A Student Perspective on Promoting Mental Health for Clinical Psychology Graduate Students Historically Excluded from Institutions of Higher Education
Alyssa R. Palmer, MA,
University of Minnesota
I am a fifth-year graduate student in the Developmental Psychopathology and Clinical Science program at the University of Minnesota. I am also White, from a low-income background, and the first member of my family to go to college. In fact, my father did not graduate from high school and my mother - pregnant with me - graduated only to fulfill her mother’s dying wish that her daughter would earn a high school diploma. My demographic background and life experiences make it fairly improbable that I would have made it to a top tier clinical psychology Ph.D. program. As of 2015 only about 20% of Pell-Grant recipients going to public four-year institutions received a bachelor’s degree in four years, and only 40% did so in six years (Goldrick-Rab et al., 2016). Due to systemic racism, these prospects are even less likely for students of color, with one study reporting that 38% of Black students who entered a college or university in 2010 completed degrees in six years (Shapiro et al., 2017). However, too often the conversation about successful outcomes stops there because student’s that have earned bachelor’s degrees are viewed as the ones who have “made it”. Generally, I have found that the health and social costs that under-represented students pay to reach their academic and career goals are not acknowledged.
Psychology graduate students are suffering from a mental health crisis (e.g. Rummell, 2015). Much of this crisis has been related to students’ experience of increased stress, lack of financial resources, and feeling a lack of belongingness in their programs. I would argue that all of these experiences, while valid across all graduate students, are even more pronounced among students who have been historically excluded from institutions of higher education. Underrepresented students often experience even higher levels of financial strain due to a lack of familial financial support and at times an obligation for them to provide financial support to family members. Many students are also experiencing guilt that they do not yet have substantial financial means to help their family. Additionally, it is strenuous for students to learn and navigate the cultural rules of upper-middle-class white America as well as the hidden curriculum of academia. This often results in additional social-emotional labor for students forced to learn the ins-and-outs of this new social sphere. Further, underrepresented students are experiencing multiple levels of separation from family and friends. Collectively, this often results in students feeling disconnected to their cultural heritage, practices, and community supports. Moreover, it is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally exacerbated these issues for underrepresented students (see the diversity corner article in the SSCP Winter 2020 Newsletter by Danielle McDuffie)
Prioritizing and promoting mental health among underrepresented students should be a priority for clinical psychology programs. First and foremost, the psychology program governing board has exerted a commitment to diversity (American Psychological Association, 2017). Additionally, in 2020, after the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter Movement, many individual graduate programs released public statements about their commitment to diversity and fighting systemic racism. These efforts and commitment need to translate to not just recruiting diverse students but finding ways to support them in an institution that presents many challenges to student’s personal well-being.
Below I offer my perspective on ways to promote social connection, belongingness, and ultimately mental health in the context of clinical psychology graduate education. Given my belief that institutions should play a central role in mitigating these difficulties, I make both recommendations for institutions and for students. I center these recommendations around experiences that have helped me and other students I have talked to, as well as knowledge about ways to promote mental health among individuals who have experienced adversity. I also make these recommendations with the caveat that there are many other avenues that I do not touch upon here, and not all of these recommendations will be beneficial for all students.
5. Engage in meaning making –
American Psychological Association. (2017). Multicultural guidelines: An ecological approach to context, identity, and intersectionality. http://www.apa.org/about/policy/multicultural-guidelines.pdf
Goldrick-Rab, S., Kelchen, R., Harris, D. N., & Benson, J. (2016). Reducing income inequality in educational attainment: Experimental evidence on the impact of financial aid on college completion. American Journal of Sociology, 121(6), 1762-1817. https://doi.org/10.1086/685442
Rummell, C. M. (2015). An exploratory study of psychology graduate student workload, health, and program satisfaction. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 46(6), 391–399. doi:10.1037/pro0000056
Shapiro, D., Dundar, A., Huie, F., Wakhungu, P., Yuan, X., Nathan, A & Hwang, Y., A. (2017, April). Completing college: A national view of student attainment rates by race and ethnicity – Fall 2010 cohort. National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. https://nscresearchcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/Signature12-RaceEthnicity.pdf
Zahniser, E., Rupert, P. A., & Dorociak, K. E. (2017). Self-care in clinical psychology graduate training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 11(4), 283–289. https://doi.org/10.1037/tep0000172
About the Author
Alyssa Palmer is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development. She studies how protective systems across multiple levels (biological, behavioral, relational, and socioecological) promote early childhood mental health in the context of poverty. Follow her on Twitter (@A_R_Palmer) and check out her website: alyssarpalmer.com.
A Year of Transitions:
Dealing with Liminal Spaces in Academia
Jasmine Mote, Ph.D.
A liminal space is one relating to transition. It is a space where you have left something behind, but you are not yet fully something else. It can also represent a space that occupies both sides of a boundary or threshold at the same time. This past year has felt like my ultimate liminal space. I am living in the midst of a global pandemic, where things are slowly improving yet the end is still not fully in view. The United States is transitioning to a new presidential administration amidst turmoil and violence. I started my first tenure track faculty position completely remotely, meaning that my work and personal spaces are one. I am in the midst of multiple academic worlds as a clinical psychologist in an Occupational Therapy department. Finally, I’m pregnant, perhaps the ultimate of liminal spaces: I am simultaneously one person and two, straddling the line between “parent” and “nonparent.”
Academic life can easily become perpetually liminal - for many, our work selves and our real selves blur and merge.It’s up to the individual to decide how much they are willing to have this type of experience. Here, I share my experiences and the values that I have tried to live during the most transitional year of my life (thus far).
Know your limits, and acknowledge that they will change
Prior to pregnancy, I could run a few miles (slowly, but steadily), clumsily fall down the stairs and just laugh it off, or eat a big plate of pasta with bolognese sauce. Now, eight months pregnant, I get winded after a 20 minute walk. A minor fall means a call to the doctor’s office. Tomato sauce gives me terrible, insomnia-inducing heartburn. My physical (and emotional) limits have changed, and I have had to adjust accordingly.
The same can be said about my transition from postdoctoral researcher to faculty member. My responsibilities seem to have tripled, and full days where I can spend writing without a meeting in sight are few and far between. Additionally, working remotely means I am trying to get to know colleagues and a new work culture from the comfort of my home desk. My capacity for meetings and other responsibilities shift as I continue to figure out (and then re-figure out) what I should be working on at any given moment. There have been several days where I needed to take a break from work to refresh myself mentally and emotionally - either due to run-of-the-mill burnout or because of the stress I was experiencing from the news or in my personal life.
Before this year, I would often find solace in immersing in work as a means to distract myself from difficult things happening in my life. I don’t think this is true for me anymore, and that’s okay - actually, more than okay, because I don’t think for me personally this was a healthy means of coping. My own capacity to do work has been different, due to the various stressors of the world as well as my fluctuating energy levels throughout my pregnancy, and it’s been a blessing in disguise to not be at 100% capacity during this formative year. I hope this is setting the stage for the future when, even if I have the capacity to do more work, I won’t automatically fill my time with every single opportunity that comes my way. It’s also been helpful for my own growth to positively reinforce students who tell me they need to take a break for their own well-being. I try my best to congratulate students on doing what they need to do to take care of themselves, which feels great to do when so much of academic life involves the opposite: complimenting someone who is able to work through their own struggles, something that is not bad by itself, but can reinforce unhealthy habits. Through trying to show compassion to students, I hope that I can get better at turning it around on myself.
Ignore the mixed messages
When so much of my life feels boundary-less I have found solace in maintaining what professional boundaries I can, such as how many articles reviews I will accept or committee duties I will engage in. People always give you the advice to “learn to say no,” which is really good advice, but it can be made more challenging when that same colleague or supervisor who gives you this advice is also the same person who constantly emails you different opportunities or service obligations. Often, a single “no” does not suffice, and there is always the worry that (especially as a woman) you will be viewed as hostile, aggressive, or difficult if you say no too many times. Academia can be filled with so many mixed messages like this, and it’s your responsibility to ignore those messages. The easiest way to do this is to know what your boundaries are and stick to them as much as you can.
Being a woman of color in academia means that these mixed messages are perhaps more frequent for me than for others. As a graduate student, I was told to speak up and advocate for myself and my needs one moment, then the next a supervisor would tell me that I should “know my place” when they viewed me as too outspoken. Everyone says it’s important to prioritize having a family in one’s career (if one chooses to do so), but then will simultaneously tell you that it is never a good time to try to have a baby (literally, at some point in my career, someone has listed every single stage in one’s academic career as the worst time to have a baby, outside of being tenured). Now, pregnant, new mixed messages come up. A colleague talks to me about how important it is for me not to do anything during my maternity leave, but then emails, asking me to do something during my leave. Someone else says, “You know, if you want to work during your leave, that’s okay, too!” which can feel like implicit pressure. Finally, we all know we have to limit how much service we can do at any given time, but that can be difficult when you’re one of the only people of color in a department - expectations are different, as are your own motivations for wanting to do more. I have to constantly remind myself that it’s not my responsibility to try to enact structural changes during my first year on a job - that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and I will have plenty of opportunities to make a difference throughout my career in the ways that I choose to do so. Again, because I set firm boundaries for myself and am confident in my choices, it makes ignoring these mixed messages (somewhat) easier. As does complaining to a good friend when necessary!
Say no to the cult of productivity
Even during non-pandemic years, I know how lucky I am to have a faculty job. I fully acknowledge that having a job you love is a privilege and has so many wonderful benefits. At the same time, I also know that my job is just that: a job. Jobs that center passion as the main incentive are great, but they also allow one to be exploited more easily. Your job will never love you back. It’s so easy, particularly in a job like in academia, to get sucked into thinking that your self-worth is based on your productivity. Throughout the pandemic and various social justice and political upheavals, I’ve had numerous instances where I will log into Twitter and see all the publications and grants people are publicizing, and I’ll feel these simultaneous emotions of righteousness (“How can you work at a time like this?!”), resentfulness (“Must be nice…”), and jealousy (“I wish I could be productive right now”), all while recognizing that I live within a culture that positively reinforces productivity at all costs, to the detriment of everyone’s health and well-being.
