Dr. Erin Haugen grew up on a farm in rural North Dakota. On the advice of her mom, she decided to stay close to home and “try a semester or two” at UND. What started out as a couple of semesters ended up being a number of years as she received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, ND. Although she attended undergraduate school with the intention of becoming a psychiatrist, in this podcast, she admits that she didn’t know what a psychologist was until one of her professors pulled her aside and said “Erin, I actually think you want to be a psychologist instead of a psychiatrist.” At that point, she took a different route and combined her passion for athletics and understanding people and began working with athletes. She soon became very aware of the performance piece that is present for many athletes and this opened the door for her to do more research and eventually jump into the discipline of sport psychology.
Dr. Haugen is a licensed clinical psychologist and sport psychologist in Grand Forks, ND. In fact, she is the only sport psychologist in the state of North Dakota who is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC). In this podcast, Dr. Haugen reflects on her academic and professional journey and gives us a glimpse into how it feels to work with athletes from over 20 different sports ranging from recreational to elite (Olympic and professional). Throughout our discussion, she provides advice for those interested in psychology and also offers specific advice to those interested in the field of sport psychology.
Dr. Haugen literally travelled coast to coast to gain experience and education in the field of psychology. She provides insight into why she selected the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks for her doctorate in clinical psychology. Dr. Haugen travelled to Connecticut to complete her pre-doctoral internship at River Valley Services/Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown. She completed her post-doctoral residency at the University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, CA. She then returned home because she had the opportunity to work at the Assessment and Therapy Associates of Grand Forks (ATAGF) and has been working there ever since she received her license. She is not only a clinician, she is also the Director of Continuing Education and Training at ATAGF.
During our discussion, Dr. Haugen talks about psychological flexibility and states that it is “an evidence-based principle and it really describes everything that I’m doing all day with athletes.” She proudly describes herself as a “nerdy kid at heart” and has always been interested in people and why they do what they do. I would say she is an “athletic nerd” because she has always been involved in athletics including anything from basketball to track to now focusing on triathlons (with the help of her border collie mix rescue dogs). I also learned that Dr. Haugen swore that she would never be in a relationship with another psychologist yet, here she is, happily married to a psychologist who specializes in couples and relationship work. You can listen to the podcast to find out what kind of fancy psychological terms they use when they argue.
Interests and Specializations
Dr. Erin Haugen specializes in sport psychology, elite performance, stress management, sport mental training, adult psychological assessments, professional well-being and overall mental health. She works with athletes from over 20 different sports ranging from recreational to elite (Olympic and professional).
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Psychology & Honors (2001); University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND
Master of Arts (M.A.), Psychology (2003); University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Clinical Psychology (2006); University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND.
Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC), Certified Consultant (2014); Association for Applied Sport Psychology.
Other Sources and Links of Interest
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. Erin Haugen to the show. Dr. Haugen works at the Assessment and Therapy Associates of Grand Forks (ATAGF) and is the only licensed sport psychologist in North Dakota. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Psychology at the University of North Dakota. Today, we will learn more about her academic and professional journey and get a glimpse into how it feels to work with athletes from over 20 different sports ranging from recreational to elite. Dr. Haugen, welcome to our podcast.
Thank you so much Bradley. I’m very excited to be here with you today.
Well, I’m excited to talk to you about your, your job, your occupation, your academic and professional journey as well. To start us off, tell me what originally sparked your interest in clinical psychology, and then in particular, sports psychology.
You know, I have been that kid, so I’m a, I’m a nerdy kid at heart. I’ve always been interested in people and, and why they do what they do. Uhm, I’m back from, like the encyclopedia era, so I was always in the psychology sections of encyclopedias. We had a lot of books at home related to just mental health and well-being and, and just so curious about it. Uhm, I actually though didn’t even know what a psychologist was until I was actually an undergrad. I actually went to undergrad with the intention of becoming a psychiatrist because I’m, I’m from rural North Dakota, didn’t know anything about higher education. I’m the first one to go to college in my family. And so basically, it wasn’t until my intro to psychology honors professor kind of pulled me aside and said, Erin, I actually think you want to be a psychologist instead of a psychiatrist. And he was correct, fortunately, because medical school would have been a very different route. And then you know, just like I said, my, my, my passion for, for just understanding people and why they do what they do, and then combine that with I’m, I’m a lifelong athlete. I was basketball player and sprinter in high school. I took a little break as I often tell people during Graduate School from sports and then I’m now in triathlons and things like that and running and whatnot, and so when I was introduced to working with athletes, became very aware of this performance piece that’s simply present for a lot of elite athletes and a few Google searches later kind of fell into sport psychology and the discipline of sport psychology. And as good nerds do, then you pursue, pursue more education and training and here we are. So, lots of nerding out is probably my, my answer to your question about what you do.
Well, that’s a, that’s a good summary, and I like the your summary and, and the one thing that I did notice when researching you in preparation for this podcast is yeah, you are a triathlete. You had you had four dogs, now you’re down to three and, and so I, I see everything that you, you know kind of led up to your occupation right now and, and what a niche you have, you must feel very fortunate and lucky that you have that niche at UND and North Dakota as well. Well, when I was researching, I didn’t find enough information on your undergraduate experiences, so tell me where did you attend and what undergraduate degree did you receive? Tell me a little bit more about your undergraduate experiences.
I actually got my undergrad, grad (Master’s and PhD) from UND the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. My undergrad degree is actually in psychology in honors, UM, basically, so I did my undergrad degree in three years, which I would not recommend in any way, shape, or form.
