Dr. Deborah Offner grew up in the Boston area and after attending Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT for her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology, she applied to a number of PhD programs in clinical psychology and was accepted to Boston University. She really wanted to return home and live in Boston and BU had what was called the “scientist practitioner model” where you learned how to do research and use statistical methods but also spent a significant amount of time in clinical training sites where you applied what you have learned and gained important clinical experience.
When Dr. Offner started college, she was drawn to the social sciences and she loved sociology. In fact, she thought she might become a sociology professor but after breaking up with her college boyfriend and seeing a therapist, she discovered her love for psychology as “it’s more applied than sociology.” Therefore, she changed her major to psychology and sociology and eventually applied to graduate schools in clinical psychology. Before attending graduate school, Dr. Offner worked as a research assistant at a teaching hospital in the psychiatry department. She shares that she didn’t apply to graduate school right out of college because if you were going to get a PhD in psychology, especially clinical psychology, “they want you to have some work experience.” Though there was a professional school in the Boston area that had a PsyD program, she wanted a PhD because she wanted to have the option of becoming a professor in a psychology department. Dr. Offner served as a consulting psychologist, teacher, and Dean of Students at the Commonwealth School, a co-educational college preparatory school in Boston.
Dr. Offner knew that she wanted to start her own private practice early in her academic and professional career. She states, “I think I always thought I would have a practice. I never anticipated it would be my full-time job or my primary occupation, and it really never has been. So I always knew I wanted to do it because I like the luxury and freedom of time to sit with people and have a long conversation and get to know them.” While discussing her practice, she provides a recommendation to anyone who is looking to start their own private practice…”don’t quit your day job.” You want to build up your practice gradually.
When discussing how she decided on pursuing clinical psychology instead of the many other branches of psychology, she states “I decided on it because it had a practical applied aspect to it and a profession associated with it.” She also loves social psychology and developmental psychology so being a psychologist allows you to practice both of these areas of psychology. She also shares “I wanted flexibility and work life balance. There’s an income aspect too. If you can have a private practice, which I always have, you can augment whatever else you’re doing, and I really like that idea.”
In addition to her private practice, Dr. Offner also serves as a consulting psychologist at Beacon Academy in Boston, which is “a 14-month program between eighth and ninth grade that prepares students from communities with limited resources for entry into independent day and boarding high schools.” Dr. Offner and I discuss her recently released book, Educators as First Responders: A Teacher’s Guide to Adolescent Development and Mental Health, Grades 6-12 (Routledge, December 29, 2022). While she was working at a private high school in Boston for 14 years, she learned that kids will generally go to their favorite teacher if they have a problem or an issue, rather than talking with a parent or going to a school psychologist or school counselor. She states, “a teacher will notice when a kid is struggling because the teacher is the one who sees them every day and can tell if something is changing.” Dr. Offner says that she “wrote the book really for all teachers at the middle and high school level who are de facto, you know, social workers or therapists without necessarily having any training in those areas.”
Dr. Offner says that if you are interested in the field of psychology, you shouldn’t judge the field based on your experience with an introduction to psychology class. She never liked taking it and never liked teaching it because “the problem with intro psych at most colleges and universities is that it has to go over like 10 to 12 different topics, usually textbook driven most, of which, are pretty distinct, not necessarily super related to each other or integrated with each other, and you might only be interested in one or two of them.” She suggests that you give the electives, upper-level classes a chance as these are “where you can learn about the actual fields” and help determine which areas interest you the most. Dr. Offner also offers advice on living in a big city for graduate school just shy of 38 minutes into the podcast.
Throughout this podcast, Dr. Offner provides insightful and practical advice to students interested in getting a graduate degree in psychology, especially in clinical psychology. She states, “if you want to go to a funded program and get a degree that positions you for, you know, an academic appointment of some kind, you really need to get a lot of research experience beforehand even to apply. You want to be getting your name on papers, you can start doing that in college.” She also emphasizes the importance of knowing which programs you are applying to and the faculty members in the program. She suggests “you want to hone your interest in a really specific way so that you can match with faculty mentors” and “you want to research the programs before you apply to see who might want to be basically hiring you to work in their lab. That’s the way to get funding and that’s the way to get a PhD.”