I’m constantly in the process of learning how to give up this cult of productivity. I take breaks from Twitter when I need to. I keep a running list of all the things I’ve accomplished, big and small, not to feel as if I’ve “earned” time off or to improve my feelings of self-worth, but to show myself evidence of the important work that I do that can easily go unacknowledged if it’s not a publication or grant. I chat with my husband and close friends outside of academia to gain perspective. I am intentional about when I decide to do work after-hours or on weekends - meaning I don’t thoughtlessly look at the clock and realize that it’s 9PM and I haven’t stopped working and I haven’t eaten dinner. It has taken time and lots of practice to get into these routines. Again, a spouse that does not subscribe to an academic schedule helps with this process, as does the anticipation of my entire world being turned upside down when I give birth to my first child. I have a lot of other things to do in my life that don’t revolve around my job, which helps.
My first year as a faculty member thus far has been a rollercoaster of liminality, and that probably won’t really change in the next few years. I will go from “nonparent” to “parent” in the next few months. If I’m lucky, I will also transition from being an early career faculty member to something more in the coming years. We are always undergoing transitions, big and small. The important thing to remember is that even during times of huge transitions, while your priorities and your values may shift, you will always be you. Be confident in your choices and in yourself, and sooner or later the ground will start to feel more stable.
Jasmine Mote, Ph.D. is the director of the Mote Emotion and Social Health (MESH) Lab and an Assistant Professor in Occupational Therapy and Psychology at Tufts University. She received her B.A. in Psychology from Oberlin College and her M.A. in Psychology and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She studies the mechanisms of loneliness and the relationship between our emotions and social experiences, with a special focus on understanding these processes in people with serious mental illness.
Twitter handle (@jdymote) and my lab website: http://sites.tufts.edu/meshlab/
Engaging in Social Justice Activism in Clinical Science
Jennifer Pearlstein, MA
University of California - Berkeley
Psychology has a longstanding history of human rights violations, including reinforcing and providing credibility to discrimination against marginalized groups and contributing to social and healthcare inequities (Guthrie, 2004). Many psychological practices have given rise to the very mental health challenges our research and practice tries to address (Roberts et al., 2020). The harms caused to marginalized groups demonstrates an abuse of power and directly opposes the mission of the field. The American Psychology Association’s Ethics Code indicates psychologists “respect and protect civil and human rights” (American Psychological Association, 2017). Embracing each person’s value and worth is at the core to the practice of clinical psychology. Therefore, psychological science and practice is inherently political, and it is essential that we use our power to promote social justice (Buchanan & Wiklund, 2020). But how?
Fortunately, many of the skills we teach from empirically supported therapies can help us fight social injustice effectively. Below, I will draw from strategies from interventions from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) as an example of how our skillset as psychologists and psychologists-in-training makes us well-positioned to engage in effective social justice activism aligned with individual strengths and values. Although empirically-supported intervention strategies are useful to draw from, it is critical to acknowledge that these empirically supported interventions are often designed from a Eurocentric approach that over-emphasizes individual-level methods (French et al., 2020) and may be mistrusted by marginalized groups (Thompson et al., 2004; Watson et al., 2016).
To speak out and act against social injustice, we need to first acknowledge the presence and longstanding history of social injustice. Rather than ignoring or resisting, we must radically accept the existence of pervasive systemic inequalities, and how our field of psychology has contributed to these injustices. To be clear, radically accepting the existence of systemic inequality is not the same as tolerating that inequality; instead, it means that we are not denying or resisting the existence of social inequality. To this effect, the American Psychiatric Association recently issued an apology to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) for the psychiatric practices that have contributed to inequity in clinical treatment and limited access to care (American Psychiatric Association, 2021), evidence of the important first step of radical acceptance.
We also need to radically accept that fighting for social justice will be a long fight that is at times unequal and unfair. Accepting the long fight means taking the time and space to replenish, restore, and recharge. We must also radically accept the imbalance in who is impacted by a lack of equity and who has historically been responsible for this fight in order to not burden or over rely on the oppressed to strive for social justice.
Identify strengths and “do what works”
Empirically supported therapies prioritize doing what works, which means not every skill will work for every client. Not every form of activism will work well for every psychologist or trainee, and it is important to assess personal strengths and domains of influence to target activism efforts accordingly.
Activism can take many different forms. Is your strength in organizing or leading meetings or journal clubs? Do you publish papers that could cite more scholars from underrepresented communities? Are you a teacher who could increase representation of BIPOC in your syllabi? Do you excel at social media? Identify the skills and strengths you can rely on across various professional domains to engage in effective activism.
To ensure you are doing what works, follow the lead of others who have already paved a path for effective activism. Listen to responses from diverse perspectives to determine whether your social justice activism efforts are effective. Despite good intentions, activism efforts can miss the mark (i.e. Maurantonio, 2017), highlighting that what works may not always be intuitive.
Elevate and follow the lead of others
Psychologists have been engaged in social justice activism long before the recent events that have motivated greater engagement from psychologists and trainees. For example, Dr. Na'im Akbar published his first critique of the Eurocentric nature of psychology and mental health in the 1970’s and since focused much of his work on the pathologizing of black experiences. Not only can we learn from leaders like Dr. Akbar, but we also need to honor, cite, and elevate them. Marginalized voices, especially Black voices, are often silenced and discounted. If you are non-Black, your goal must not be self-promotion, but instead to elevate Black voices by sharing their work and giving credit.
Identify your goal and audience and cater your message accordingly. If your goal is to inform the public, avoid jargon. Choose outlets you are comfortable using and that effectively delivers your message to the intended audience. Online platforms like Twitter can help reach a wide audience, whereas blog posts like the SSCP Diversity Blog or Psychology Today will likely only reach other psychologists. For longer-form discussions, you may want to also consider outlets like podcasts.
Pattern of behavior
Combatting social injustice requires consistent and widespread action. Beyond speaking out, change requires engagement in and promotion of specific actions to fight social injustice (e.g., attend protests, donate to social justice causes, sign petitions, volunteer for anti-racism organizations). Outside of formal activism efforts, there are proximal opportunities to promote social justice in our science and clinical practice, such as diversifying recruitment efforts for trainees, clients, and participants; reducing costs for treatment or fundraising in order to provide reduced cost services; and expanding training in culturally competency and sensitivity. For more ideas, consider reviewing the SSCP diversity-related reflection questions. Again, identify which actions are well aligned with your strengths and values and do what works.
Acknowledge and accept personal bias and mistakes
Becoming self-aware of personal biases and noticing when mistakes are made requires mindfulness and emotion regulation. Mindfulness can improve self-awareness and a nonjudgmental stance, which can facilitate constructive conversations when mistakes are made. Use effective emotion regulation skills to reduce defensiveness and increase humility. If a client or research assistant informs you that they were offended by something you said, you may react with feelings of anger or defensiveness. Your emotional impulse may be to argue, “but I did not intend to offend!” Effective emotion regulation may involve acting opposite to this impulse to instead approach with a genuine curiosity to understand what was offensive and to apologize and repair the damage done.
Use relational and objectivity effectiveness for accountability
When calling out others or responding to being called out, remember to maintain compassion, be gentle, demonstrate interest, and validate – both with others and with ourselves. When we are called-out, we sometimes react defensively. This is particularly true for those with privilege who are unaccustomed to having our behavior challenged. When called-out, pause. Reflect on your behavior and listen to the people you have upset. Apologize and develop an action plan to do better in the future.
Academics and clinicians are busy, and while we often have great intentions, sometimes we lose track of the hours in the day. How will you increase the likelihood of achieving your goals? To set intentions, consider making SMART goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Are you spearheading diversity and inclusion initiatives at your institution? Altering your recruitment methods to improve representativeness? Planning to read two papers on diversity science by diverse scholars each week? After identifying specific goals, how do you intend to hold yourself accountable? Partner with others; you can join committees to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion, and there are additional opportunities through professional organizations like Society for the Science of Clinical Psychology (SSCP) Diversity Committee.
Engaging in social justice activism as a clinical psychologist or trainee is aligned with the ethical principles guiding clinical psychological science and practice. Relying on the empirically-supported strategies we use in therapy, we can engage in social justice activism that is rewarding, effective, and aligned with the mission of our field.
American Psychological Association. (2017). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. American Psychologist, 57(12), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.57.12.1060
APA’s Apology to Black, Indigenous and People of Color for Its Support of Structural Racism in Psychiatry. (2021). American Psychiatric Association.
Buchanan, N. T., & Wiklund, L. O. (2020). Why Clinical Science Must Change or Die: Integrating Intersectionality and Social Justice. Women and Therapy, 43(3–4), 309–329. https://doi.org/10.1080/02703149.2020.1729470
French, B. H., Lewis, J. A., Mosley, D. V., Adames, H. Y., Chavez-Dueñas, N. Y., Chen, G. A., & Neville, H. A. (2020). Toward a Psychological Framework of Radical Healing in Communities of Color. Counseling Psychologist, 48(1), 14–46. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011000019843506
Guthrie, R. V. (2004). Even the Rat was White: A Historical View of Psychology (2nd ed.). Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
Maurantonio, N. (2017). “Reason to Hope?”: The White Savior Myth and Progress in “Post-Racial” America. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 94(4), 1130–1145. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077699017691248
Roberts, S. O., Bareket-Shavit, C., Dollins, F. A., Goldie, P. D., & Mortenson, E. (2020). Racial Inequality in Psychological Research: Trends of the Past and Recommendations for the Future. Perspectives in Psychological Science . https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004
Thompson, V. L. S., Bazile, A., & Akbar, M. (2004). African Americans’ Perceptions of Psychotherapy and Psychotherapists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 35(1), 19–26. https://doi.org/10.1037/0735-7028.35.1.19
Watson, N. N., Black, A. R., & Hunter, C. D. (2016). African American Women’s Perceptions of Mindfulness Meditation Training and Gendered Race-Related Stress. Mindfulness, 7(5), 1034–1043. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0539-3
Jennifer Pearlstein, MA, is a sixth-year doctoral candidate in the Clinical Science area at the University of California, Berkeley mentored by Dr. Sheri Johnson. Prior to graduate school, Jen completed her undergraduate studies at Truman State University and coordinated research on interventions for pediatric bipolar disorder at Stanford University. Jen conducts research on emotions, cognitive control, stress, and psychopathology. Jen’s work aims to (a) understand the cognitive, affective, and biological effects of stress in relation to psychopathology; (b) apply basic stress science to improve treatment, and (c) investigate the effects of identity-related stress on mental health. Jen’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health. Next year, Jen will complete her clinical internship at the University of Washington - Psychiatry.
