Dr. David T. Susman didn’t have to travel too far from his hometown of Tazewell, VA to begin his undergraduate career in psychology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. He originally was going to pursue a career as a medical doctor but soon realized he wasn’t as interested in the pre-med courses as he was in the psychology courses so he decided “that would be a more interesting major” for him. In this podcast, I learned that Dr. Susman leads an active and engaged life in the field of psychology and has become a mental health advocate. In addition to his BA in Psychology, he earned two master’s degrees and a PhD on his way to become a licensed psychologist in Kentucky.
Dr. Susman shares how he returned to his alma mater, University of Kentucky, to become an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology and the Director of the Jesse G. Harris, Jr. Psychological Services Center which is the training clinic for graduate students where he says they “learn to do psychotherapy and psychological assessment.” He works with all of the clinical psychology graduate students through their clinical training at the Harris Psychological Services Center where he has been the Director since 1996.
After completing his graduate work and two internships, Dr. Susman began looking for a full-time job. He applied for a position at Eastern State Hospital which is a large public adult psychiatric hospital in Lexington, KY. They hired him and he thought “maybe I’ll work here a couple of years and then I’ll go out and start my private practice and then ended up working at Eastern State for 24 ½ years.” This is where he was the Founding Director of the Hospital Recovery Mall which is an award-winning recovery and rehabilitation program for adults with serious mental illness and substance misuse. Dr. Susman is currently serving on the APA Board of Directors and is Chair Elect for 2022 of the Council of Leadership Team. He provides an overview of the APA, its Societies and Divisions, as well as an analogy of the APA’s “executive branch” and “legislative branch” to better understand APA governance and his dual role.
Dr. Susman is a natural teacher as he consistently shares poignant advice to those interested in psychology including what to consider when selecting a psychology graduate program or school, a discussion on the differences between a PsyD and PhD, and some resources and lesser-known groups available to those interested in clinical psychology (e.g., APTC and NAMI). You can hear more about his thoughts on choosing a PsyD or PhD about 8 minutes into our conversation. Dr. Susman also started his own blog at the end of 2014 as “another platform to be able to talk about mental health advocacy and to raise awareness.” In this blog, he shares “Stories of Hope” where there are over 100 interviews, or personal accounts, of people who have gone on their own journeys of recovery.
Connect with Dr. David T. Susman: LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Faculty Page | Website
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Interests and Specializations
Dr. David Susman is a licensed clinical psychologist and has worked in psychiatric hospitals, mental health centers, a Federal prison, colleges and universities, and strongly believes in contributing to the community at large. He is active in mental health advocacy initiatives at the local, state, and Federal levels. He was the founding director of Eastern State Hospital’s Recovery Mall, an award-winning recovery and rehabilitation program for adults experiencing mental illness and substance abuse.
Bachelor of Art (BA), Psychology (1981); University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.
Master of Arts (MA), Clinical Psychology (1984); Marshall University, Huntington, WV.
Master of Science (MS), Clinical Psychology (1988); University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Clinical Psychology (1992); University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY.
Other Sources and Links of Interest
Dr. David T. Susman: Psychology Today
Welcome to the Master’s in Psychology podcast where psychology students can learn from psychologists, educators, and practitioners to better understand what they do, how they got there, and hear the advice they have for those interested in getting a graduate degree in psychology. I’m your host. Brad Schumacher, and today we welcome Dr. David Susman to the show. Dr. Susman received his doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Kentucky and has been a licensed psychologist in Kentucky since 1992. He is an assistant professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kentucky and the Director of the Jesse G. Harris. Jr. Psychological Services Center. Today, we will learn more about his academic and professional journey and discuss his experiences as a psychologist, a mental health advocate, and learn more about the Association of Psychology Training Clinics as well as hear his advice for those interested in the field of psychology. David, welcome to our podcast.
Thanks so much Brad. I’m really very thrilled that you invited me to be here with you.
Well, we appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us a little bit. To start off, I always ask this of all of my guests. Can you remember when you first became interested in psychology?
Uh, yes, I can. And I actually, uh, I was an undergraduate student in college, and, uh, I, I had thought I was going to pursue a career as a physician as a medical doctor, but I found that I was not as interested in some of the pre-Med curriculum as I thought, and I had taken a couple of psychology courses and, uhm, I decided that would be a more interesting major for me.
Well, that sounds good. That actually sounds similar to some other people that I’ve had on the podcast as well. You attended, you attended the University of Virginia for your bachelor’s degree in psychology. At what point did you know that you wanted to get your psychology degree?