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Interests and Specializations
Dr. Deborah Offner specializes, and has expertise, in adolescent development, student mental health, student affairs, and school life. She primarily works with middle school, high school, and college students and their families. She has over 25 years of experience in mental health, K-12, and higher education where she specializes in treating adolescents and young adults.
Bachelor of Arts (BA), Psychology & Sociology; Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT.
Master of Science (MS), Clinical Psychology; Boston University, Boston, MA.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Clinical Psychology; Boston University, Boston, MA.
Other Sources and Links of Interest
Dr. Deborah Offner: Psychology Today
Dr. Deborah Offner Book at Amazon: Educators as First Responders
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. Deborah Offner to the show. Dr. Offner is a clinical psychologist, student mental health expert, consultant and author with over 25 years of experience in the mental health field. She currently has an active clinical and consulting practice where she specializes in treating adolescents and young adults. Today, we will learn more about her academic and professional journey, learn more about her practice, her involvement with Beacon Academy, and learn more about her more recently released book Educators as First Responders as well as hear her advice for those interested in the field of psychology. Dr. Offner, welcome to our podcast.
Thanks so much. I appreciate you having me.
Well, I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to actually talk to us and a little bit more about your journey. First off, though, I’m always interested in what first sparked your interest in psychology.
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, when I started college, I was basically clueless, and I was really drawn to social sciences. I took my first sociology class and I’d never really heard of sociology before, and I loved it. I loved thinking about, you know, how society functions and what the different factors are and what makes people do what they do. And I loved it. And then I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it when I declared a major, I thought I might become a sociology professor, but I wasn’t sure. And then you know, I had an experience where in college I had a boyfriend. It was a great relationship. But you know, we did break up, as often happens in those situations. And I went to a therapist because I was, you know, quite sad. And it was so incredibly helpful to me, even in a relatively short period of time that I thought this is cool. Like I would like to be able to help people and you know, in high school my friends used to like talk to me and, you know, confide in me. And I thought it’s more applied than sociology. And whether I’m a professor or not, I’ll always have something I can do, you know, to be a therapist, be in practice. And so, I ended up switching to a joint major in Psych and Sociology and applied to grad school. I mean, that’s the short. The short story. And I, you know, I’ve never regretted it. It’s awesome.
Well, it sounds like it. And as you just mentioned, you did receive your bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University in both psychology and sociology. At what point during your undergrad career did you know that you wanted to attend graduate?
I would say I decided when I was a junior, so I really had not known before that what I wanted to do. I thought about public health. I thought about law school and then, you know, I learned that to be a therapist, you needed to get a graduate degree and a license and all of that. And so, I made up my mind and and the psych classes I was taking I loved in undergrad. And so, I thought, I’d be happy to take more of these classes you know, and learn how to be a therapist, and that’s how I decided, yeah.
So, you know, how did you end up at Boston University because you attended Boston University for both your master’s and your doctorate. How did you end up at Boston?
Yeah, well, I’m from the Boston area and I always thought Boston was a great place to go to school, but for college, I wanted to try somewhere else. I applied to a whole bunch of programs, only got into a couple, which is not unusual for PhD programs in clinical psychology. And I really wanted to live in Boston and they had what, at the time, was called a scientist practitioner model. So, you learned how to do research and how to use statistical models and things like that and the academic side, but you also spent a ton of time in clinical training sites like every year you’d be in a different location all around the city. And so, I thought it was a great fit for me, and I had friends and family and so I just got an apartment and that was it.
Well, I know that there are many schools in Massachusetts that offer graduate programs in clinical psychology. So why did you decide on BU, partly because you got accepted there and probably a couple others? But in particular, what were you really looking at when you were considering the program and or the school?
So just to date myself, which I don’t like to do, but I kind of have to. At that time, so, we’re talking about, you know, 1989 was when I finished college. And then I started grad school in ‘91, by the way, I’d been working in Boston as a research assistant at a teaching hospital in the psychiatry department. That was my first job. So, I definitely didn’t apply right out of college. It was under sort at the time, and I think it’s still true that if you’re gonna get a PhD in psychology, well, clinical anyway, they want you to have some work experience. So I had done research for a couple of doctors at the hospital and at that time, there were not many programs in Boston. There are many more now. And so, there was BU there was a professional school that had a PsyD program, but I didn’t really want to do that. And that was kind of it. There was a startup program at UMass Boston that’s now, you know, a really well-established program, but there wasn’t much in Boston. And yet there were great training sites like hospitals and clinics. So that was a big part of the reason and the PhD was because I still thought I might want to be a professor, and in order to do that, you know, at least in a psychology department or a college, you need a PhD.