Cindy McGeary, Ph.D.
University of Texas health San Antonio
It is with much excitement (and some anxiety) that I begin my Presidency for the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology (SSCP). In my first Presidential Column, I would like to thank our Past-President, Joanne Davila. Joanne was President during a difficult year for SSCP with the COVID pandemic, police brutality highlighting continued structural and systemic racism, the War on Science, political unrest, and the passing of Scott Lilienfeld. Throughout this all, Joanne was an admirable leader and mentor. I believe she took harsh criticism with grace and continued to steer SSCP in the right direction. I look forward to her continued guidance throughout the upcoming year. I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank those individuals who served on the Board over the last year. The Board was faced with making challenging decisions. Nevertheless, everyone worked well together, communicated often, and showed one another kindness and respect. I’m very lucky to have gotten to work with these professionals. Our out-going Board members include Carolyn Becker, Past-President, Bob Klepac, Division 12 Representative, Katie Baucom, Member-at-Large, Joya Hampton-Anderson, Diversity Committee Representative, and Ana Rabasco, Student Representative. I would also like to formally welcome our new Board members. Our newest Board members include, Marisol Perez, President-Elect, Shari Steinman, Division 12 Representative, Sarah Hope Lincoln, Member-at-Large, Lauren Khazem, Diversity Committee Representative, and Rachel Walsh, Student Representative. Thank you all so much for volunteering your time and service! It is through your commitment that SSCP will continue to work toward shared goals.
I’d like to use this opportunity to outline some of my goals for this upcoming year. I am hoping for a relatively uneventful year compared to last year, a year full of progress with much needed healing and growth.
One goal that I have for the upcoming year is to continue to move SSCP toward greater inclusion and diversity. Under the leadership of Joanne, the Board and SSCP made tremendous gains toward this goal. The Diversity Committee played a huge role in making suggestions and providing invaluable guidance. Over the last few months, by working closely with our Diversity Committee, SSCP implemented the following to address racial bias, elevate diverse voices, and promote anti-racism in clinical science and practice:
On January 6th, a demographic survey went out to all SSCP members. This survey is similar in content to a survey that was sent to our members in 2016. It will allow SSCP to gauge the representation of our membership by allowing us to compare past and current membership to ensure that we, as an organization, are recruiting and retaining BIPOC scholar membership. The survey is a starting point for SSCP to examine the makeup of its membership. Based upon the results of this study, the Board will work with the Diversity Committee and SSCP members more broadly to brainstorm ways to increase BIPOC membership.
SSCP continues to work with the leaders of the Academy, Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology (CUDCP), the Council of Training Councils (CCTC), Association for Psychological Science (APS), and the Coalition for the Advancement and Application of Psychological Science (CAAPS) to explore ways our individual organizations can work together to promote science in psychology including anti-racism efforts. As one of the SSCP CAAPS Committee Liaison, I am participating in CAAPS Anti-Racism meetings. These meetings will likely occur on a monthly basis and focus on ways our organizations can share resources and work together on anti-racism efforts. Additionally, SSCP has partnered with APS to develop the Psychological Science Career Mentorship Match. This is a directory to help match students with professionals working in a variety of settings.
Another goal for the upcoming year is to promote more civility on the listserv. Some of the communications over this last summer were unproductive as I am sure many of you would agree. It was unfortunate to see needed conversations about psychological science and diversity and inclusion turn personal. Further, the admission that some members did not feel safe to express their own opinions was more than a little concerning. This is particularly true for our student and early career members. Porath and Pearson report (2013) that individuals who have experienced professional incivility report decreased commitment to an organization. Additionally, incivility can lead to decreases in engagement, creativity, teamwork, sharing of ideas, and innovation (Porath, 2016). I know that civility on this listserv is not a new debate (although this term may not have been used); however, it needs to continue to be a topic of importance. The purpose of the listserv is to share thoughts and ideas in a safe community of scholars…all scholars. I am not naïve. That certainly does not mean that all need to agree or get along 100% of the time. In fact, our discourse (including our disagreements) moves science forward and allows for perspective-taking and the sharing of new ideas. It is vital to SSCP! However, there should be some rules for respectful behavior. According to Price-Mitchell (2012), “the psychological elements of civility include self-awareness, self-control, empathy, and respect.” I believe these four elements are needed on the listserv to promote safety for all members to share their thoughts and opinions. We are better as an organization when all feel that their voices will be heard. After this summer, the Board decided to examine our listserv policies. Katie Baucom and Tom Olino sent an email to the listserv asking for member volunteers to serve on a Listserv Policies Committee. The charge of this committee will be to help develop a survey that all members will be asked to take anonymously, review and summarize the results, and make recommendations to the Board for changes/additions to the policy. We are still looking for volunteers to collaborate on this important project. If you feel strongly about improving listserv policy, please consider volunteering!
Finally, my last goal includes the overarching goal of SSCP, to promote clinical science. The purpose of SSCP as stated on our webpage “is to affirm and continue to promote the integration of the scientist and the practitioner in training, research, and applied endeavors.” There have been a lot of discussions over the course of the year about how that might be best accomplished, and many thoughts on how individuals might tackle the promotion of clinical science while also including the communities most impacted and who have not previously been included in that research. Indeed, promotion of clinical science is a never-ending goal, the importance of which self-evident to anyone who has watched our government address the COVID pandemic. We truly are experiencing a War on Science. Morris (2020) appropriately notes that the best way to address misinformation and growing disdain for science is through development of scientific policy, honesty, transparency in communication and scientific cooperation. There is an abundance of misinformation and conspiracy theories fueling an attack on evidence-based science. Even if we have very different opinions about how the science should be conducted, we as researchers and clinical scientists should be able to agree on one thing… that the science itself is important. We should be able to agree that the scientific method of answering our questions is undeniably crucial especially during a time when some are more willing to believe in conspiracies and information gathered through Facebook. It becomes very important that we are consuming and disseminating the science in ways that are understandable and digestible to the public. It is also important that we don’t give into “pseudoscience” and that the treatments available to those in need of mental health services are evidence-based and grounded in scientific inquiry. This has always been a central focus of SSCP and will continue to be so under my presidency.
I would like to end this column just by stating what an honor it is to serve in the role of President. Even though these seem like scary times with growing uncertainty, what a wonderful time to get involved to improve the lives of others. The SSCP membership is filled with brilliance and passion. This makes me look forward to the upcoming year and what it has in store. I am so appreciative to Joanne Davila and Carolyn Becker as well as the entire SSCP Board. Their guidance, passion, and thoughtfulness has led SSCP toward greater inclusion and diversity. And, while there is always more that can be done, a foundation has been laid that will help future presidents to do the same.
Morris, R.D. (2020). The two trillion dollar barn: science, prevention, and the lessons of disaster. Journal of Public Health Policy, 45, 245-251.
Porath, C. (2016). The hidden toll of workplace incivility. McKinsey Quarterly (December 14, 2016). www.mckinsey.com.
Porath, C., & Pearson, C. (2013). The price of incivility. Harvard Business Review, 91(1-2), 114-121.
Price-Mitchell, M. (2012). Teaching civility in an F-word society. Psychology Today (June 23, 2012). www.psychologytoday.com.
Our Students Need Support: Gaps in Graduate Student Mental Health Options
Alexandra B. Klein, M.A. (1), Ana Rabasco, M.A. (2), Ellen H. Steele, M.A. (3), Nora Barnes-Horowitz, B.A. (4), & Ivy Tran, M.A. (5)
Case Western Reserve University (1); Fordham University(2); Mississippi State University (3); University of California, Los Angeles (4); Hofstra University (5)
As many as 70% of graduate students in clinical psychology will experience stressors that impact their functioning, including those related to academic pressures, financial stress, anxiety, and poor work/life balance (El-Ghoroury et al., 2012). Recent literature has highlighted the importance of self-care strategies in helping graduate students effectively cope with both present and future stress. In particular, professional support systems and awareness of one’s needs and reactions to stressors have emerged as two important aspects of self-care among a sample (N = 358) of clinical psychology graduate students (Zahniser et al., 2017). However, student perspectives on self-care initiatives in their programs suggest that a systematic effort to educate about, encourage, and model self-care strategies is lacking (Zahniser et al., 2017). Further, one study found that 38 to 75% of clinical psychology graduate students are likely to seek treatment for a range of issues including psychopathology and career-related stressors (Holzman et al., 1996).
Taken together, this small body of research suggests that graduate students in clinical psychology have a need for mental health treatment and that systematic, top-down initiatives focused on implementing clear pathways for students to obtain support and engage in self-care are lacking. Further complicating this issue is the fact that graduate student stipends may not cover the relatively high cost of psychotherapy, though this assumption is anecdotal and requires empirical testing. Additionally, providers in the community may serve as supervisors and lecturers within clinical psychology programs, limiting the number of providers with whom students can initiate care. Therefore, the SSCP Student Committee conducted a survey to better understand the resources currently available to assist graduate students in SSCP with accessing mental health treatment. Findings from this survey and initiatives being implemented to address this issue are discussed below.
A total of 73 students completed the anonymous survey, which was administered via the SSCP student listserv. The results suggest that over half of students (52.1%; n = 38) do not have a clear way within their graduate program to obtain information about mental health treatment that may be available to them. The majority (54.8%, n = 40) reported that if they were to seek care, they would look for resources on their own rather than through their advisor, DCT, program, or university. Of the programs where a DCT does keep a list of available resources, the majority of students reported that the lists were either not up to date (21.3%; n = 13) or they were unsure if the resource list was up to date (65.6%, n = 40).
Further, while the majority of students reported that the resource lists included clinicians providing empirically supported treatments (56.4%, n = 31), over a third reported that the treatment options are not affordable (35.2%, n = 19). Taken together, findings from this survey reflect a clear need for clinical psychology programs to develop resource lists of affordable, empirically supported treatment options for their graduate students, or when such resources are not available in the local community, options that are accessible via telehealth. Additionally, students need a clear avenue for obtaining these resources and seeking treatment.
