have financially caught up with some of the debt and missed earning potential of graduate school.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
Paying my student loans remains a financial strain. Even though I went to a fully funded program, I still took out loans to defray the “opportunity costs” associated with not be able to work full-time for five years. These loans, combined with my undergrad student loans, translate to a monthly payment of approximately $400. That payment will be part of my life for the next decade or so.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
Don’t be so dogmatic. The people who don’t think like you or aren’t of the same “theoretical orientation” aren’t much of threat to you. As long as you maintain your focus and work hard, it doesn’t matter what they do. Also, save your money. If you play your cards right, you’ll do okay in 10 years, but it’ll be easier along the way if you don’t spend your money on so many unnecessary or just plain stupid things.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning your clinical psychology studies?
I received a lot of great advice from my mentor and supervisors throughout my career. I do think that there is a tendency for new students to get a lot of their initial career mentoring from academic psychologists who aren’t necessarily knowledgeable about clinical service provision outside of a university affiliated setting. Though I have never worked in settings where third party billing was a factor, it does seem like I should have been given more information about this and other financial aspects of professional psychology sometime before internship.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
I find it ludicrous that in the United States, the type and cost of the healthcare you receive is so directly linked to your employment status. Along those same lines, it also seems crazy that the health benefits you receive are largely dependent upon what type of insurance you get. Employee health insurance premiums are a major expense for my agency. These costs rise exponentially each year, far outpacing the increases in our contracted service provision rates. The end result is that, as more money is spent on employee insurance, there is less to spend on client care.
Where do you see clinical psychology in 10 years?
This is a very difficult question to answer. There is the oft-cited trend towards master’s level clinicians doing the majority of direct therapy provision. This is compounded by the overall increases in the number of doctoral level clinicians coming out of training programs. This really points to full-time direct therapy eventually not being a viable financial option for clinical psychologists. I do see a positive trend of agencies looking to clinical psychologist to be leaders not only in clinical service provision, but also in the areas of administrative leadership, quality assurance, and systems level outcome analysis. A bolder model trained clinical psychologist should be well prepared to help an agency better understand how to measure and evaluate its clinical service provision and outcomes.
I do see huge problems with the current pre-doctoral internship imbalance, as well as the proliferation of stand alone and/or for profit training programs. It is embarrassing that, as a profession, we tolerate a system where a student can work hard, do everything right, and still not be able to finish their training because of there are not enough internships. Personally, I think this a problem on the supply side of the equation. Any “weeding out” process should be accomplished at the front end, through limiting the acceptance to training programs, rather than at the back end, after the student has invested five-plus years and tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars in opportunity, if not real, costs. A dozen years ago, when I was applying, the internship process was competitive and tough. Today, it too often seems just cruel. That any program with horrible APA internship match rates would allow a student to accumulate a hundred thousand dollars in debt is despicable. With much of this potentially unrepayable debt subsidized by the government, the problem is that much bigger.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
My volunteer activities are focused largely on my children. I have volunteered as a softball coach, and on a lot of fundraising committees for my children’s school. I have also run fly-fishing and fly-tying clinics for adults with developmental disabilities.
Do you have family? If so, do you have enough time to spend with them?
I am married and have a 10 year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. I make plenty of time to spend with them. My job affords me the flexibility to attend school functions and activities. Like many of my grad school cohorts, I didn’t have children until after graduate school and internship. As a result, my kids are much younger than those of many of my undergrad college friends who started there families much earlier in life and are now enjoying their “empty nests” while I’m driving my kids to practice and play-dates .
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing clinical psychology as a career?
Do your research and realize what you are getting yourself in to. If your goal is to be a therapist, then clinical psychology may be a very inefficient path. Also, watch out for some of the clichés and misconceptions that you see out there (e.g. PhD’s do research, PsyD’s do applied work). Understand that the internship imbalance represents a major crisis in clinical training – fully one quarter of student will not be able to complete their training on schedule because there are not enough pre-doctoral internships to meet the demand. Realize that there are no shortcuts – if things go as planned you will likely spend four to five years on campus and another two to three in pre- and post-doctoral internship training, just to be eligible to be licensed. During this time you will not make any real money, will likely have to move to a different area of the country more than once, and this will require a large amount of strength, perseverance, and understanding if you hope to maintain anything like a normal relationship with a significant other. When you are through with the training, it might take up to another 10 years to finally start recouping the costs of your training. In the meantime, many of your friends will have gotten on with their lives, gotten married, had kids, bought a house, etc., all while you’ve been living in crappy student apartments. In the end, you may have a really cool job with a lot of flexibility and benefits, but you’ll have earned it.