And that was kind of my follow-up question because you mentioned PsyD and PhD and a lot of times I ask my guests, well, how did you decide, you kind of already answered a little bit. At that point in time, the PsyD was probably relatively new still, and it was more geared toward the practical side. If you wanted to have your own private practice, go that route. Nowadays, I’m not sure if you realize, but based on the feedback I’m getting from my guests is you know more and more people with a PsyD still go the academic route and still become teachers and professors more so than in the past.
Yeah, for sure. And you could be a professor in a graduate program with a PsyD. Or you could be a top researcher at a hospital, or, you know, academic Medical Center for sure. But you know, I came from a liberal arts college in the northeast, and to do that, you know, they’re definitely looking at someone with a PhD but yeah, things have totally changed and and there’s more PsyD programs, there’s master’s programs where you can get licensed, whereas that wasn’t the case back in the day. So, there’s so many choices now that didn’t exist, you know, when I was applying. Yeah. That’s really true.
And the other thing that I’d offer our audience is based on some feedback that I’ve received from a couple of guests here as well. Depending on the level of research, one, two, or three institutions, sometimes they still look at whether or not, especially research one, you’re doing a lot of research, they’re going to emphasize a PhD more so than a PsyD versus some other schools or what you want to do outside of academics.
100% and I was never headed for a research one anyway. So no, I mean, you’ll hear my story that really I was not a researcher at heart, but I love to teach and that’s a whole separate part.
And we’re definitely going to get into that teaching as well and and consulting, coaching and and that sort of stuff in a in a minute here. But let me go back to kind of your your movement and your academic journey here for a second. Did you apply directly to the PhD program, or did you apply to the master’s program first? Tell us a little bit more about that.
So, at that time, the typical route was actually to get some work experience, preferably in research and then apply directly to the PhD program and then we got a master. We, being my classmates and I, got our masters after our first year in the PhD. So, it was sort of folded in. Yeah, I know folks in counseling psychology, which is another PhD that’s also very cool. Typically, at that time, were getting a masters and then applying to the PhD. But I applied to all direct entry PhD programs, yeah.
And let’s talk about funding for a second, because going on for Graduate School sometimes, depending on if you’re going for a master’s or PhD can be expensive. And I do know that if you apply directly to the PhD program, your chances of getting funding or a stipend or something increase tremendously versus just applying to a graduate master’s program.
That’s correct. And that’s one of the reasons I didn’t get a master’s cause it would have just been, you know, well at that time maybe $30,000. Now it’s, you know, two or three times that. So, I had no interest in spending money, you know, to get more education that wasn’t gonna get me anywhere, per se. The program I went to and actually BU itself is a totally different program now from what it was when I went it’s. Almost unrecognizable. They’ve got great funding because they have a huge research branch, you know, with a lot of options. My program was a mix of clinical and academic, so we didn’t have great funding. I kind of broke even. I got teaching fellowships and some grading, you know, assignments with undergrads that allowed me to sort of not pay tuition. But I didn’t really get a stipend, so it was kind of a, yeah, kind of a break even. But it was OK with me. You know. Had to pay back student loans, but yeah.
Right, right. A lot of people just aren’t, aren’t even aware of the fact that, hey, I didn’t even realize that if I if I think I’m going to PhD route instead of just applying to masters and then apply for PhD, might as well just apply for PhD because the funding is probably going to be there more so than just the, you know, master’s degree so.
So when you look back, what are some fond memories that you can bring up attending Graduate School at BU for us?