In an effort to assist graduate students and programs with obtaining and advertising mental health resources, the SSCP Student Committee will be engaging in three ongoing initiatives. First, the committee plans to publish findings from this brief survey in a peer reviewed publication in order to bring awareness to this issue and encourage future research. Secondly, we will develop a high-level list of resources to help students navigate finding mental health resources that will be effective for them. Finally, we plan to form partnerships with other professional organizations in order to: 1) assist DCTs with compiling resources, and 2) engage providers in offering services to graduate students at a reduced rate. As graduate students are the future of scientific research and practice in clinical psychology, opportunities for treatment and care will prove a valuable initiative for the future.
El-Ghoroury, N. H., Galper, D. I., Sawaqdeh, A., & Bufka, L. F. (2012). Stress, coping, and barriers to wellness among psychology graduate students. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 6(2), 122.
Holzman, L. A., Searight, H. R., & Hughes, H. M. (1996). Clinical psychology graduate students and personal psychotherapy: Results of an exploratory survey. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 27(1), 98.
Zahniser, E., Rupert, P. A., & Dorociak, K. E. (2017). Self-care in clinical psychology graduate training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 11(4), 283.
Telehealth in Clinical Psychology:Challenges and Future Directions
Henry A. Willis, M.A.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
I am a doctoral candidate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a current psychology intern at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine. My dissertation, defended just a few months before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, explored culturally adapting mobile-health (mHealth) and telehealth technologies for use among African American youth and young adults. At the time of my defense, the widespread use of telehealth and mHealth in clinical psychology seemed like a far-off reality. Yet, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the field was forced to immediately adapt to telehealth, and mental health professionals experienced a sudden, mass migration to delivering services online. Despite my own foundation and passion for telehealth, I still found that utilizing technology to deliver psychological services to be a jarring experience. Though some aspects of delivering psychological services via telehealth seemed straightforward, both my research and personal experiences have exposed the challenges that face clinicians and student therapists, especially when we treat those from vulnerable populations (i.e., people of color, those from low-income backgrounds, etc.). In this perspective, I discuss challenges that may arise when utilizing telehealth as a student clinician, considerations for using telehealth with vulnerable populations, and potential future directions for telehealth and mHealth.
1. Possible Challenges of Utilizing Telehealth as a Student
Delivering psychotherapy via telehealth has its many advantages (i.e., reaching clients that may have transportation challenges, who may live in rural areas, etc.) but as a student, I’ve found that I was often faced with many practical challenges that impeded early attempts to deliver services effectively. The first challenge is access to working devices and effective internet. Faculty members and supervisors may assume that students have access to a camera-enabled mobile device and high-speed internet due to our status as graduate students, but delivering psychotherapy via telehealth often requires additional resources. For instance, even if one has the necessary “hardware” (i.e., a computer with a working camera and microphone), there can sometimes be difficulties with devices being able to effectively handle the various programs required for telehealth (i.e., Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.). Initially, I often found that my home internet was not “fast enough” to handle telehealth sessions, and this is often a challenge for students who do not live alone and may have others utilizing the same internet/WiFi. This can be distressing to student therapists as it leads to constant disconnections or visual/audio difficulties that impacts our ability to deliver services effectively. Moreover, student therapists may not have the resources to create an environment that is conducive to delivering treatment. For instance, students who are parents, live with family members or roommates, and/or who have limited space within their homes are at a particular disadvantage.
Lack of access to reliable hardware and internet may disproportionately impact graduate students who are from low-income backgrounds and/or already feeling financially strained by their graduate student stipend. As students, in order to grapple with these challenges, it is important that training programs provide additional resources that allow us to effectively conduct telehealth sessions (i.e., funding for mobile-devices/computers, reimbursement for high-speed internet services, etc.). Even if student clinicians have the necessary equipment to conduct psychotherapy via telehealth, our clients may need additional support to engage in telehealth effectively. Often times, I found myself in the dual role of being both a clinician and an IT specialist. For students beginning telehealth, it is important to realize that some session time may be spent helping clients connect to telehealth platforms and/or troubleshoot technological issues. This is stressful for both the student clinician and the client, as either may have varying knowledge of technology and software platforms. Again, this is a situation in which it is important that institutions and training programs provide ample resources, trainings, and support for graduate students to help them feel competent when navigating potential technological issues/difficulties.
In the “virtual” therapy room, a host of other issues may arise. First, given that sessions occur outside of the clinic, there is an increased chance that session content is overheard, either by others in the client’s home, or by others in the clinician’s home. Some solutions exist, such as the use of headphones, but do not entirely ameliorate the difficulty in ensuring confidentiality when therapy takes place virtually. Moreover, during sessions, I often found it harder to navigate leading and facilitating group therapy sessions as it’s easier for clients to talk over each other over Zoom. I also had to become more comfortable “talking over” or interjecting more forcefully during sessions with more talkative clients. In video sessions, it may also be more difficult to pick up on non-verbal cues that we might notice during in-person sessions, such as eye contact, fidgeting, etc.
Additionally, environments outside of the traditional clinical setting are expectedly more chaotic. As a student therapist, I had to become adjusted to being more comfortable with unexpected intrusions, such as loud noises from cars or neighbors, unexpected visitors, and even package deliveries. Our clients are also navigating similar intrusions and unexpected distractions while in virtual psychotherapy. These experiences may impact rapport with our clients and our own perceived effectiveness as clinicians. For example, technical difficulties (i.e., becoming disconnected or frozen) or intrusions may interrupt a client during a particularly emotional or difficult exchange. This inevitably will frustrate both the clinician and the client, and may impact how the client perceives treatment or the clinician. While navigating this, I’ve found that first, cultivating a heightened sense of empathy and self-compassion for myself has helped to deal with the stress of these challenges. Moreover, discussing these potential intrusions/distractions with clients at the beginning of telehealth sessions helps to reduce the distress that occurs when these intrusions inevitably occur. The transition to telehealth and these new challenges also highlighted an increased need for supervisors to begin to take into account how to help students navigate the many issues raised above, and the unique challenges that arise when delivering mental health services via telehealth.
Finally, the biggest challenge I faced when transitioning to telehealth is an increased difficulty to “be present” while in sessions. As I highlighted earlier, a host of intrusions that would not normally occur in a clinical setting increases the risk that both the therapist and client become distracted. Even just being on a computer or mobile device increases the chance that one is distracted by incoming emails, messages, or calls. For those students beginning telehealth, some “best practices” include: closing/silencing mail and message applications, putting your device on “do not disturb”, and communicating any potential interruptions that may occur on your end to the client (i.e., the potential that the session is interrupted by a pet, children, or other factor). Clients should also be made aware and agree to follow these “best practices” to the extent possible. In the end, being transparent with clients about the many challenges we face when engaging in telehealth, being flexible, and applying empathy to both ourselves and our clients, can reduce anxiety related to delivering psychotherapy via telehealth.
2. Telehealth with Vulnerable Populations
Despite my passion for telehealth and mHealth, my research and clinical experiences have highlighted how telehealth is not a silver bullet in terms of resolving disparities in access to or utilization of mental health services. Simply put, existing disparities, especially in marginalized communities, will impact how people engage in tele-mental health treatments. For example, finding safe, private, and secure locations to have therapy is already challenging given the impact COVID-19 has had on several facets of life (adults working full-time from home, children attending school virtually from home, etc.). Unsurprisingly, finding these spaces is even more challenging for those from low-income backgrounds and/or those who may be in urban areas/small households. For clinicians, this means we have to be open to being flexible on where psychotherapy takes place. In my most recent experiences, it’s not uncommon for clients to attend sessions from a car, a park bench, a closet, or even a bathroom. It is also important to realize that those from low-income backgrounds may lack access to working devices, high-speed internet, and/or may not feel comfortable navigating the various software platforms we use for therapy. It’s important for clinicians and supervisors to assess these factors with clients and also be able to help the client find resources in the community that may help them resolve these barriers.
When engaging in telehealth with vulnerable and often underserved populations, it is also important to realize that traditional systemic barriers to treatment do not magically go away because of telehealth. In fact, these obstacles may just impact telehealth in more complex ways. For example, access to childcare is often a barrier to treatment engagement among marginalized groups. Though telehealth means that now families can engage in treatment from home, lack of access to childcare during telehealth sessions can impact parents’ ability to engage in therapy, especially when there is only one caregiver in the home with multiple children. Similarly, existing disparities in equitable access to resources and other determinants of health outcomes (i.e., food, housing, employment, adequate insurance, etc.) have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and disproportionately affect vulnerable populations such as people of color, those from low-income and/or rural backgrounds, individuals with disabilities, and more. These stressors impact the psychological well-being of clients from these backgrounds, and are undoubtedly more stressful or debilitating during this crisis. Healthcare systems and training programs should take on the responsibility of making effective telehealth services more accessible during (and after) this pandemic for these populations.
Finally, it is also necessary to acknowledge the ongoing racial violence against African Americans and the ensuing protests occurring across the country. This, in combination with individuals quarantining and spending more time at home and online, means that there is an increased risk for African Americans and those from other racial-ethnic minority groups to be exposed to the traumatic effects of viewing videos of such violence and unrest online or in the media. My prior research highlighted how exposure to traumatic videos online that portray African American men being shot by police are linked to higher levels of posttraumatic stress and depressive symptoms for African American and Latinx youth (Tynes, Willis, Stewart, & Hamilton, 2019). This increased exposure to online traumatic videos, in combination with stress related to the pandemic, highlights the increased need for culturally-relevant tele-mental health services. Unfortunately, these at-risk communities may also have reduced access to traditional sources of support that contribute to resilience due to the pandemic and quarantine, such as community and family events, religious activities, and social support. Clinicians should address this during telehealth sessions by providing safe, affirming spaces for client’s to process and develop coping strategies to navigate these race-related stressors, while also helping the client find ways to access culturally-relevant support and affirming spaces that exist online. Because of this, culturally-informed clinical training becomes even more vital, as clinicians and supervisors should be prepared to have these race-related discussions during the course of treatment.