20 Questions: Eran Magen, PhD

Eran Magen, PhD, is research director at University of Pennsylvania, Counseling and Psychological Services, where he was previously a post-doctoral fellow. Magen earned his bachelor’s degree in behavioral sciences and business administration from University of Ben-Gurion in Israel when he was 18 years old. Prior to earning his graduate degrees, Magen served as operations officer (lieutenant) in the Israeli Defense Force. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in education with a concentration in learning processes and educational policy from Stanford University.
He stayed at Stanford and earned his PhD in psychology with a concentration in affective science and behavioral economics. While at Stanford, he worked his way from teaching assistant and master’s thesis mentor to instructor of undergraduate and graduate students. From there, he attended University of Pennsylvania as a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.
Dr. Magen has been published in Psychology of Women Quarterly; Psychological Science; Handbook of Personality and Self-regulation; and Self Control in Society, Mind and Brain. He currently serves as peer reviewer for both Judgment and Decision-Making and the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.
When did you first decide to become a psychologist? Why?
I decided to go to graduate school in psychology when I was 22 years old, after thinking long and hard about what I wanted to do next in my life. I was very interested in character development and how people can effectively learn (and teach) how to have better lives. I believed this was an area in which I could make a real contribution, and decided that the best way for me to answer these questions was to study psychology and focus my research on these topics.
How/why did you choose the school you went to?
The short version is this: I looked up the research interests of all psychology professors in the top schools, and contacted all of the professors whose research interests were similar enough to mine (there weren’t that many of them). I applied to all universities where I could imagine living for a few years. I eventually was accepted to Stanford, which has a very well-regarded program in psychology. The particular adviser I had applied to work with is a very remarkable and inspiring man. At that point, the choice was pretty clear.
I actually wrote up the full story of my application to graduate school, and posted it on http://www.HowIGotIntoStanford.com (since so many people helped me with my own application, I wanted to pay it forward once I got into a good program).
What surprised you the most about your studies?
I thought I was going to learn a lot about psychology, and not much else. It turns out that the most important things I learned in graduate school had to do with time management, project management, communication skills (written and spoken), and people management. The “content” was almost secondary to all of those things.
Why did you choose to pursue a PhD in psychology (versus a Psy D)?
I originally had no intention of doing clinical work, and was very interested in doing psychological research. Since PsyD programs are geared toward training clinicians, they were not relevant to my interests when I was applying to graduate school.
Why did you choose the concentration(s) you did?
I had a very specific research question when I started graduate school: How can we help people have better self-control? I found that the people doing the research I was most interested in were mostly in the personality/social psychology areas, and these were the people I applied to work with. While at graduate school, I collaborated fairly broadly with other people who were interested in the same topic, and ended up working with a neuroscientist, an economist, and a physician, all looking at the same topic from different angles.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a psychologist? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
I am very happy with my life as it is, and there is not much I would change on the professional front.
Has being a psychologist met your expectations? Why?
I did not go in with any clear expectations, other than wanting to make a positive impact on lives. I am glad to say that, in my small way, I believe that I am contributing to this goal.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
Toward the end of my graduate program, I decided not to pursue an academic position – I wanted something more applied, which wasn’t so focused on the “publish or perish” motto that guides so many academic lives. I eventually joined the Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholars program, which is a very multi-disciplinary post-doctoral program that encourages and teaches researchers from diverse fields to apply their research to real-world problems in ways that would result in policy changes.
During my time in this program, I fleshed out a model for teaching supportive listening skills in communities as a way to reduce stress and the prevalence of emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression. Toward the end of my time in the RWJ program, I approached the department of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at the University of Pennsylvania, which provides therapy and outreach/prevention services to students at the University of Pennsylvania. I proposed testing this model as a way to reduce stress among all U Penn students. The leadership at CAPS is incredibly progressive, and they invited me to join the staff in order to continue developing and testing the program. I am now at CAPS, dividing my time between doing individual therapy with students and developing a campus-wide initiative to reduce stress through supportive interactions between students. I cannot imagine a better way for me to be spending my time.
What types of research have you worked on in your field?
I have been working on two big-picture questions: (1) Why do we do things that we know we are going to regret, and how could we do less of that? (2) How can friends and family members help each other be less stressed, just by talking with one another in everyday conversations?
Describe a typical day at work.
In the last semester, we did a large pilot test of the initiative I am developing, involving about 1,500 students. I now spend much of my time analyzing the data we collected, as well as managing other research activities (overseeing interviews with students and housing staff to collect their feedback, designing experiments to test components of the initiative). I meet with CAPS leadership in order to update them on how things are going and to consult about what changes we should make to the intervention. If it’s one of my “therapy days,” I will also see between two and four students for individual therapy sessions, for an hour each.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I work about 35 to 50 hours per week. The “extra work” I put in depends on how inspired/motivated I am feeling, and I try to honor periods during which I feel less motivated or creative and not push myself to do work, since I see those times as “incubation” periods that eventually lead to more creative work. I sleep about eight hours a night. I probably have about four to five weeks off per year (including times when the university is essentially shut down for breaks, which is a great perk), but I’m not keeping good track of that, so I might be off by a week or two.