You know, I think and this is just like how I am as a person, but most of my memories have to do with hanging out with my classmates and like do like being at my friend’s apartment and like doing an assignment that was just, you know, really unwieldy or overwhelming. And like, we’d keep, like, taking breaks to get a snack or, you know, go for a walk or, you know, do something else to procrastinate. It was like being with my classmates, you know, getting stuff done, stressing out about things, having interesting conversations either in class or like at a bar. You know, after class, like the social part was big for me. I think it, it helped to buttress the stress and anxiety and and we talked a lot about the work we were doing and our clinical experiences in really meaningful ways, but it was also about just connecting with each other.
Well, it sounds like it, you know, whenever I ask that question of most of my guests, they they don’t think about the curriculum. They don’t think about the grades they actually think of the experience that they had with their colleagues and and yeah, maintain some of those relationships a little bit even to this day, so.
Right. Yeah, that’s it.
Any advice to those who are seeking a graduate degree in psychology and I know that you’re in clinical psychology, so any specific advice for those going the clinical psychology route?
So, I think these days, if you want to go to a funded program and get a degree that positions you for, you know, an academic appointment of some kind, you really need to get a lot of research experience beforehand even to apply. You want to be getting your name on papers, you can start doing that in college. And also, obviously taking some of the prerequisite classes that you’ll need, you know, and that that’s information that’s pretty readily available. And you want to hone your interest in a really specific way so that you can match with faculty mentors. A lot of the funded programs are matching you with a principal investigator on campus for whom you will serve as a research assistant directly. My program was a general program. We didn’t have a faculty pairing. But if you want to do that, you want to know that you have, you know, some level of expertise or interest in, say, eating disorders or anxiety disorders or, you know, women’s issues or, you know, something that’s really specific and you want to research the programs before you apply to see who might want to be basically hiring you to work in their lab. That’s the way to get funding and that’s the way to get a PhD. PsyD is a little bit different, but for for PhD that’s what I would say.
Very good advice. Other people have also said that don’t necessarily focus too much on the curriculum. Focus on who you’d be studying with or under, and then that will help you increase your chances of getting in and not only getting in, but getting funding as well.
That’s exactly right.
So you know, I I was curious when I was looking at your journey. A lot of times I, I wonder well, how did you select the specific area or branch of psychology, in this case, clinical psychology. And I’m about to share a a screen that just shows some of the major branches, not all of them, but some of them, and so a lot of times undergrads especially say, well, how did you decide on which branch to, to, you know, basically study? And a lot of times our guests say, I didn’t decide, it was decided for me based on my interests and so I want to get your thoughts and opinions. How did you decide on clinical psychology?
Yeah. So, I would say that’s not exactly my answer. I decided on it because it had a practical applied aspect to it and a profession associated with it. Just like being, you know, my best friends were applying to medical school and law school, and I wanted, you know, a professional guild, if you will, or some way that I was a something, you know, a psychologist, right. And when most people in the United States think about psychologist, they’re thinking about a clinical psychologist. When you see someone on TV, they’re generally a clinical psychologist. So, and yes, I mean, it would be great to be on TV. I never have been, but that’s not my point. So, my interests are actually much broader than clinical. I love social psychology. I love developmental psychology. I have taught those things. Because when you have a PhD in a field, you often can teach outside your area of expertise, especially at the undergraduate level. So, I’m a huge social psychology and developmental psych person, but I didn’t know what job I could get with those degrees other than being a full time academic, I didn’t want to take the risk of having to, you know, move somewhere that I might not want to live. I wanted flexibility and work life balance. There’s an income aspect too. If you can have a private practice, which I always have, you can augment whatever else you’re doing, and I really like that idea.
No, that’s a good summary and it actually helps me transition to my next question is at what point did you know that you wanted to open your own private practice?
So, I think I always thought I would have a practice. I never anticipated it would be my full-time job or my primary occupation, and it really never has been. So I always knew I wanted to do it because I like the the luxury and freedom of time to sit with people and have a long conversation and get to know them and not be, you know, beholden to an insurance company or a clinic or, you know, some other constraint, that it’s just my own business and I can do what I want, how I want, but it’s always been something I’ve done along with something.
That’s a good point. And you mentioned this a few minutes ago as well, more and more back in the day when I went to grad school as well, and probably when you went, it was more segmented once you went the academic route, you kind of stayed within that area nowadays, especially in some of the other institutions, their expectation is not only POP, Publish or Perish, but you should get out there and apply what you’re actually researching and try to get your name out there because it will help our school and our college get our name out there as well.