Yeah, I you know I, ahh, I guess I started as a biology major as an undergrad, and then I kind of made that switch over and became a psychology major. But I was still clinging to the hopes of medical school all throughout undergrad and, umm, you know went ahead and you know was going to pursue that path. But I saw that you know organic chemistry was just not for me and so I realized that I probably needed to shift over into something more, more focused on psychology, and so that’s what then led me to go beyond my undergrad training.
Yeah, and that’s a good transition. We didn’t plan this, but you attended Marshall University for your Master of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology. Were you considering any other schools, or why did you choose Marshall?
I, I grew up in rural southwestern Virginia, and so, you know, going to the University of Virginia was an in-state school for me. And Marshall was actually only about 3 hours from my hometown because I’m kinda in that part of Virginia that’s close to West Virginia, and so just looking around and, and noticed that you know Marshall had that kind of program, and so that’s why I ended up going there.
OK, and then even though you received 1 Master’s degree, you actually I noticed you decided to work towards a second master’s degree. You have a Master of Science in clinical psychology. Why did you want both an MA and an MS?
Yes, so, uh, I first you know went to Marshall and that was a uh, Master of Arts in clinical psychology, umm, and so I finished, I finished that program and then actually took two years off and worked in a rural community health community mental Health Center actually back in near my hometown in Virginia. Because I wanted to just see like you know, was this psychology work something that really fit well for me and I found that it did, and so that’s when I then decided to go back to get my doctorate, which then led me to the University of Kentucky and as part of that doctoral training program at Kentucky. You actually complete a master’s degree along the way. And the difference between the MS and the MA. My MA at Marshall did not require a research thesis, but the MS at the University of Kentucky did require a research thesis, so I ended up completing the MS at Kentucky.
Good explanation, that’s what I suspected, but I wasn’t quite sure. What were some of the reasons for selecting University of Kentucky instead of attending another university?
Yeah, I applied to several other doctoral programs, and you know, had some interviews. What, what I really liked about University of Kentucky, or UK as we call it, is it, it had a real, real, broad variety of clinical training as part of the program, and I knew that I was probably going to be focused more on a sort of clinically oriented career as opposed to a research focused career. And so, I was drawn, umm, to the variety of clinical training experiences.
So, it sounds like the clinical aspect of that graduate program was one of the biggest factors. Any other factors that came into play when selecting a graduate psychology program?
Uh, you know, really, really strong faculty and the, the mentor I was able to work with really aligned with some of my interests at that time and also it was only, you know, 4 1/2 hours from, from my hometown, so it was pretty close by, and I really liked the Lexington KY area, so you know a lot of reasons.
So, what advice would you give those who are interested in getting a graduate degree in psychology, whether it’s a masters or a doctorate? Any advice for those?
Yeah, well, you know we’ll kind of get eventually back to how I returned here to work at the University of Kentucky, and I’m now a faculty member here. But I do a lot of advising with you know with our, particularly with our undergrad students who are thinking about master’s or doctoral programs in psychology. And we, we talk a lot about that. But you know, some of the main things that come into that conversation are thinking about, you know, master’s versus doctorate is kind of like 2 years for master’s versus five or six for doctorate, so that’s kind of one big consideration. How much time do you want to invest into your graduate training? Another big piece is the financial piece because it you know it can be quite expensive for really any kind of graduate education, but some programs are going to offer more financial support for students, and so that’s a that’s a big, big factor to look at in terms of how much out of pocket expense you’re going to have in, in school. And that then sometimes translates into how many student loans you may have to take out to get through your graduate training. And then also just thinking through kind of career path, you know if a student really wants to be a academic research professor, then they’re going to probably need to, you know, complete a PhD or something like that, but if someone is looking for a more clinically oriented path, and certainly you know master’s route may be a good way to go. Or even, uh, Doctor of Psychology, which we call a PsyD degree, would be another good option for a more clinically focused career. And then some students may, may go into one of our allied health fields like clinical social work or marriage and family therapy. Or, you know, substance use counseling, or you know there’s other ways to get into the mental health field that aren’t necessarily in a traditional psychology program, so we kind of sit down and go through a lot of those you know things to think about and also sort of sometimes geographical considerations come into it. Quality of life kinds of consideration. It’s a, it’s a big, big step for a student to really commit to a graduate training program.
And you mentioned one thing that I was going to ask and follow up with a PsyD versus a PhD and back when PsyD first entered into the realm of education, I sensed that it wasn’t really getting the respect or recognition at the very beginning. But now I think, and I wanted to get your opinion on where it stands now. More and more people are recognizing the PsyD and recognizing the application of it. What are your thoughts on, you know, if I came to you as an undergrad or graduate student just starting my graduate work, saying hey? What, what should I look for? Should I go for a PhD or a PsyD? What were some of your thoughts or recommendations for that type of student?