3. Future Directions for Telehealth and mHealth
As we continue to utilize telehealth and face the challenges that accompany this delivery method, there is a sense among many that this may become the “new normal” in mental healthcare. As we move forward, despite the many advantages of telehealth, there are many ways these interventions can be improved. Primarily, I believe that the field should strive to integrate telehealth services with mHealth (i.e., the use of smartphone/mobile technology to deliver telehealth) technologies, which could bolster treatment accessibility and engagement, especially among underserved populations. For instance, mHealth applications have the ability to help clients manage appointments and remain engaged in therapy (i.e., mobile devices can deliver text-based appointment reminders/notifications). It may increase homework compliance and accessibility by providing on-demand access to digital resources such as worksheets and psychoeducational readings and videos. mHealth technologies can also help clinicians track clients’ symptoms and response to treatment, as well as improve communication between clients and therapists by providing opportunities to text via secure application messaging in-between sessions. In the end, although telehealth and mHealth aren’t silver bullets for resolving existing barriers to treatment, over time, they have the potential to help clinicians increase access to effective mental health treatments, especially to those from underserved communities.
4. Conclusion: Special Considerations for
Clinical Students of Color
The COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the concurrent racial violence and injustices, have presented many challenges for students of color. I’ve heard varying experiences from peers about, and have personally struggled with, how to best navigate clinical training during these times. As a Black clinical psychology student, this is even more distressing in that so often, the world around me and the events that are happening have immediate and devastating effects on myself, my family, friends, and community. During this period, I have found it most helpful to engage in self-care, while seeking out safe spaces with advisors and fellow students who identify with my experiences. Most importantly, navigating this time with awareness and acceptance that things are difficult has increased my own self-compassion.
Academia often forces us into a bubble that can sometimes feel separate from the world going on around us. This isolating effect is also compounded by the pandemic and the need to quarantine in an effort to keep those that we care about safe. As we continue to move forward in our clinical training, I hope students of color can continue to find safe ways to cultivate resilience and thrive during this difficult time. As institutions and training programs begin to provide support to graduate students that help them navigate the many changes to our education/training that COVID-19 has prompted (i.e., the switch to telehealth and virtual classes, etc.), I hope that special considerations and culturally-informed support for clinical students of color is also made a priority.
Tynes, B. M., Willis, H. A., Stewart, A. M., & Hamilton, M. W. (2019). Race-Related Traumatic Events Online and Mental Health Among Adolescents of Color. Journal of Adolescent Health, 65(3), 371–377. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.03.006
Henry Willis is a doctoral candidate in the Clinical Psychology program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His current interests include exploring the relationship between online and offline racial discrimination and mental health outcomes, understanding sociocultural protective factors (i.e., racial identity) and how they impact psychopathology (i.e., obsessive-compulsive disorder) within African Americans, creating cultural adaptations of evidence-based treatments, and utilizing mobile-health technology to increase access to mental health treatments for underserved populations. He is currently completing his predoctoral clinical internship at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.
It Won’t Cost You Much, Just Your Voice! On Rediscovering A Human Voice in Academia
Craig Rodriguez-Seijas, Ph.D.
University of Michigan
Am I Qualified to Write This? Absolutely Not! Here It Is.
When I was asked to write this early career perspective, I was honored to contribute my viewpoint to the SSCP membership. And then … excitement quickly blossomed into glowing anxiety, sparkling self-consciousness, and preemptive embarrassment. Naturally, I put off writing this until the day before it was due (Happy International Coming Out Day Everyone!). What’s working without imminent-deadline-angst anyway? To write this is to stand in front of a crowd of academics extemporizing. Unlike any conference or symposium I’d ever attended, there are no notes at my disposal. No citations or references to hide behind. No previous scholarship in which to ground my words. Instead, here I am given free reign to say whatever I want to say. To use my voice in a way that feels much more vulnerable to me. What could I say that would be helpful? What can I say that won’t land me in some abstract trouble that we, as junior scientists, often worry about? And that’s how I settled on writing a piece about my own personal journey to finding a stronger voice within academia. Forgive the needlessly verbose introduction, but I rarely get to write independent of the strict confines and rules of academic scholarship. I’m capitalizing on this opportunity for a more “colorful” approach, as my advisor would have called it.
Initial Soft Whispers
A brief history is worthwhile to provide context of some ways in which I learned to self-silence. It’s the quintessential story of academic coming-of-age. Boy grows up on a tropical island in the Caribbean. Boy typically excels at the top of his class. Boy eventually decided to go to medical school because boy perceived it to be the career boy should aspire to. After two years, boy abandons medical training to restart his undergraduate degree in psychology. And as I trace my professional journey, I realize that this would be the point in my life where I began using my own voice. At this point, I began the process of trying to say and do things consistent with how I actually felt. The decision to leave medical school for a career in psychology was met with several comments of “you’re going the wrong way” and “nobody leaves medicine for psychology”. However, my resolve to switch fields was mostly driven by the close group of friends, my mother included, who spoke truth to my inner experiences. Never in my life did I want to pursue medicine, but I thought that I should since I had the grades to do so, and it was expected of me by my teachers and mentors at that time. Growing up in the proverbial closet means learning, early on, to do, say, and eventually study the things that one perceives will buy approval, affirmation, and acceptance.
I felt liberated studying psychology and everything related to it. Readers might be shocked to learn this, but I quickly became one of the more vocal students in my classes.
Well Hello Again Self-Silence!
Fast forward four years, and I was moving from the warmth of the Caribbean to Long Island, USA, for graduate school at Stony Brook University. As I began graduate training away from friends and family, my voice was held hostage by a much louder internal voice -- one which every graduate student knows all too well -- that second guessed everything I do, did, or contemplated doing. Parts of that voice are common to the graduate experience I believe: we’re in a situation where we are still learning, building expertise, and so never know if we actually know enough to have a truly informed opinion. Other examples seemed more unique to my personal circumstances. As an immigrant, I felt somewhat an outsider. Typical social references used among peers and faculty flew over my head. Knowing that I had initially been waitlisted before eventual acceptance to my graduate program consistently echoed that I was not as smart as my peers. The feeling that I had to ensure that I was maximally productive, more so than some peers, was ever present; I needed to justify my worth to overcome the extra “work” that would befall any institution hiring an immigrant as myself. Leaving the relative safety of Stony Brook, navigating new dimensions of sexual orientation concealment within the professional sphere arose. Should I remove my earrings during the internship interview process, lest some subconscious bias or concern about a perceivably gay therapist’s effect on potential patients land me in a suboptimal internship placment (or none at all)? It wasn’t much consolation to hear from female friends that they had similar struggles in deciding if to wear their wedding rings during internship interviews.
I have had the privilege of being mentored by a host of compassionate and understanding scholars throughout my professional career, starting with my advisor. Fortunately, I was always provided the space to process and discuss perceived injustices within academia. For example, I extensively discussed that decision to proceed on internship interviews without earrings (though I still insisted on at least wearing a pink shirt or tie) with him. I resolved that I needed to engage in some concealment to get myself in the door. Thereafter, I could wreak havoc … I mean … be my authentic self! I believe that much of academia is spent, especially for the most vulnerable, covering one’s mouth and telling oneself that eventually, in a safer place, in the not too distant future, one can do more. One day I will be more vocal. In the future, I will change the way things were, so that those coming after might have an easier time. And I personally believe that these internal dialogues keep junior voices silenced within academia (at least within clinical psychology which is my sole familiarity).
Even now, as I reread what I’ve written thus far, I worry that others will interpret my words as some sort of virtue signalling or hyperbolic description of academia. I worry that readers will view this as some search for sympathy and need for admiration from others. A “woe is me” sort of trope. Perhaps this tidbit most effectively illustrates that voice of self-doubt and expectation of rejection about which I speak.
Now I Can Hardly Shut Up!
This past year has really been a decade! Personally, I have found myself speaking up more than ever before. I realize that, or perhaps I’d like to believe that, I have (re)discovered my voice. I have found myself more willing to invite the extensive distress and anxiety that comes with speaking up into my life (such as a week of sleepless nights worrying about how others might interpret my responses on a professional listserv and if this could result in some long standing negative effects on my professional career). I believe that a major catalyst for this has been my exit from the relative protection I possessed as a graduate student who was fortunate to work with mentors who consistently protected my time, energy, and wellbeing. Academics who studied, and lived with attention to, issues related to stigma and its impact on health. Most importantly, mentors who did the speaking up on many occasions. Having seen these models in my formative professional years really normalized dissent for me.
I wanted this piece to do two things. My major reason for writing this was to voice some small portion of my own continuing struggle to come to terms with the desire to speak openly in academic circles and the desire to exist in relative obscurity. I wanted to voice the normalcy of any and all of *waves hands wildly* this, especially for vulnerable students, early career researchers, and those who fit into one of the many underrepresented bins within academia. Secondarily, as I’ve reflected on the factors that impacted my own eagerness to be more vocal, I figured that they could be helpful for everyone who has felt the desire to speak up, but ultimately been unable to for various reasons. To this second point I turn now: The factors that have given me my own professional voice.
1. Relative Professional Safety
I have been one of the lucky few to be hired at the faculty level. Personally, and I will go out on a limb here saying similarly for many/most/all graduate students, I feel that it is now safer for me to be a voice of even more dissent. One of the primary reasons for silencing has been the whisper that we all hear about where some senior faculty member(s) invariably sabotages the prospects of junior folks due to dislike or disagreement with some seemingly innocuous question or comment that was made by the student/postdoc/ECR. Tenure is still up for grabs, but I feel like there is sufficient relative career safety to justify being more outspoken at this point in my life. I am in the most tremendous awe of the courage of even more junior folks who speak openly, with seemingly so much more to lose than I. Affirm them! When you see it, send a back-channel email. Enter the conversation to support them. Let them know how much you appreciate their willingness to invite discord into their professional-emotional lives. They will appreciate it.
I began graduate school in 2013. After seven or so years of hanging back I truly feel tired of staying silent. Even before the relative safety of a faculty position, I’d begun speaking out more. I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that the sociopolitical climate, one which feels like a continued affront to populations with whom I share several individual attributes, simply means that I’ve been left with a shorter rope. I feel less able to let things just slide by without comment. I might not be able to do as much to enact change in any individual way on a wider global level, but speaking up can help shift the narrative in the more circumscribed academic society in which I exist. However, tiredness has translated to increased action largely because of the other factors I point to above and below.