So the business side of running your own private practice, they don’t teach you that in school.
So tell us, tell us a little bit more about some of the biggest challenges that you had when you were opening up your private practice and, you know, accounting, billing, marketing, advertising, anything else like that? Give us kind of a summary of what your experience was when you opened your own private practice.
Yeah, it was super tough. I think one of the challenges which might be hard to picture now is that I looked like I was 12 and the problem is, and of course I was a child psychologist, so that was in some ways kids loved me. But I found that parents had a hard time taking me seriously because, you know, they were often quite a bit older than I was. I didn’t have my own children at that point, you know, and nobody knew who I was. So, what I would recommend to anyone who’s looking to start a private practice is don’t quit your day job. You want to be building it up gradually. Now that may have changed because there’s such a shortage of providers since and probably before the COVID-19 pandemic. So, I think if you’re looking to start your own practice right now, this is an amazing time because most people don’t have openings. You know who have been around a while, so it’s probably a lot different than when I was starting. Also keep in mind you know how old I am. When I was starting, I mean you couldn’t do online marketing. You know, there wasn’t really much of an online situation going on. And again I was, I looked young and so I always was doing something else and and gradually built it up, but it takes, you know it can take 10 years, 15 years to really develop a reputation in an area like Boston where there’s a lot of therapists, it’s kind of a saturated market, it’s even harder. If you’re in a place where there aren’t many other therapists, that’s also a huge advantage, you know because obviously the scarcity makes you more marketable right away.
And you brought up something in terms of saturation. Many of the a lot of psychologists and many psychologists are in California, but I even saw an ad the other day showing that they’re in need of psychologists there, primarily because of the pandemic and and the effect of the pandemic as well. I’m sharing my screen. This is your home page. We’re going to talk about your book in a second here, so I’ll scroll down, but you have upcoming events on your main page a little bit more about you, and you can click on the link to find out a little bit more about your, your history, your education here is more about the book and then what I wanted to focus on was I liked this summary of, you know, nice and short, but it also brought me to my next question here about the Beacon Academy in Boston and a 14-month program. So, tell me a little bit more about the Beacon Academy.
Sure, yeah, I’d be happy to. So, it’s a super unique program. It’s it’s probably the only program distinctly of its kind in the country. One of the programs people might have heard of more, that’s a little bit similar in terms of the mission is Prep for Prep in New York City. So, what Beacon Academy is it is a full-time school. It’s an extra year. So, kids finish eighth grade at Boston Public Schools or another typically kind of school in an under resourced community and they can apply to come to Beacon. It costs very little, if anything, for their families. We serve only families who are low income, and the goal of the Academy year is to prepare students to apply to independent or private school that’s often called either day schools or boarding schools. Both of which are very popular. I know you have them in the Midwest, but we have a lot in New England. And so, these kids typically are bright, motivated, sort of thoughtful, lovely kids who are about four years behind on average compared to peers who are attending either sort of over resourced public schools in the Boston area or private schools, and so they’re behind because of their school system, not because of them. And so, the goal of Beacon is to catch them up, to enrich their learning in a really intensive way academically, to introduce them to athletics and other kinds of things that they may or may not have done before, that they could do at their new high school and then to shepherd them through the application process to be accepted to, again, a boarding school is about half of them are day school half of them. And our kids that go to these schools typically get either full funding for the whole tuition and room and board have indicated or mostly full funding, and the family has to pay a small amount. And we have all Black and brown students. I’d say we’re about half black, half Latinx kids and families. Some are immigrants from other countries, some have been here a long time. But that’s what we do. And it’s it’s a very successful program in the sense that all of our kids get accepted and go off to school and college and we follow them all along to make sure that they are doing OK and you know, figure out what they need.
So where would a parent need to go to find out a little bit more about the Beacon Academy?
Oh, so right on my page where it says Beacon Academy, there’s a link to their website or you can Google Beacon Academy, Boston.
OK. All right.
So it’s a day program, it’s not boarding. So, it’s only for Boston area people, but yeah, and it’s, it’s great. I love it. I’ve been there about 5 years.