Are you satisfied with your income?
Not entirely, but it certainly allows me to live a good-enough life.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial
I was fortunate enough to be able to go through my schooling process without having to take out loans.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
Focus on what feels meaningful, and do it as well as you can.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning your psychology studies?
In the research world, the ability to create your own funding (i.e., through federal and foundation grants or gifts from donors) is incredibly important. Start cultivating that ability early, by applying to grants, going to grant-writing workshops, etc. Similarly, the ability to collaborate is becoming more and more important, since it’s becoming impossible to be an expert in more than a very narrow field – and good work is almost always inter-disciplinary. So learn to collaborate.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
The education achievement gap, which leads to income gaps, which leads to tremendous health disparities. It would also be nice to have a “pay for results” healthcare system.
Where do you see psychology in 10 years?
I honestly have no idea. I guess we’ll see.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
Professionally, much of my work involves outreach on campus through workshops and media campaigns promoting supportive listening. More personally, I facilitate a dialogue group (Jewish/Israeli students talking with Muslim/Palestinian students about the Palestine/Israel conflict). I am also donating my time to developing a national project for promoting reading ability of low-achieving school children. I used to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, and would like to get back into that, as well.
Do you have family? If so, do you have enough time to spend with them?
I am married. We spend a good deal of time together, but since my wife owns her own business and teaches adults (who generally takes classes during “leisure time,” since many of them have regular jobs), we have to do some work to make sure that our free time overlaps.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing psychology as a career?
Read http://www.HowIGotIntoStanford.com . Also, more generally, talk with other people when you’re not sure about something. Ask any question that comes to mind. There is a lot to learn. People who’ve been there are a great source of information, and they are usually very happy to share their knowledge (and to feel appreciated for it), as long as they are approached respectfully.

20 Questions: Brendan Pratt, PhD

Clinical psychologist Dr. Brendan Pratt, owner, chief executive officer and pediatric neuropsychologist at The Pratt Center (www.prattcenter.com) in Los Altos, Calif., specializes in psychological evaluations, educational support, school placement assistance and parenting strategies. Dr. Pratt earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology with distinction in major examinations from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, then went on to earn his PhD in clinical psychology with full American Psychological Association (APA) accreditation from the California School of Professional Psychology in Alameda, Calif. Dr. Pratt served a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in pediatric neuropsychology at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, before opening The Pratt Center.
Dr. Pratt is a member of the California Psychological Association, and has previously served the association on the Board of Directors, as chair of the Membership Committee, chair of the bylaws taskforce, and member of the finance committee. He is also a member of the Santa Clara County Psychological Association, where he previously served as president, member of the board of directors, and representative to the California Psychological Association. Dr. Pratt’s other professional memberships include the APA, International Neuropsychological Society, and National Academy of Neuropsychology. He has been published in The Clinical Neuropsychologist and Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. He also co-authored the book Parents’ Guide to School Selection in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.
When did you first decide to become a clinical psychologist? Why?
When I was in eighth grade, I had my first job at the Palo Alto Children’s Library. A friend of mine worked there, and he talked me into applying so we could hang out together after school. Mainly, I shelved books and helped people to find what they needed, but I also listened to young children in our summer reading program. My next job was at a preschool where my much younger brother attended, and I enjoyed helping children learn social skills. I later became a head teacher in a child care center and then a day camp director.
In all of these jobs, I enjoyed the playfulness, honesty and creativity of children, so I thought I would become a teacher or a child therapist. I attended Whitman College in Washington State, which I highly recommend, and I became fascinated with courses in psychology, sociology and philosophy. My psychology professors recommended that I pursue graduate school.
How/why did you choose the school you went to?
I selected a graduate school based primarily on the training they would provide in child psychology and family therapy. Most of the university programs were largely funded by research grants, and they offered less actual clinical experience. So, I opted for the California School of Professional Psychology (now part of Alliant University), which offered fantastic clinical opportunities with children and families. I worked in a group home, gang diversion program, inpatient hospital, mental health clinic, a special day class, and a rehabilitation facility. The professors there were primarily focused on clinical practice, and I met several psychologists who continue to be mentors to me more than a decade later.
What surprised you the most about your studies?
For five years, I had the goal of becoming a child and family therapist. Yet, once I started doing just that, I was surprised that I did not really enjoy it. The pace was too slow, and I found myself frustrated. Without a specific plan, I began doing more psychological evaluations and progressively less therapy. By my fifth year in graduate school, I took a half-time placement that focused exclusively on psychological evaluations. I then completed an internship and a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in pediatric neuropsychology. For the past 10 years, I have focused exclusively on psychological evaluations of children, adolescents and young adults.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a clinical psychologist? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
I love my job, and I cannot imagine what else I would have done. I have chosen a career that allows me to be compassionate, analytical and playful. I often see children who are in real pain or trouble due to depression, anxiety, attention problems or conduct issues. A thorough evaluation can guide parents, teachers, tutors and therapists in supporting their development.