I have privilege. My relative privilege extends to academia. First and foremost, as a cisgender, non-disabled man I am lauded for speaking out. I’ve been socialized to admire the outspoken male academics within my circles. The adjective “outspoken” invariably conveys only the most positive connotation when describing men yet often takes a more derogatory tone when referring to women. I’m less likely to be disregarded as “emotional” if I voice any concerns. Another example: though I am of mixed descent, my ethnic ambiguity means I can often pass for white or white of Hispanic descent. I believe that I, then, have a responsibility to utilize said privilege in ways that can be beneficial. Having seen numerous women and BIPOC academics be vocal, I’ve gained much contact courage from them, and have felt like I have little excuse to stay silent much longer. That I’ve admired the mentors who spoke up regularly, thereby allowing me to remain silent, I’ve decided that I want to be one of those persons, and again I have a wealth of privilege on my side which permits me to actively do this. I think it imperative to point out that silence does not equate cowardice; speaking up does not equate bravery.
4. Social-Professional Support
Several factors related to social support fundamentally increased over the last three years, directly impacting my willingness to speak more frankly and openly. First, beginning my internship at Brown University found me within a 25-person cohort of very vocal, social-justice oriented colleagues. Ask them at Brown ... we routinely caused (good) trouble! Second, becoming more involved in academic twitter helped me realise that most of the people whom I admired, and by whom I was most intimidated, are largely an interesting band of dad-joke-posting, sourdough-baking folks. Seeing this more human side within academia meant I saw senior academics as less intimidating. Third, when I have ventured to speak out I have largely been met with back-channel support and encouragement, resulting in my own increased resolve to remain vocal (see point 3 above, especially when the support has come from graduate students or those with more to lose than I had for speaking out).
In Conclusion: Proceed with Caution
What is this piece not meant to do? Guilt anyone who has chosen/been forced to stay silent or ignore any inner compulsions to speak up within academia. Further, in no way do I suggest that the onus for change remains at the individual level. Instead, all those folks in academia who hold powerful positions have collectively dropped the ball in creating an appropriately inclusive environment for junior research scientists. I simply present my individual decision-making process. Psychological science leaders hold the lion’s share of the responsibility for change.
What would I like anyone to take home from this? Deciding to be more vocal in any atmosphere is going to be a personal decision. I wanted to outline the processes that go into my own choice of whether or not I can handle the stress that comes with speaking frankly and openly within some academic circles. We’re trying to survive historic injustices that show little sign of abatement, academia, a global pandemic, and so much more. I’ll end with a sentiment that I’ve often used in therapy with young sexual minority clients when discussing the decision to be “out”: There is no blanket rule when it comes to speaking out in academia. Staying silent can be necessary self-preservation. Hopefully you can find some professional environment(s) where you can be your authentically-voiced self.
Craig Rodriguez-Seijas, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Clinical Science area within the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan. He currently directs the Stigma, Psychopathology, & Assessment (SPLAT) Lab which focuses on understanding dimensional models of psychopathology and, in particular, factors related to the expression, assessment, conceptualization, and treatment of psychopathology among populations that contend with stigma, discrimination, and denigration.
Client Attitudes Towards Telemental Health and What We Can Do to Address Them
Hannah Brockstein, B.S.
Alvord, Baker & Associates, LLC
The COVID-19 global pandemic has increased the need for telemental health services worldwide as offices are closed due to state and local guidelines. Clients are feeling isolated and lonely while quarantined to their homes, they are lacking in social interaction and support, and are feeling anxious about the uncertainties that have come along with a global pandemic. We know based on previous research that telemental health is effective across ages for a variety of disorders including anxiety (Berryhill et al., 2019), depression (Osenbach et al., 2013), PTSD (Frueh et al., 2007), and ADHD (Myers et al., 2015). There has been minimal research conducted on how clients perceive these services. As employees and clinicians of a private psychology practice, we sought a better understanding of the attitudes of clients and potential clients towards telemental health services before and during COVID-19 in order to help clients feel more comfortable with this technology.
We devised a survey asking a variety of questions related to the demographic information of the respondents, their comfort and experience with technology and video conferencing, their experience with mental health services, and their greatest concerns and potential benefits of telemental health services. This survey was then disseminated during the month of June using social media, word of mouth from the clinicians in our practice, listservs, and neighborhood groups. In total, we had 185 survey respondents. Unfortunately, our participants were not very diverse. Due to limitations of COVID-19, the survey could only be distributed through online platforms and word of mouth. Of the 185 participants, 76.2% identified as female, 88.6% were White, 90.8% had a Bachelor’s degree or higher levels or education, and 77.8% live in suburban areas. The average age of participants was 42.6 years ± 15.4. We only collected data from consented adults ages 18 or older.
What did participants say?
What is appealing about telemental health?
The majority of responses focused on the convenience of telemental health including reduced travel, optimal hours, ability to continue therapy when sick or unable to leave home, and the opportunity to continue therapy from a remote location.
What are your biggest concerns about telemental health?
The two most common concerns that participants had were less in person interaction and worries about their ability to build a relationship with their therapist. Some other concerns included worries about their ability to communicate virtually, the confidentiality of virtual platforms, worries about dealing with change and unfamiliar modes of therapy, and feeling socially uncomfortable with virtual communication. Most of our participants were not concerned about access or ability to use the technology needed as the vast majority had some video conferencing experience and were relatively comfortable with using technology. Additionally, our participants were highly educated and reside in suburban areas and as a result have greater access to the technology needed (high speed Internet and computer access). In populations with limited financial resources and/or in rural areas, this could be a concern that needs to be addressed with clients.
How has COVID-19 influenced attitudes towards telemental health?
Would you be interested in therapy via (video) telemental health if you wanted/needed therapy?
Overall, 87.5% of people surveyed were interested. Two-thirds of respondents stated that COVID-19 had made them more open to using telemental health.
Please explain how/why COVID-19 influenced or changed your perspective on the use of (video) telemental health?
The overall themes of these comments show that people have begun to see the place for telemental health and how it can be advantageous to access necessary services. People who were previously reluctant have now tried it themselves and agreed that it is very useful for when they are unable to make their appointment or see their clinician in person. Many who had experienced telemental health in the past noted that they still prefer their in-person sessions to virtual sessions.
It is promising that the conditions of COVID-19 have made clients more open to telemental health services. With increasing willingness to try virtual sessions, we have the ability to reach more individuals, especially in communities that have less access to mental health services. It is also important to understand how important access to and comfort with technology are to the willingness to try telemental health. These factors may be important prerequisites for positive attitudes towards telemental health, so it is important for clinicians to advocate for better access for their clients. We can also take this information about client concerns and work to better address them with our own clients.
With input from licensed clinical psychologists at Alvord, Baker, & Associates, LLC, I have eight tips to share about what we can do to address these concerns with clients.
1. Be careful with your assumptions regarding technology comfort.
It is easy to assume, especially now, that clients are experienced and comfortable using technology. However, there are still many people who are not ready to jump into virtual sessions because they do not feel comfortable with the platforms or devices that they need. Offer to practice with your client. You can walk through the steps together (over the phone or in person after COVID-19) until they feel ready to get online themselves.
2. Make sure you have informed consent for telehealth use.
In our practice, we have a specific telehealth agreement form that states the risks of telemental health as well as outlines an emergency plan if you are disconnected or need immediate care.
3. Have a conversation about how telemental health may or may not be different.
Have an open discussion about doing virtual sessions and what might feel different to your client. You can also discuss what might feel the same in order to ease your client’s transition to a virtual platform.
4. Invite clients to bring up their concerns.
Make sure to allow your client to voice their own concerns about transitioning to telemental health. If you can directly address their worries, it may be easier to gain their willingness to try it.
5. Share some of the benefits.
Speak with your client about some of the positive aspects of telemental health. You can use some of the benefits discussed above or come up with some of your own that you have seen with your own clients. Help them see it in a positive light!
6. Ensure privacy.
It is important to discuss confidentiality with clients as well as the parents of a client if they are a child. For example, our clinicians discussed clients having their session in the car with others present or parents who want to eavesdrop on their child’s session now that it is happening in their home. You can address these concerns before they become an issue.
7. Have a backup plan!
We all know that technology sometimes fails, and have probably experienced our fair share of it during this pandemic. Talk to your client about what you will do if something goes wrong. You can make sure you have a phone number to reach each other at if one of you loses internet service or the platform that you use stops working. Having a plan in advance with a client can help ease worries that clients may have about their virtual sessions and can help you think on the spot when something goes wrong!
8. Spend time on the relationship.
One of the main concerns that many of our survey participants had was building or keeping a relationship with their therapist. If you are working with a child, it may be hard to do this so our clinicians suggested having the child screen, draw on the virtual whiteboard, or show you things in their room that they like. There are many virtual games and activities you can find online, or you can get creative and make them yourself!
Never in history has there been such a great need for telemental health. It is positive that most of our participants were willing to try this format for therapy sessions. We believe with the right precautions and collaboration amongst clinicians, telemental health can be an effective way to deliver therapy services to clients in need.
Berryhill, M.B., Halli-Tierney, A., Culmer, N., Williams, N., Betancourt, A., King, M., & Ruggles, H. (2019). Videoconferncing psychological therapy and anxiety: a systematic review. Family Practice, 36(1), 53-63. https://doi.org/10.1093/fampra/cmy072
Frueh, B.C., Monnier, J., Yim, E., Grabaugh, A.L., Hamner, M.B., & Knapp, R.G. (2007). A randomized trial of telepsychiatry for post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare. 13(3), 142-147. http://dx.doi.org.proxygw.wrlc.org/10.1258/135763307780677604
Myers, K., Vander Stoep, A., Zhou, C., McCarty, C.A., & Katon, W. (2015). Effectiveness of a telehealth service delivery model for treating attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a community-based randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(4), 263-274. http://dx.doi.org.proxygw.wrlc.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2015.01.009
Osenbach, J.E., O’Brien, K.M., Mishkind, M., & Smolenski, D.J. (2013). Synchronous telehealth technologies in psychotherapy for depression: a meta-analysis. Depression and Anxiety, 30(11), 1058-1067. https://doi-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/10.1002/da.22165
Hannah is a clinical research coordinator at Alvord, Baker & Associates, LLC, a large group private practice located in Rockville, MD. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2019 with a double degree in psychology and family science. Hannah is applying to clinical psychology doctoral programs and is interested in studying the development, implementation, and outcomes of accessible, evidence-based interventions for children and adolescents with ADHD and anxiety disorders.