I was just going to say you’ve been there at least three to four years going into your fifth year, I’m going to share the screen again. I’ll go. I’ll go back to the about and here’s that link that you were just talking about beaconacademy.org you can find out a little bit more information. Good transition. I’ll keep the screen up. Here is your book recently released, I believe in December, and it’s called Educators as First Responders: A Teacher’s Guide to Adolescent Development and Mental Health, Grades 6-12. Tell us a little bit more about the book and why you wrote it.
Yeah, so before I was at Beacon, I was at a private high school in Boston for 14 years. And what I learned when I was working there with the kids as well as with the teachers is that kids generally, when they have a problem or an issue, rather than go to a parent rather than even go to the school psychologist or school counselor, they’ll go to their favorite teacher or a teacher will notice when a kid is struggling because the teacher is the one who sees them every day and can tell if something is changing. And so, when I was at the high school and this continues to be true at Beacon, which is I’d call more of a middle school, the teachers really were the first responders to emotional health issues and emergencies. And you know, crises and losses and things like that. And they really were on the ground with the kids and seeking my advice but doing a lot of things themselves, and so I wrote the book really for all teachers at the middle and high school level who are de facto, you know, social workers or therapists without necessarily having any training in those areas.
It looks like based on my reading of the book and the summary of the book, it’s more of it’s almost designed as a comprehensive hands-on guide for those teachers and other educators to help recognize and then help those students through, you know, become that trusted advisor for them or their coach for them. So, is that kind of a good summary?
It definitely is and you know I’m not expecting them to function as therapists. And a lot of what I focus on is when to loop in the school counselor, when to loop in their parents, when to loop in the Dean or the head of school. But because teachers are doing this work anyway, I just thought they might like some sort of skills and to help build their confidence because a lot of times teachers have great instincts. But they don’t necessarily know exactly. They’re always worried like, did I say the wrong thing? Or, you know, what should I do? And so, this way, they have a book and they don’t have to ask me.
No, that’s exactly right I’m going to share my screen and I kind of highlighted your practice a little bit, but I want you to tell us a little bit more about your private practice while I’m sharing this web page that highlights your private practice and how is your private practice different? Tell us you know what, what kind of clients you typically serve, tell us a little bit more about your private practice. I believe it’s in, was it Newton.
Ah, Newton MA. So, it’s a suburb about 8 miles West of Boston. So, my practice, I actually limit my practice age wise just because of my interests. It’s not a specific license. I can see anybody but I’m really interested in middle school, high school, and college students, and I do see adults who I’ve known when they were younger. You know, people often come back years later and such, but I work with, you know, young people and with families, you know, with parents. I see a lot of Generation Z kids who are high achieving, put a lot of pressure on themselves, tend to be more internalizing rather than externalizing meaning I don’t see a lot of kids who are going around, you know, trashing the classroom or doing graffiti or, you know race driving their parents car. I I see some of those kids, but, but for the most part I see kids that are anxious, that are depressed, that may have body image or eating concerns. And kids that often just really need someone to know them, someone to talk to. I certainly help a lot with friend issues, parent child conflicts or or various difficulties. It’s it’s fun and it’s it’s meaningful and it feels like today’s kids just really need someone that isn’t a parent, isn’t a teacher, that they can just talk to openly, and who will really be there for them. And and I love doing that.
I should emphasize a couple of things in your background and I didn’t do this at the beginning, so I’m going to highlight a couple of things. You also studied social psychology at London School of Economics, and then you obtained your advanced postdoctoral training and psychotherapy theory and technique at the Psychoanalytic Institute of New England, otherwise known as PINE. And then more recently, you also taught adolescent psychology at Boston College Lynch School of Education I think almost a year ago, spring of 2022 as well. So, the other thing that I found interesting is you, you volunteered a lot and one of them was from I think a three- or four-year stint, you were a volunteer psychotherapist in the Boston chapter of A Home Within, a national organization who provides pro bono mental health services. So, tell us, how did you find that opportunity, and why did you volunteer?