Yeah, and, and I think again I would talk with that student about longer term, what do they see their career interests and you can certainly pursue a clinically oriented career with either a PhD or a PsyD. So, you can go either route if you want a clinically focused career, but if you know you want to do, you know some amount of research or if you want to have a primary part of your career be conducting research then I would really say you need to lean more toward the PhD as the route, and so that that may become, uh, uh, difference. Teaching as well, you know, may be more aligned with a PhD program and then you can get into these other nuances like clinical psychology versus counseling psychology, you know, and some of those other kinds of options. But yeah, the PsyD is much, you know, is very, very well established. There are a lot of really good PsyD training programs and a lot of students are, are coming out of those. The PsyD programs tend to have a bigger class size than the PhD program, so they’re typically admitting more students, which makes them a little bit less competitive than the PhD program, so they’re also a little bit easier to get into. Some of the PsyD programs don’t offer the financial support that many of the PhD programs may and so students may come out of the PsyD program with more personal debt.
No, that’s a good point. I haven’t thought of that. Before we started our, our discussion today, we were talking about today, many times a PhD program, if you’re accepted into one, may offer more financial assistance than a terminal master’s program, and so also keep that in mind.
So, you know this next question is kind of unique for you because you ended up coming back as a faculty member to your PhD program at the University of Kentucky. So, I was going to ask you, what were some of the fondest memories you had while attending Graduate School, not as a faculty member, but as a graduate student?
Yeah, I, I really enjoyed Graduate School. Uh, I guess I’m high in what, what they call academic comfort like somebody who doesn’t mind being in school, you know, so I didn’t mind being in school for a long time and, uh, I had a lot of great training and a lot of great variety of you know, clinical training in Graduate School. It was also personally a meaningful time for me because I got married during Graduate School and you know, began to sort of settle down, and you know ultimately ended up staying here in the Lexington area. So, you know, kind of started growing some roots here. So yeah, I, I have a lot and, and you know met a lot of people who have become long term friends you know through grad school. And so, I, I had really a very good graduate student or Graduate School experience.
Well, that’s good and you mentioned Lexington. I know that after you graduated I, I kind of looked at all of your experience since you graduated, you worked at psychiatric hospitals and mental Health Centers. You worked at a federal prison, we’ll get back to that in a second, a VA hospital, and then some other colleges and universities. Much of your time, however, was spent working at Eastern State Hospital, which was a public psychiatric, psychiatric hospital in Lexington, KY. Tell us how you found that opportunity and why you took advantage of that opportunity.
Yeah, so I you know, in grad school I had sort of assumed maybe I would be going more of like a private practice route when I got out of school and as it turned out as I was nearing the end of Graduate School and I had done two internships and I was now looking for a real full-time job. I started, you know, looking around the Lexington area and there was a position open at Eastern State Hospital, which is a large public adult psychiatric hospital here in Lexington. And so, I applied, and they hired me, and I thought, well, OK, maybe I’ll work here a couple years and then I’ll go out and start my private practice and then ended up working at Eastern State for 24 1/2 years.
That’s unreal, I saw that, yeah.
To stay there a long, long time and, and you know it turned out to be a wonderful, ahh, you know, sort of a central part of my professional career, and that was, you know, a very clinically oriented position.
While you were there, you were also the founding Director of the Hospital Recovery Mall and what I read about that is it’s an award-winning recovery and rehabilitation program for adults with serious mental illness in substance misuse. Tell me more about the creation of this program and maybe how it changed over the years.
Yeah, so that was developed from 2005 to 2006 and I was part of a large, large team that put that together and then I became the director of the program when it opened. But it was an effort to, you know, at that time, sort of recovery became much more in vogue to talk about in terms of psychiatric illness, and people also dealing with, with various substance use disorders and there was there was quite a movement at that time to, to bring more recovery focused services into inpatient hospitals. And this, this idea, it started out in New York State. It was called a Treatment Mall, but the idea was that you would have this sort of large treatment area within a hospital much like a shopping mall because you would have classrooms and a library and a gymnasium and a computer lab and art therapy and music therapy and, you know, classrooms and all these different kinds of things, and patients would come off their units and they would come down to this mall area within the hospital and they would spend the day engaged in all these really fun therapeutic activities. And so that was a model that we then emulated at Eastern State. And so, we recreate, we created our treatment mall program and decided to call it the Recovery Mall. And so that you know, really sort of changed, because the stereotype in a lot of these hospitals is that patients would just sit around all day, or they wouldn’t be that engaged in activities and that it was sort of a warehouse for a lot of people. I know when I first started working at the hospital, you know people were still sort of wandering around out on the ground smoking cigarettes during part of the day and you know there was just not that much engagement of therapeutic activity, so this was quite a paradigm shift to have people very focused in therapeutic activities throughout a big chunk of the day. And so, our Recovery Mall sort of accomplished that mission and, uhm, that program still is in existence at Eastern State Hospital. Although they’ve been, you know, like everybody else impacted by COVID the last couple of years they’ve had to kind of restrict some of the, you know, interaction. But yeah, that that was a really fun program to be a part of and then to have an opportunity to, you know, help oversee that for a number of years.