Stony Brook University
I will start this Presidential column by saying that this has not been the year I thought it was going to be. Indeed, I never could have predicted what would happen during my SSCP Presidency and how science could be affected. I wrote this column in early September, as I was reflecting on a very difficult six months. And even in the weeks between when I prepared this column and its publication just now, events happened, the timing of which I could not have predicted.
One of those was the passing of Scott Lilienfeld.
Though I could not have predicted when we would lose Scott, it was not unexpected. Sadly, when I stepped into the role of President in January, I knew that it was coming. What I didn’t know was coming last January was that Scott would resign and sever his relationship with SSCP later in June. That was completely unexpected. I never would have predicted it, nor the content and intensity of the listserv debate that he initiated. Regardless of your take on that debate, I suspect that most of us would agree that the debate changed SSCP in some ways. I also believe that we can find another point of agreement. Whatever your feelings about Scott, I think we can all agree that Scott made extensive, significant contributions to clinical psychological science, and challenged the field to think critically in novel ways. This is why Scott received the SSCP Visionary Award (formerly the Scott Lilienfeld Visionary Award). Though the award no longer bears his name (on his request), that he was the inaugural recipient of it will always be a part of SSCP history. In addition, as you may know from the listserv, the SSCP Board is discussing, in consultation with stakeholders, the best way to honor Scott in the context of his resignation and request.
So, now I will continue on with what I wrote in early September, reflecting on other unexpected events of the year and their effect on science. I’ll start by telling you a non-scientific story that sets the stage for how I have been thinking about what’s happened, and SSCP’s role going forward. Back in September 2019, when I was President-Elect, Tom Olino (our prior APS Convention organizer) told me that I would need to give a Presidential address at APS. Somehow, I hadn’t realized that. I actually like giving talks, but I didn’t know what I wanted to talk about and the idea of a Presidential address felt somewhat daunting. So I said to Tom, “Ugh, do I have to? I really don’t want to... Would I be totally out of line if I didn’t do this?” Tom was quite surprised by this, knowing me, and he was very kind in response (and basically said “yes, you have to”), but I continued to fret (privately) about my talk. Well, then came the COVID pandemic, the cancellation of APS, and, of course, the cancellation of my talk. Fortunately, I’m enough of a scientist to know that I didn’t cause the pandemic with my wish to not give a talk, but it certainly is one of those “be careful what you wish for” situations! Anyway, not to let passive avoidance take over, I wrote my Presidential address and delivered it as an SSCP VCL. And, of course, now I really wish that I had been able to give the talk at APS.
I’ve had a number of moments this past year when I wished for things, in addition to those related to my Presidential address. I wished the pandemic had never happened. I wished George Floyd (and all the others) had never been murdered. I wished that we could just go back to the time before all of this. But, of course, we can’t. And I quickly came to see that we shouldn’t, even if we could, because these events must be used to teach us about science. The COVID pandemic, and how it has been handled, reinforces the importance of science, the importance of using science to make informed decisions, and the importance of promoting science to everyone. The blatant racist police brutality in the US has drawn our attention to, among other things, the structural and systemic racism that exists, including in science and academia. Although it’s easy to wish this wasn’t true, we would be abandoning our roles as scientists if we did so.
A key aspect of science is questioning. When I was growing up, I was told not to question things, and particularly not to ask people too many questions. But I had a lot of questions, and, although it was hard for me to ask them (you can only imagine the first time I did therapy!), I wanted to, and I knew I had to. My training reinforced this. So now, I bring this questioning to my own science and to the endeavor of science itself in light of calls to look at structural and systemic racism. If we, as scientists, don’t question our own science – including, how it developed, what we value and why, our assumptions, the theories and methods and samples we use – then we’re not being good scientists.
My Presidential address was all about questioning. Although not focused on issues related to racism, it was focused on other aspects of diversity in relationship science, including sexual and gender orientation, and diversity in relationship types. In the talk, I questioned key assumptions on which the field had been operating, with the hopes of encouraging new ways of thinking about and approaching relationships. Relationship science also needs to pay greater attention to diversity with regard to race/ethnicity as well, though I am heartened by the work that does exist. Indeed, there is a growing body of literature on relationship functioning and interventions with underserved couples (e.g., Doss et al., 2020; Parker & Campbell, 2017; Salivar, Roddy, Nowlan, & Doss, 2018; Wischkaemper et a., 2020), particularly African American couples (e.g., Barton et al., 2018; Fincham, Ajayi, & Beach, 2011; Lavner, Barton, Bryant, & Beach, 2018; McNeil, Fincham, & Beach, 2014; Mikle & Dorie, 2019), as well as approaches to understanding and working clinically with diverse couples and families (e.g., Halford & Van De Vijver, 2020; Rastogi & Thomas, 2009).
One thing that stands out for me are data showing that associations between satisfaction in romantic relationships and mental and physical health are consistent across a range of racial/ethnic groups in the US (McShall & Johnson, 2015a; 2015b). Although, we must be very cautious in generalizing from romantic relationships to other relationships, if we look at the literature on interpersonal factors more generally, meta-analytic data support the association between social support broadly defined and health (e.g., Holt-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton, 2010). Broadening further, and pertinent to us, meta-analytic data also support the association between perceived workplace racial discrimination and (poorer) health (e.g., del Carmen Triana, Jayasinghe, & Pieper, 2015). The point I want to make here is that data generally support the notion that the quality of the relationships we have with people, and the extent to which we feel supported and not discriminated against (including in our workplace), is related to our well-being, and this appears to be true across racial/ethnic groups.
My reflections on what has happened in our world since March 2020 and on the state of relationship science (broadly speaking) reinforced two key things that I believe we, as individuals, as an
organization, and as a field, need to do. One is to examine ourselves and our science because, as I noted earlier, questioning is a foundation of science. The other is to build supportive relationships with others, because science tells us how critical relationships are to healthy functioning, across diverse individuals. Importantly, both of these are central to developing cultural humility and to creating an inclusive environment. At the core of doing so is self-examination and awareness, the examination and awareness of structures in our life that we have taken for granted, and being other-oriented in a way that conveys understanding, value, and respect, and allows for the building of collaborative relationships (e.g., Duan, 2020; Hook, Davis, Owen, & DeBleare, 2017).
In the context of this, let me reflect on my SSCP Presidency thus far. In my February 2020 column, I outlined three goals that I intended to pursue.
The first was for SSCP to uphold our focus on science. There are some who believe that I have not done so. SSCP has continued this year to promote science in all the ways it has always done. But there is one way in which we have deviated from what SSCP has always done. And this has been by opening the door to the explicit promotion of a more inclusive science, and to the questioning of ourselves and our science in ways that we typically have not done before as an organization. Furthermore, in doing so, the organization has supported the building of relationships that are more inclusive as well. The SSCP board believes this is an important step for the organization.
Among our organizational achievements in these regards are:
Including resources on racism and anti- racism on our website
Providing reflection questions that may assist SSCP members in developing strategies to become anti-racist
Creating a blog, hosted by our Diversity Committee, that will provide a forum for discussing issues relevant to clinical psychological science
Launching an initiative to utilize our Virtual Clinical Lunch (VCL) mechanism as a shared and centralized venue to compile talks by BIPOC scholars and/or about diversity related issues
Creating an additional set of awards dedicated specifically for BIPOC scholars and/or about diversity related issues. As you know, we recently launched a successful fundraising campaign with the aim of consistently funding a fourth Varda Shoham Clinical Science Training Initiative award focusing on Diversity and Inclusion. We will be creating additional awards, within our existing award mechanisms, going forward.
As another aspect of my Presidential goal to uphold science, I encouraged all of us to do so at the individual level as well as the organization level. In particular, here is a quote from my February column:
“There are things I think we all need to do as individuals as well to continue to promote a scientific approach. One is to think about how we conduct and disseminate science. I have been thinking about something that was discussed at the CAAPS (Coalition for the Advancement and Application of Psychological Science) meeting at ABCT this past November, which was also clearly articulated by Bethany Teachman in a November posting to the SSCP listserv. It’s not surprising, but it highlights one of the ways in which we are failing. Specifically, if we want to truly make an impact and reduce the burden of mental illness, we need to better engage with the people and communities we want to serve and understand their needs in context. Sounds obvious, but we are not successfully doing this. I encourage all of you to think about how you, personally, can conduct research, engage in prevention and intervention efforts, and generally promote science in a way that connects with and reaches those we most need to reach.”
At the time I wrote this, I had no idea we’d be where we are in the US with regard to the anti-racism movement. Indeed, I myself did not fully recognize how negligent we had been as a field despite my personally being actively engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts since graduate school. As I reflect back on my own words, they resonate even more strongly for me now. In addition, although I framed this as an individual endeavor, this is now, clearly, a necessary organizational and field level endeavor.
The second goal that I intended to pursue this year was to promote collaborative relationships with others to reach shared goals. SSCP was able to accomplish this goal in a very specific way that I had intended. We created an alliance between our External Boards and Awards Committee (EBA) and the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science’s Collaboration and Partnerships Committee (CPC) to work together to increase clinical science representation in the major organizations and leadership roles in psychology. The joint mission of these committees will be to publicize and help elect clinical scientists to leadership positions (and the EBA will retain its other functions as well). Our thanks go to the Chair of EBA, Eugene Botanov, and the Executive Committee of the Academy, led by President Cindy Yee-Bradbury, for facilitating this.
We were also able to accomplish this goal in a way that I could not have predicted when my term began. Specifically, I assisted in initiating and maintaining a collaboration among the leaders of SSCP, the Academy, CAAPS, CUDCP (Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology), and CCTC (Council of Chairs of Training Councils) to stay informed and, where sensible, to work jointly on anti-racism efforts in the field. At a time where so many organizations are engaging in self- assessment, organizing committees and task-forces to make anti-racism action plans, and calling on BIPOC colleagues to assist, it is important that our leading organizations share resources, work together, distribute workload, and engage in novel activities – and support one another in doing so. I thank Bethany Teachman, Mitch Prinstein, Mandy Jensen-Doss, Cindy Yee-Bradbury, Jason Washburn, and Debi Bell for their engagement in this collaborative and supportive process.