Yeah. So, I mean, I think the way that I was socialized or, you know, brought into professional life, certainly at Wesleyan, was you’re supposed to give back, right? Like you’re supposed to do something that’s of no sort of material benefit to you that you’re just doing because people need it, you know. And that could be anything, right? In my case, it makes sense to do something that’s professionally specific. You know because people need that, right? So uhm, I think I was asked to be in the program through just a colleague. You know someone that I knew from being in clinics or around town and was involved with A Home Within. So, A Home Within started in San Francisco and it’s now around the country in different places and what they do is gather people like me who are, you know, trained and licensed in private practice who are willing to donate an hour a week of their time to a foster kid as a therapist because it’s hard. I mean, foster parents don’t get very much money from the state for the kids they’re housing, and they’re not necessarily always wealthy people themselves. So, it’s really important for kids to have continuity because when you’re a foster kid, that’s the last thing you have and you end up going off into clinics where trainees, you know, psychology interns, psychiatric residents turn over every six months or a year, and so you don’t have that steady, consistent person. So, I was asked to do it. I like the people who were organizing and I thought it was a good cause. I’d had experience with foster kids in my various training sites, clinics, and hospitals. Love not only the kids, but the foster parents were very amazing people and so sure enough, I got a great kid and amazing foster parents, and I worked with them for about a year and a half until the child moved away. But it was lovely and we met as a group of volunteers every so often to talk about the kids we were serving, and the families were working with. And it was really meaningful and fun.
You know you’ve been in the mental health industry in the field for over 25 years and actually longer than that. So, you have your own private practice, and so it leads me to my next question is if you were in therapy, Debbie, describe your ideal therapist.
Oh, that’s a great question. I mean to me, an ideal therapist is someone who wants to get to know the whole kid, I’ll say kid because I work with kids, but I guess I’m an adult, so the whole person, right, not someone who has a toolbox of techniques or skills. I’m not interested, I know that’s big in the Midwest, I I’m not interested in sort of applying a predetermined set of exercises or experiences to a person. That can be really helpful, but that’s not what I do, and that’s not what I would want. So, what I would want is someone who really wants to know who I, what’s important to me. Obviously you know great listener sense of humor, I think is super important to me. I think if you’re working with kids and college students as well, like it’s essential because some of the stuff that happens or you just have to have a way to laugh about things even or maybe especially when they’re hard. So those are kind of my top priorities.
OK, I like that summary. What do you love you? You keep yourself busy. You have the private practice. You just had a new book come out. You’re also working as a consultant and coach, and so what do you love most about your job or jobs?
Yeah. What I love most is that every day is different and I do a whole bunch of different things and I’m never bored and the kind of going back and forth between like a 45 minute session with a student to like a 20 minute consult with a colleague to giving a presentation to, you know, just being in my house and and meeting with kids when they could come to my house before COVID, I’m now mostly mostly online, being at a school and being part of that community, but also having my own sort of separate entity. I enjoy the variety more than anything else, and I enjoy every single thing. I don’t do anything that I don’t like at this point.
In terms of the future, what other goals do you have for yourself?
Well, I think I’m right now promoting my book, which turns out to be more work than writing it. You know, little did I know when I undertook this. So, my goals for the future are to keep kind of teaching and training and educating other people about all the things I’ve learned, and to keep learning. I mean, that’s the other thing is I learned something new, you know, probably every week in one, you know capacity or another and to never stop that sort of personal and professional growth that I’ve always been lucky enough to have.
You know, before we started recording, we talked about, how many children do you have?
OK. And we had talked about your your child saying, no, I’m never gonna get into psychology. I don’t wanna go that route but yet taking one class and so my question is, you know, any other advice to those who are the least bit interested in the field of psychology and and one advice would be just take a course to see if you’re interested. Any other things come to mind for you?
Yeah, definitely speaking of that course, so intro Psych is a bad class. I didn’t like taking it. Never liked teaching it. The problem with intro Psych at most colleges and universities is that it has to go over like 10 to 12 different topics, usually textbook driven, most, of which, are pretty distinct, not necessarily super related to each other or integrated with each other, and you might only be interested in one or two of them. It’s it’s typically a prerequisite for taking upper-level electives at college, so you kind of have to take it at most places, at least traditional ones. So don’t judge by intro, just get it off your plate. I mean, if you like it, great. But the electives, you know the upper-level classes are really where you can learn about the the actual fields. You might love social psychology, but not be interested in brain and behavior. And so, I think that’s the biggest advice I would give is don’t judge by intro because it’s not representative of what you would do if you actually became a psychologist.