Are you still involved in it in any sort of way or kind of a step back from the scenes?
Oh, only tangentially, because one of one of my current roles is, uh, I’m, I’m the program director for an internship that we have for our advanced doctoral students and one of our internship training sites is at Eastern State Hospital, so we do still have interns that rotate through Eastern State, so I still have a good excuse to you know, go there occasionally and interact with the with the interns and the psychologists there.
I also mentioned during the intro that you’re a licensed psychologist and now you’re an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Kentucky. So, tell us how you found that opportunity to return to your alma mater and, and become part of the faculty.
Yeah well, I yeah, about four years after I graduated from the UK with my PhD, I actually became connected to the psychology department here again because I took on a part time position which actually, I still continue today, which is that of the Director of our Harris Psychological Services Center. And that’s a training clinic for our graduate students, so that’s where they kind of learn to do psychotherapy and psychological assessment and that kind of thing. And so, I, I started that very, very part time arrangement with the department around 1996. And so, you know, the whole time I was working at Eastern State, I was still connected, you know, with, with the students through the Psychological Services Center. But I then came full time back to the department in 2016 and they actually had an opportunity to sort of take that part time role and then also take this other role directing the internship program and also to add some teaching and supervision, and so it kind of became a whole full-time position which I assumed in 2016.
That’s a good summary and I just shared the screen and so for those who are going to be watching this and in addition to hearing it, you can go to the website and find out a little bit more about his background, but I’m going to share the screen again, good transition. You, on many different platforms, I’ve seen many of your YouTube videos and some of your other CV information, you’re a big mental advocate, and so while I bring up the screen to your website, tell me what you mean by a mental advocate. And what does that mean in the field of psychology?
Yeah, I, I got first. I guess first more involved in mental health advocacy, probably around 2005 or 2006, and that was largely through my connections with the Kentucky Psychological Association and the American Psychological Association and I’m a member of both those organizations. But they, they both afford opportunities to do legislative advocacy around mental health issues at both the state and the federal levels, and so that that’s kind of where I, you know, dip my toe in the water of mental health advocacy and found that really interesting and kind of kept involved in that, and then you’re, you’re showing my blog here, which I actually started in the, the end of 2014 and I just decided you know, to sort of have another platform to be able to talk about mental health advocacy and to raise awareness. And to, you know, share. I, I also share what’s called Stories of Hope which are personal accounts of people who have, you know, gone on their own journeys of recovery, and I think I have over 100 of those interviews on, on the website as well. So, you can read about a lot of people’s, you know, journeys of recovery on there really fascinating, courageous, inspiring people. And so, this this platform is just given sort of another outlet for, for me to, you know, educate and hopefully raise awareness and to, you know, do more in terms of the realm of, uh, advocacy, and so you know, it sort of turned into, I guess, a hobby the last several years, and I have sort of affiliated sites out on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn, and I have not taken the, the plunge into TikTok. I’m not sure I will.
How, how could you create? You’d have to really brainstorm for how to create something that.
I don’t know, I don’t, I don’t know if I can, I can do all the dancing things that’s required on TikTok.
No, I’m glad that you brought up the social media because I, I just shared all three of those with our audience as well.
And then I did like, you know, a couple other websites that I wanted to highlight. You did have a media website on here, so those who want to hear a little bit more and, and look at some of the other podcast interviews that you’ve been on, some of your recognition, your other media appearances and then some of the other places where you’ve been cited. Very good resources here and then finally, um, within the University of Kentucky you have some uh, or the, the I should say the university has some good resources on for graduate students and then how to choose a clinical psychology program. As you can see here as well. So very good resources on your website and your blog as well as the University of Kentucky. You mentioned that you, uhm, you served as president for the Kentucky Psychological Association, 2006-2007 and you’re a member of the APA and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For those of you who haven’t heard of that, the acronym is NAMI. Most people recognize APA, but not as many recognize NAMI, can you kind of give us a high-level view of what NAMI is and their goals?