This leads to the third goal that I intended to pursue, which was to encourage service so that our shared goals can be reached. Service is needed now more than ever with the field’s emphasis on anti-racism. This emphasis involves many new and expanded service activities – activities that should be done by everyone. Not just BIPOC individuals, and not just organization leaders, but all of us. And with that, I am thrilled to say that we have a number of new SSCP Board members joining us as we continue to support and promote clinical science, and as we work to support greater inclusivity in our field. Please welcome:
President-Elect: Marisol Perez, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University
Member-at-Large: Sarah Hope Lincoln, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, Case Western Reserve University
Division 12 Representative: Shari Steinman, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, West Virginia University
Student Representative: Rachel Walsh, Graduate Student, Department of Psychology, Temple University
President-Elect: Marisol Perez, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University
Member-at-Large: Sarah Hope Lincoln, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, Case Western Reserve University
Division 12 Representative: Shari Steinman, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, West Virginia University
Student Representative: Rachel Walsh, Graduate Student, Department of Psychology, Temple University
I also want to take this opportunity to thank our out-going Board members:
Ana Rabasco (Student Representative)
Bob Klepac (Division 12 Representative)
Katie Baucom (Member-at-Large)
Carolyn Becker (Past-President)
Their dedication to SSCP was tremendous and unfailing, and their contributions were significant. Indeed, the entire SSCP Board this past year worked extremely hard and was the epitome of collaborative, committed teamwork. The organization has benefitted greatly from, and I thank them deeply for, their service. I particularly want to thank our out-going Past- President, Carolyn, for her strong leadership and wise guidance.
I look forward to continuing my Presidential initiatives in the remaining months of my Presidency, and I thank you all for your support. Although not the year I thought it was going to be, it was an honor to serve as President of SSCP.
Barton, A.W., Beach, S.R.H., Wells, A.C., Ingels, J. B., Corso, P. S., Sperr, M. C., Anderson, T. N., & Brody, G. H. (2018). The Protecting Strong African American Families Program: A Randomized Controlled Trial with Rural African American Couples. Prevention Science, 19, 904–913. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-018-0895-4
del Carmen Triana, M., Jayasinghe, M., & Pieper, J. R. (2015). Perceived workplace racial discrimination and its correlates: A meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 36, 491-513.
Doss, B. D., Knopp, K., Roddy, M. K., Rothman, K., Hatch, S. G., & Rhoades, G. K. (2020). Online programs improve relationship functioning for distressed low-income couples: Results from a nationwide randomized controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 88(4), 283–294. https://doi.org/10.1037/ccp0000479
Duan, C. (2020). Serving the underserved: Delivering culturally appropriate psychotherapy to racial and ethnic minorities. In J. Zimmerman, J. E. Barnett, & L. F. Campbell (Eds.), Bringing Psychotherapy to the Underserved (pp. 69-07). NY: Oxford.
Fincham, F. D., Ajayi, C., & Beach, S. R. H. (2011). Spirituality and marital satisfaction in African American couples. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 3(4), 259–268. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023909
Georgia Salivar, E. J., Roddy, M. K., Nowlan, K. M., & Doss, B. D. (2018). Effectiveness of the online OurRelationship program for underserved couples. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 7(3-4), 212–226. https://doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000110
Halford, W. K. & Van De Vijver. F. (2020). Cross-Cultural Family Research and Practice. Academic Press.
Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review. PLoS Medicine, 7, e1000316. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316
Hook, J. N., Davis, D., Owen, J., & DeBleare, C. (2017). Cultural Humility: Engaging Diverse Identities in Therapy. Washington DC: APA.
Lavner, J. A., Barton, A. W., Bryant, C. M., & Beach, S. R. H. (2018). Racial discrimination and relationship functioning among African American couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 32(5), 686–691. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000415
McNeil, S. N., Fincham, F. D., & Beach, S. R. H. (2014). Does spousal support moderate the association between perceived racial discrimination and depressive symptoms among African American couples? Family Process, 53(1), 109–119. https://doi.org/10.1111/famp.12054
McShall, J. R. & Johnson, M. D. (2015). The Association Between Relationship Distress and Psychopathology Is Consistent Across Racial and Ethnic Groups. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 124, 226–231.
McShall, J. R. & Johnson, M. D. (2015). The Association Between Relationship Quality and Physical
Health Across Racial and Ethnic Groups. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 46, 789–804.
Mikle, K. S &. Gilbert, D. J. (2019). A systematic review of culturally relevant marriage and couple relationship education programs for African-American couples. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work: Innovation in Theory, Research & Practice, 28, 50-75.
Parker, M. L., & Campbell, K. (2017). Infidelity and attachment: The moderating role of race/ethnicity. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 39(3), 172–183. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-017-9415-0
Rastogi, M., & Volker, K. T. (2018). Multicultural Couple Therapy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Wischkaemper, K. C., Fleming, C. J. E., Lenger, K. A., Roberson, P. N. E., Gray, T. D., Cordova, J. V., & Gordon, K. C. (2020). Attitudes toward relationship treatment among underserved couples. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 9(3), 156–166.
Note. This article will be featured in our Clinical Science newsletter: Fall 2020.
“Rona”, as I colloquially call the virus when in conversation with friends and loved ones, has caused a complete upheaval of my life professionally and practically. In this column, I will discuss some of the implications from COVID-19 as a graduate student of color and personally. I will then provide some recommendations for students and for faculty members on how best to support their students from marginalized populations, including a positive initiative I have seen take place within my own organization.
COVID-19: The Good, the Bad, and the Semi-Ugly
Before all of the associated changes from COVID-19, I can admit that I was trying to accomplish too much this semester and was risking burning out. There is literature to suggest that ethnic minority students in graduate programs face stressors including racial discrimination, racial prejudice, feelings of isolation, and different cultural expectations that negatively impact their academic experience (Dyrbye et al., 2007). As a result, ethnic minority students had higher rates of burnout and depressive symptoms, and a reduced quality of life. Not only was I on a trajectory towards burnout by virtue of being one of the few minorities in my program, I was also actively (unintentionally) pushing myself to that point.
COVID-19 slowed me down dramatically. Professionally, almost all of my obligations were abruptly put on hold. I ended up cancelling my Spring Break plans and entered into immediate self-isolation. However, I did not realize how much I had been pushing myself until about a week into my Spring Break (my University extended Spring Break an extra week) when I realized I had barely opened my laptop and was checking my email at the rate of once every few days (I typically check my email multiple times in one day). I felt free, but I also felt an inkling of guilt at not being productive. To compound these feelings, New Jersey quickly emerged as the second epicenter of COVID-19 in the U.S. While I am currently living in Alabama for school, I am from New Jersey and many of my family members still live there. My parents and my grandmother are all either older or have some health complications that would make them vulnerable to the virus. My mother is also a certified nurse midwife, making her an essential worker. On top of my guilt at being unproductive, I was developing growing anxiety for my family. I made the decision not to fly home in early March for fear that I might catch something on the plane and give it to my parents (imagine the irony). It was a hard notion to contend with for many of the early weeks of the pandemic.
Moreover, my larger struggle was in challenging the rhetoric of the “Strong Black Woman”. The Strong Black Woman race-gender schema holds that Black women must be strong, self-reliant, resistant to negative mental health outcomes regardless of the circumstance, and willing to take care of others even at her own personal expense (Abrams, Maxwell, Pope, & Belgrave, 2014; Black & Peacock, 2010; Nelson, Cardermil, & Adeoye, 2016; Watson & Hunter, 2015). For the Strong Black Woman, breaks are not even thought of. This is a not a role I actively sought, but it is absolutely one that I have fallen into. For this reason, after my second week of doing nothing, the feelings of peace quickly shifted to blame, guilt, and some self-chiding. The grace that I had given myself during the weeks prior had dissolved into negative self-talk suggesting that I should be doing more and that my productivity should have doubled (or even tripled) with the increased time at home. I was unduly hard on myself. I had to have some candid conversations with loved ones, engage in journaling, and find others who seemed to understand my struggle (see the citation for the New York Times piece: “Stop Trying To Be Productive”) in order to let myself off the hook and find a happy medium between self-care and productivity during COVID-19.
I am not at all an expert on the marginalized student experience during COVID, but I want to share a couple of things that I have found helpful personally that could help you if you are a student from a marginalized population, or if you are seeking to help your students from marginalized populations.
Recommendations for Students from Marginalized Populations During This Time
Limitations of My Experience
While I acknowledge that COVID-19 has presented additional hurdles for all graduate students regardless of race, ethnicity, or cultural background, I would be remiss if I did not highlight a special group that could be disproportionately disadvantaged at this time: students of Asian descent and/or international students from Asian countries. There is a portion of the rhetoric surrounding COVID-19 that is placing blame on Asian countries for the creation and spread of COVID-19. Some of the implications from this have been hate crimes and mistreatment of selected groups of people/students. I cannot fathom what students of Asian descent/from Asian countries might be going through at the moment, and I will not try to speculate about or dictate their narratives for them.
Abrams, J. A., Maxwell, M., Pope, M., & Belgrave, F. Z. (2014). Carrying the world with the grace of a lady and the grit of a warrior: Deepening our understanding of the “strong black woman” schema. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38, 503–518.
Black, A. R., & Peacock, N. (2011). Pleasing the masses: Messages for daily life management in African American women’s popular media sources. American Journal of Public Health, 101, 144–150.
Dyrbye, L. N., Thomas, M. R., Eacker, A., Harper, W., Massie, F. S., Power, D. V.,…Shanafelt, T. D. (2007). Race, ethnicity, and medical student well-being in the United States. Archives of Internal Medicine, 167, 2103-2109.
Lorenz, T. (2020). Stop trying to be productive. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/01/style/productivity-coronavirus.html
Nelson, T., Cardermil, E. V., & Adeoye, C. T. (2016). Black women’s perceptions of the “Strong Black Woman” role. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 40, 551–563.
Watson, N. N., & Hunter, C. D. (2015). Anxiety and depression among African American women: The costs of strength and negative attitudes toward psychological help-seeking. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 21, 604–612.