Has being a clinical psychologist met your expectations? Why?
Child psychology has certainly met my expectations; however, there is considerable pressure in the job. Serious decisions are made based in part on my evaluations, such as residential treatment, medication management and grade retention. It is difficult to tell a family that their child has mental retardation, autism, bipolar disorder and many other conditions. There are also more families in crisis than I expected, and this can be stressful.
What do you like most about being a clinical psychologist?
I enjoy helping parents, working with children, visiting fantastic local schools and making a difference in my community. I have tremendous respect for many other psychologists, and I am proud to be part of the field.
What do you like least about being a clinical psychologist?
As with most professions, it is difficult to make a clear boundary between home and work. My job entails considerable time pressure, and there are many families in crisis. I would like to spend more time with my wife and children.
How did you decide how to practice (i.e. private practice, group, hospital, etc.)?
I have always had a strong independence streak, and I found bureaucracy frustrating in hospitals and schools. So, I decided to work in private practice where I would have more freedom. Unfortunately, that turned out to be too isolating, so my wife and I hired other therapists to work with us. Over time, we developed a psychology clinic that is like a second family to us. We have now worked for years with the same group of people, and I look forward to seeing them each day.
Why did you choose the specialty (or specialties) you did?
Once I started doing child evaluations, I realized that I could influence many areas of a child’s life and enable change quickly. Depending on their needs, I could help them to find the right therapist, psychiatrist or tutor. I co-authored a book on school selection, and I often help parents to find a school that is a good match. Child evaluations require a balance of analytic skills, sound clinical judgment and compassion that I enjoy.
Describe a typical day at work.
No two days are the same in my job; however, typical tasks include interviewing parents, observing children at school, testing children in my office, attending school meetings, writing reports, giving professional lectures, and testifying in court as an expert witness.
My wife and I also manage 10 staff members, and we are in charge of finances, web design, purchasing and so forth. Most of my job focuses on child psychology and evaluations, but I am also a small business owner.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I work at least 60 hours a week, I rarely sleep eight hours in a night and I take about three weeks of vacation in a year. If I could change one thing about my job, this would be it. The global recession has not helped because we now have more families who pay a reduced fee, and that creates pressure to see more clients.
Are you satisfied with your income?
Living in the San Francisco Bay Area is expensive; however, I believe that my income is fair when compared to other professions that work with children. Social workers and teachers, for instance, are rarely paid well for the incredible work that they do. There are many other professions that earn more money with less education, but income potential has never been the driving factor in my career choices.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
Everything else in life has been incredibly expensive here, such as housing, so my educational loans are not more of a burden than other pressures. However, the first few years were quite difficult, and I consolidated my loans with a graduated payment plan.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
I would remind myself to save as much money as possible during the good times so I would be in a better position when the economy slowed down.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning your clinical psychology studies?
I received excellent advice from many professors, so I cannot complain. I wish I had more background in how to run the legal and financial aspects of a business.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
Health care financing is certainly a huge issue, and we do not provide enough care for people in the early stages of a crisis. I would like to see better prevention efforts, given that most mental health issues are easier to resolve when they are caught early. I would like to see more support for parents to avoid abuse and more support for schools to reduce bullying. I think healthcare focuses too much on treating people once they are in severe crisis, and there is not nearly enough work to support healthy living and preventive actions.
Where do you see clinical psychology in 10 years?
Clinical psychology is based in trust and sound judgment, and people will always have a need for assistance at times. The role of psychologists has expanded into many settings, and I believe the outlook for the profession is excellent. The field will also continue to evolve as research improves, and I hope that more effective treatments are available for the serious problems that many children and families face.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I always see a certain number of clients for little or no fee, and many of them are foster children. I volunteered for several years for Child Advocates. I also provide free trainings to parents on a range of mental health issues. I consult with schools on a regular basis when they have students with mental health issues.
Do you have family? If so, do you have enough time to spend with them?
Yes and no, in that order.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing clinical psychology as a career?
Many students assume that psychologists will not welcome them because they are potential competition, but I found the opposite to be true. Psychologists generally love to mentor students and share their experiences. My advice is to talk to as many psychologists as possible about their jobs. You can also join your state and county psychological associations. Finally, take jobs that show you would be good as a psychologist (e.g., child care, peer counseling, drug treatment programs, group homes, children’s hospitals). There are many volunteer positions and summer jobs that provide incredible experience, and it gives you something to talk about when you do apply to a psychology program.