Yeah, sure, I mean and first, I’ll say you know, APA is, is largely a professional organization for psychologists and to promote psychological knowledge. And so, it’s you know it’s about 130 thousand members, most of whom are psychologists. Uhm, but NAMI or NAMI, sometimes people call it NAMI you hear, it seems like regionally you hear it both ways. Down here in Kentucky we call it NAMI, but the, the National Alliance on Mental Illness is a huge national organization and I think there, they would say their mission is probably threefold. They do a lot of public education. They do a lot of advocacy and they do a lot of you know, raising awareness around mental health issues. So, it’s a nationally based organization but then you’ll find state and local chapters. And you know, like for example we have NAMI Kentucky. We also have NAMI Lexington here in our city. I imagine you probably have NAMI Minnesota and NAMI Minneapolis and you know. So, you can find them all over the place and they offer you know, tremendous resources, a lot of free educational materials they also have support groups. They have different programs. You know in terms of advocacy, training and also, they have, uh, one called In Our Own Voice where people kind of share their stories about their mental health journeys and, and they do a lot of state and federal legislative advocacy. And I, I’ve been fortunate to be connected with our state chapter and our city chapter and then we also about 10 years ago, started a campus chapter here at the university and I was able to serve as the faculty sponsor for that group for a long time.
Well, that’s a good summary and that kind of leads us to currently you’re serving as the on the APA Board of Directors and as Chair Elect for 2022 of the Council of Leadership Team. I think that was the specific one. Tell me more about this. How did you find this opportunity and what are the goals of the Council of Leadership Team?
Yeah, I’m in, I’m in a dual role so, uhm, APA has something called the Council of Representatives which is about 182 psychologists, I think, that represent all the states, many of the US territories, some of the Canadian provinces, and they also represent APA has 50 some special interest groups called Societies or Divisions and so this is a large, large group, you know, almost 200 psychologists. But it serves as the legislative body for APA. So, it’s sort of like APA’s Congress, if you will, and that group approves policy and works on, you, know a number of different things for APA. And so I was able to serve as the representative from Kentucky to the APA Council for six years and then people who are on council can then have an opportunity to be elected to the leadership team for the Council, and that’s a group of 12 people that kind of are, you know, doing a lot of the organizing for the Council of Representatives meetings and some of the behind the scenes work to support the legislative body. And so, I was elected to that group, uhm, three years ago and then I got re-elected this past year and I’m currently the, the Chair Elect and so next year I’ll be the Chair of the Council leadership team and then one more year I’ll be the Past Chair. So, it’s a three-year process, but in in being elected as the Chair Elect of the Council Leadership Team, it also gives you a seat on APA’s Board of Directors, and so it’s sort of a dual role. So, I’m sitting on both the Council Leadership Team and the main Board of Directors of APA and the Board of Directors of APA is sort of more like the executive branch of APA, whereas the Council was more of the legislative branch of APA. So, I’m kind of involved in sort of both of those aspects of APA governance right now.
I’m glad that you mentioned that ’cause I had another previous guest who was a Chair Elect, and Chair, and then Past Chair. And it’s literally a three-year commitment once you accept that because you, you learn more about what you’re doing, you do it, and then you help teach others on how to do it as well. Well, it’s not enough that you’re busy enough right now, but you’re also a member of the Association of Psychology Training Clinics…
Which is a nationwide group of training clinic directors. So, tell me more about this group and how it may help those interested in clinical psychology.
Yeah, this is a very, I would say, little known group and it’s, you know, a couple hundred psychologists. But you know, in my role here at Kentucky, as the director of our training clinic, the Harris Center, as I mentioned, this is where our graduate students do a lot of their basic training in psychotherapy and psychological assessment, and so many doctoral programs in psychology have these training clinics. And so, this is a group of the training clinic directors around the country and a few, you know, places outside of the US, but it’s the Association of Psychology Training Clinics. So basically, all of these people that you’re showing on the screen here, these are all training clinic directors at various universities around the country and the group was put together to serve as sort of a resource, a mutual resource, among all these training clinic directors. And so, it’s, it’s a huge benefit for those of us who are training clinic directors because we have a very active listserv, people can ask questions, they can share information. You might imagine when COVID started, we were all scrambling and trying to figure out, you know how we’re going to deal with maintaining training in the face of COVID. And so, a lot of great resources were shared in that circumstance. But the, the APTC is a very small, sort of tight-knit, group and it’s really just to support psychologists who are directors of training clients.