That’s actually very good advice, I never thought of it that way, is intro is just supposed to be a cursory knowledge of high-level of each of the different areas. And then, like you said, most universities have that as a prerequisite. So, look at the second or third or upper-level classes and that will give you a better idea if you’re really interested in those areas. And that kind of relates to the previous question is how do you find out which branch or field of psychology you actually are more interested in? You have to take those upper-level classes to figure that out. As you can see, I’m sharing my screen. I didn’t want to leave before highlighting some of your social media, so you have a Twitter account as well, and Facebook, I love some of the pictures that you had on the Facebook here and it gives you a lot of information about where you were, where you studied. You were also former Dean of students at the Commonwealth School in Boston as well. Your LinkedIn. I always like LinkedIn because it gives you a little bit more of that background and your education. And and then of course you have a page on Psychology Today that gives a a little excerpt about your private practice and the last two here are here’s Wesleyan, your undergrad, where you attended undergrad, and then BU, which you mentioned has changed a lot in terms of the program, but we’ll include all these links when we go live as well. Near the end of most of our podcast, Debbie, we usually ask some fun questions, so I have a few fun questions for you. So, number 1, tell me something unique about yourself.
Well, I had a brief stint as an amateur triathlete in my 40s. I just decided I wanted to do it and I did races for a few years and then I sort of retired. I was never like the fastest in any of the three arms which are swimming, running, and biking. I was a finisher, but it was a blast. And someday I’d love to go back to it.
That’s exciting. That’s interesting. And you just decided, hey, I want to do this. And to your point, it’s a huge accomplishment, accomplishment just to finish, a lot of people don’t finish because they’re not. They haven’t trained themselves to actually endure those three different legs.
And you’re never too old is what you know too. Like, I I hadn’t done any of those sports in any way in particular. And I just did it in my 40s and it was great.
Good, good. What is your favorite term, principle, or theory and why?
I don’t know. I think my favorite concept, and I guess this is a term, is unconscious because I think that it’s now sort of so much embedded in popular culture and in the way kids think about things as well as adults, that we are all motivated by forces that we are not aware of. And that so much of what we do is determined by the unconscious mind, and I think that’s one of the coolest things about psychology.
So, you know, a lot of our guests and and even I always have to remind myself, what’s the difference between unconscious and subconscious?
So, you know. That’s a longer conversation and has to go deep back in history, but I think people use the terms interchangeably. I suspect that when people say subconscious, they may mean something that Freud would have referred to as preconscious, which is it’s a little more accessible than what’s deep in our unconscious. But when I hear kids use the terms subconscious and unconscious, they’re interchangeable.
OK. All right.
Yeah, it just means we’re not consciously aware of, but that still has an effect on how we feel and what we do and uncovering those things can bring a lot of relief to people.
OK, very good. Do you have any other advice for those interested in the field of psychology?
I would say scout around and figure out where you want to live, where what kinds of activities you’re going to want to do and find people to talk to who might be doing those things. Oh, I know another piece of advice. If you don’t need to live in a big city for grad school, don’t cause it’s really expensive. And I wanted to be in Boston, but if I could do it over again, I would have lived in a place that was much less expensive because most of your expenses come from housing and food and transportation. And so go somewhere that’s cheap to live, you can live. Somewhere else later.
Very good advice. One final fun question for you is if you had the time and money to complete one project or go on one trip, what would you do?
Yeah, I’m kind of a homebody, so I’m not sure about the trip other than like some super self-indulgent vacation. You know, I think I’d probably like to write another book.
Boring but true.
Well, they’re very good. I know a lot of people once they write their first book and second book, they get into that groove and they realize that, oh, I have a lot of knowledge in this, and I’d really love to get this information out there.
Is there anything else that you’d like to bring up or discuss on this podcast?
No, I mean, I think it’s I’ve had a lot of fun the past 25 years and I plan to continue to have fun the next 25. I think it’s a great, it’s a great profession with lots and lots of applications.
Well, Debbie, thanks again for taking the time to be on our show. I really appreciate you sharing your journey with us. Thank you.
Thanks for having me.