So, here’s kind of a thought-provoking question for you as a clinical psychologist and somebody who is active in many different associations and, and fulfilling many different roles or positions, you wear many hats. What are some of the biggest challenges that you are finding in the field of psychology today? And which ones are you kind of helping to attack or address?
Oh boy, that’s, that’s a broad question, Brad, and one that makes my mind kind of spin because there are a lot of ways to answer that. But you know, if we if we say for a moment within just the aspect of kind of Graduate School training, and you know, access to training, there’s you know a lot that is in the works in terms of trying to help increase access to Graduate School training in psychology, to welcome more students from diverse backgrounds, to welcome more students from maybe traditionally underrepresented populations or marginalized populations, to increase the diversity of the psychology workforce by, you know, admitting more of those students and allowing them to, you know, become psychologists. You know, through their graduate education. So, I think that’s been a really important effort that’s still ongoing. Uhm, and, and one that you know we’re all trying hard to really diversify the pipeline of future psychologists, so that’s, that’s one that comes to mind. And then maybe on a broader scale is just, you know, trying to you know through our advocacy efforts to really deal with this sort of mental health pandemic that we’ve also been going through because not only have we had COVID, but just all the aftereffects of COVID. There’s been increased stress and increased depression and increased anxiety and grief and loss from all the death that we’ve gone through with COVID. And so, we’re seeing sort of now this approaching tsunami now of mental health need and I think the profession and also the graduate training programs are trying to figure out, you know, the need keeps increasing and the, the demand is far exceeding the supply of mental health services right now. And so, I think as a field we’re, we’re all struggling with that.
See, light on your feet and it was a thought-provoking question, you…
Yeah, it is.
Gave a good, a good answer.
It is. I mean it’s. It’s a, it’s a challenging time for, you know many, many reasons, and then you know. Also, we could mention, you know, just the systemic racism issues and all that that we’ve dealt with in the in the past couple years and how that’s also impacting people mental health and how it’s impacting our field, so you know it’s a, it’s, it’s a, there’s a lot of tumultuous stuff going on, and it’s certainly it’s certainly not boring, but it’s very challenging.
Yes, and for those I, I shared this screen earlier, I’m going to share it again and kind of highlight one thing for our audience. Here’s your media page and many of these are links directly to your YouTube videos that are on here, and if you just simply search for David Susman, PhD on YouTube, you’ll see some of his other YouTube videos and interviews. A wide variety of different topics discussed and, and you’re interviewed about, but the, the theme that I’m seeing throughout this, this is the different types of psychology, neuropsychology, clinical psychology and, and being an advocate especially for self-care and taking control of your mental health. Can you speak a little bit more about what’s really provocative and strong for you going forward?
Yeah, I, I yeah I, I feel like I beat the same drum of advocacy a lot, but you know when you think about advocacy, you first have to advocate for yourself. And you first have to, and that means a lot of things. But it also means just taking care of yourself and focusing on our own health and wellness because sort of like that analogy of like you know, when the oxygen mask drops in the plane, you put it on yourself first right before you can take care of. Somebody else and we have to remember that self-care aspect, so we have to first advocate for ourselves and for our own health and Wellness and her own self-care. And then, you know, once we feel like we have a little bit of a grip on that, there’s so much need in terms of, you know, advocating for others who, who need a voice or advocating to teach others how to use their own voice, which I think is another important part of advocacy and then getting really somehow very specific in terms of talking to policymakers about, you know, we don’t have enough funding for mental health in a lot of places, and we don’t have good access to mental health in a lot of places. And to be very concrete about how we need some of that funding and financial support to be able to make mental health services more accessible so. Advocacy starts with yourself, but it also then can really blossom into a very large-scale discussion about access to care and about policy, and about funding and about you know all the different kinds of stress that we’re dealing with as a society. And then, not to mention just the global unrest that we’re, you know, we’re all aware of the terrible situation in Ukraine, and you know, everywhere you turn around, you see how you know health and mental health is so vital.
And I’m going to continue with that theme about advocacy, and at this point you know, would you have any other suggestions or advice for those who are trying to break into the field of psychology? And specifically, since your expertise is in clinical psychology, any specific advice for those interested in clinical psychology?
Uh, yes, absolutely. And I, you know, again, I talked with a lot of our students about this. I, I, I do think students have to, uhm, you know, you know to get into graduate level training, we talk about how important it is you have to keep that undergraduate GPA up. You know you got to have a good GPA. You’ve got to hopefully get some undergraduate experience to dip your toe into some research and to perhaps you know, do a clinically focused undergraduate internship, which there are some of those. And maybe do some volunteer work with a community agency. Make some connections with, with your faculty and professors so they can write good letters for you for grad school, and so you, you know you have to start building that foundation to be competitive to be able to get into grad school. And then you also have to be willing you know personally to make that commitment that you may be in grad school 5 or 6 years, and you know it’s going to be tough and challenging. But I say to students, you know if this is, if this is your, your dream, if you want to follow this path, then by all means go after it and, and it’s you know it’s going to be well worth it if that’s what you want to do and also not to get discouraged because maybe you don’t get into grad school the first time and maybe you have to take a year where you get a job in a research lab, or you know, doing some clinical activity or something and then maybe you have to reapply, right, just because of the kind of weird competitiveness situation we have right now, but for students not to give up on that.
And I, I had another guess. I’ll add something if you don’t mind.
You, you said, get some research experience, the lab experience if you, if your school has any lab opportunities, take advantage of that and then it’s not only being able to put that on your Vita to say yes, I, I was in a lab or I participated in this research, but being able to talk about that, and the impact that it had on the field as well. So, it’s one thing to say you know, Dr. Susman, yeah, I was part of the lab for two years. Well, great, what did you do there? This and that, you know, that’s not a really good answer. Oh, we actually looked at, you know a, b, and c and then being able to intelligently discuss that? Does that make sense?
Yes, absolutely. And you know, we find that some of the students who apply for our graduate program, and you know they interview, they’re you know they’re well focused and well prepared, and they have sort of already some idea of like how they would like to pursue a particular area of interest in our graduate program. And really, part of that getting into grad school is also matching with one of the research faculty in that graduate program, because a lot of that selection really depends on the faculty selecting a student that they think is going to be a good fit, and so students really need to target when they’re applying to schools. They really need to target those research faculty. That are in an area that they’re you know also interested in.
And not only that, but check in. Don’t be afraid to reach out to that faculty member because they, you might have found that they’re interested in IO psychology, and then all of a sudden you talked to them and they say no, no, I have switched to whatever and so you need to check in with them because they might have changed their focus. And their, you know, emphasis as well. So, is it?
Yeah, and another, another really simple thing. They also need to check in about is not every faculty accepts students every year and so they need to, you know, make sure are you even accepting applications for next year?
That’s a good point. Good point. Is there anything else that you wish you had known about psychology ahead of time before choosing this career path?
Oh boy, you know, uh, that’s a great question I. I guess maybe I wish I had realized like that there is such a variety, you know I, I don’t know that I really appreciated all the different, you know, because obviously we’re talking more about sort of clinical psychology, but students can go in many different career pathways in psychology. And, uhm, end up doing a lot of interesting things, whether it’s experimental psychology or neuroscience or industrial organizational or forensic or social psych or developmental, there’s so many different ways you can go in psychology, and it’s not just all you know clinically focused. Oh, there you go, you got them all.
Yep, so you, you started talking about it. I wanted to bring this up. Types of psychologists, types of therapists, counselors, types of therapy. There’s a link here for that, and then it gets into a description of these, so a lot of people that are just interested in psychology. Well, I don’t know. The difference between counseling or clinical psychology.
Don’t be afraid to go out on the on the web and then start searching and that’ll help narrow your focus a little bit so.
00:38:34 Speaker 1
That’s right, that’s right.
So as a clinical psychologist, if you were in therapy yourself. Could you describe your ideal therapist?
Well, I have been in therapy, so you know, I I’ve been on that side of the couch, so to speak, which I think is actually, you know, a great thing you know for, for psychologists who have had both sides of that experience. But yeah, when and I get asked this question a fair amount ’cause people are often looking for a therapist and you know, like how do I, how do I find a good therapist? So, I think for me, it’s sort of two, two main things. Appropriate, you know, training and licensure to be able to know how to help you with whatever it is that you’re specifically needing help with, so that’s sort of the training licensure experience side of it. But then the other side of it is that fit between you and the therapist, and so that’s why many times people need to schedule that free 30-minute consultation and go visit the therapist and just check them out and assuming they’re already well credentialed to check out like do I feel comfortable with this person, and can I relate with them? And do I feel OK opening up and sharing very personal things with them and so that fit in that relationship is every bit as important as their qualifications.
As a follow up question that I know through COVID, obviously that in-person client patient was no longer available, so you have this Tele health or this you know, the downside. My background is in interpersonal communication and, and so I look at the Zoom and Teams, and all this is great, however, you don’t pick up on the nonverbals or the leakage that is happening with their feet or their hands while you’re talking to them, so that’s part of the challenge.
Anything else that kind of comes to mind when you had to meet with your clients remotely?
Well, I I’ll also say this was probably going to be, I think you had you said something about a question about what’s something you learned recently, and so when I thought about that, I was going to say Tele health because pre COVID, I had never done Tele health in any professional setting, and neither had our students, and so we quickly were faced with the realization that if our you know training program was going to continue, we needed to shift to Tele health. And so you know, as our training clinic, that’s, that’s what we had to do, and we did it within about a two month period and then had to train all our students on Tele Health, and we had to set up, you know, there’s a secure form of Zoom for healthcare, you know, that’s more, you know, private and so forth and we had to put all those pieces into place and it was, you know, it was a huge challenge, but I do now really and I was sort of a critic of Tele Health. I was sort of like I don’t know if I’d ever see an online therapist yeah, that kind of thing. But I, I really now totally see the value of Tele health. And it’s, it’s not perfect, and it’s not the same as in person. But there are a lot of benefits.
I’m glad that you kind of jumped to that because that was one of the other questions that I have. Kind of fun questions at the end here, and one of them is what is your favorite term, principle, or theory, and why?
Oh man, ahh well, you know, uh, what comes to mind is something very timely right now, which is resilience, and, you know, as psychologists, we think a lot about resilience, which is the idea of adapting and coping and sort of bouncing back, you know, when things are tough and I feel like we have all been through just such a tough time the last couple of years and we’re all trying now to sort of bounce back in different ways so. But I, I had been I, I certainly studied that that term resilience for a long time. But it sort of has new meaning to me now.
Especially going through COVID and coming out, hopefully, of COVID and, and being able to apply that. Yeah, this one is another thought-provoking question. You can think inside and outside of your field, academic your, just personal life. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your life so far?
Oh boy. I could go a lot of different ways with this one too, Brad, but uh, this is something my dad used to say a lot and I and I actually, I think I looked this up one time and there’s no clear attribution of who, who really said this, but it’s something along the lines of if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.
And so, I, I. And my dad said that a lot to me and he, he was a optometrist in our little, small town and he loves his work, you know. And he just checked people eyes and made glasses and contacts and he loved doing that and, you know you always said if you do what you love, you know you’re never going to work a day. And I have been so fortunate to have found a career where, you know, I do feel like, now there are a few days it feels like work but, but there, there are also a lot of times when it’s just like wow, this is just the, the, the, you know it’s an honor and a privilege that I’m able to you know, engage in my, my profession.
So, this one is kind of a fun one. If you had the time and money to complete one project or go on one trip, what would you do?
Wow, unlimited money?
Unlimited money, and time, yep.
OK, well I’ll answer this one two ways and both briefly. But you know, the first one would be like, OK, let’s eradicate hunger and eradicate war and eradicate disease, right? That would be me, the old file.
Easy, yeah just like that.
But yeah, if we’re going to be a little more realistic and more sort of something, I might actually be able to help happen. I would love to have in our K through 12 school system, required mental health education in every K through 12 school system because I feel like, and there are a few school systems that have it but not a lot. But I feel like we could do so much more for our kids if we would start at a very early age in school and teaching them things like coping skills and, you know, dealing with your emotions and getting along with people, and you know handling stress and managing depression and anxiety. I feel like that would be like such a great thing if that was just a standard part of our school curriculum.
I agree with you. I’ve heard common themes from other people in the psychological field as well. We spend so much time and money on our physical health, ahh, we don’t really spend it on our mental health as well. And in, in some cases, in a lot of cases, there’s a link between our mental health and our physical health and they feed into each other. So, I agree with you on that one.
Well, there’s another saying you may be heard, but that without mental health there is no health. Yeah, they’re definitely very intertwined.
Is there anything else that you’d like to discuss or bring up on this podcast?
Uh, Brad. I feel like we’ve covered a lot I. I, I you know, thank you for just being willing to listen to me. I feel like I’ve been talking a lot and but I, I’m very grateful that you have this platform and that you know you’re able to, you know, let so many different psychologists’ kind of just kind of talk about what they’re doing.
No, I appreciate you more so. Your time and willingness to come on, share your advice, your suggestions, your academic and professional journey, as well as your, your websites. Very good resources there as well. Thanks again Dave for sharing your story with us.
Well, thank you and you know people can pretty easily find me online and, and they can also reach out to me if they have questions or, you know, comments and I welcome that. And I do try to do my best to, you know, respond to people if, if I can.
Appreciate the support, thanks.
Thank you so much.