Uhm, but I did that because I knew I was going to go on and get a PhD so that’s really kind of where I got a little bit of exposure to sport psychology. Not a ton, I took one sport related class in undergrad. Uhm, but basically kind of stuck close to home and decided that’s where I was going to do all of my education.
Well, that almost answers my next question is how did you decide on going to UND for your undergrad? It was close to home, I hear. Anything else?
Yeah, you know it was actually, believe it or not, a kind of a toss-up between UND or the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and, uhm it’s kind of funny because I, I, I grew up on a farm in rural North Dakota and I remember my mom talking to me about, you know, Erin I, I don’t know that downtown Minneapolis for your first time away from home is really what you want to do given you don’t have anyone that lives anywhere near you. Let’s try a semester or two at UND and then you can transfer. And I I’m glad, at that point in my life, that that I started close to home. I’m, I’m still excited. My education was fantastic at UND, but it really I, I think such a transition coming from rural North Dakota to even the quote unquote Big City of Grand Forks, which is hilarious because it’s not a big city was really it. It, it was the right fit for me. In so many different ways.
Well, it sounds like it, and I think you know, or I might have shared with you that I finished my undergrad at UND as well. And so yes, I, I laugh with you when they say you have a big the big town of North Dakota and Grand Forks is, is funny.
But one thing that I, I wanted to ask you now you started undergrad UND. Went through your, your masters and your PhD. Did you consider going to other, you know, schools and programs for your PhD, and if so, so how did you choose or why did you choose UND?
Yeah, I actually applied to gosh probably 10-12 different graduate schools and got into to several other ones and ultimately made the decision to stay at UND because the, the professor that I was working with at the time for my honors thesis had a really comprehensive anxiety research program and I did a lot of research with this particular person and really valued where she was kind of taking her research program, had a lot of interest in her research program and ultimately decided to stay at UND to assist with, with her research. So, in Graduate School, I actually did a ton of research and actually went to Graduate School with the intention of being professor and doing research primarily, and now I’m in almost full-time practice, which is kind of funny how things shift up over time.
You’re not the only one who has said that not only my podcast guests, but other people that I talked to outside of the podcast show have said that it’s I wasn’t even interested here and look at where I am now, you know, and it’s interesting how life brings us down certain roads so. Going along that theme you mentioned a little bit about what brought you to sport psychology, but you know everybody has all these different branches and in psychology is, is also one of those where you could go almost any direction clinical and then sports. So how did you kind of narrow it down? Did it come down to a person, a class, your experiences? Tell me how you kind of decided on sport psychology other than I was always at a triathlete and I loved sports and I tried to combine the two. Anything else that you can add?
Yeah, actually there is actually a pretty a decent story regarding that. So where are the, the practice that I work for currently used to be co-located within a residency training program and the team physicians for the University of North Dakota were actually housed in the same building and where we worked and so naturally, I would start to get referrals for collegiate student athletes who were experiencing mental health concerns, recovering from injury. Things like that. They kind of defaulted to me ’cause I was the, the former athlete, so they’re like, well, hey, you work with athletes which. I was certainly OK with. And it was really interesting because in my working with them I realized I was really missing that performance lens. I had the clinical training. I know how to treat mental health difficulties, but there’s that performance piece that athletes are constantly navigating, but there’s a little bit different lens than clinical. It’s about kind of performance optimization and excellence. And not necessarily a medical model and realized that I really needed some additional training regarding that. The other kind of lens or layer regarding that was the Department of Sports Medicine would have regular kind of grand rounds that they would do, and their speaker wasn’t able to, to speak one day, so the, the director kind of asked me, hey, you know, can you speak on Thursday you know about whatever you want to talk about to the Department of Sports Medicine? And I say, OK, sure, I’ll, I’ll do that. And this was back in gosh maybe 2010 and I spoke to them about mindfulness, which was kind of before mindfulness was really a thing in sports and, uhm, speaking with them afterward, we just had these really cool conversations about like hey, let’s talk more. We have lots of questions. We work with a lot of athletes experiencing mental health concerns or performance concerns and, and so I think it’s that combination of naturally being referred athletes and then also having some really powerful conversations with people in sports medicine, specifically athletic trainers, and realizing there’s this real need and, and this group of humans that are already kind of trying to navigate those waters without that specialized training or scope of practice and, and so that’s kind of really how things started to shift for me over time. Was, you know, just those two conversate, or those two dynamics and realizing, well, this is, this is not only something fun, but it’s something that can be really beneficial to the community that I live in.
What a great story. So, it’s almost the dynamic and, and where you are, the situation as well as that opportunity. Sure, I’ll talk about that and then all of a sudden that opened up the doors. And I, I would imagine a lot of your clients. Probably you gain a little bit more in terms of integrity and, and authority because you share that experience. You know you, you’re active and so they probably respect that and recognize that as well.
Absolutely well, I think it’s, it’s certainly and certainly by no means my collegiate athlete level athlete but, but I think that they can, can, they can recognize that I understand that process of really working for not only short-term goals, but long-term goals, injury, rehabilitation, you know, I think every athlete, somewhere along the way has been injured. And then I also have a lot of respect for, for them in their process because, you know, on a on a smaller scale have certainly gone through some of those experiences of working toward the goals. And, and you know, kind of even that athlete, lifestyle and, and kind of having that part of an identity that’s an athlete I think can, can really just help me relate and connect to the athletes that I serve.
Yeah, definitely. I know that well, let me ask this before I switch to sharing a screen with you and our audience. You know what? What advice would you offer those who are seeking either a masters or a doctorate degree in psychology and any specific advice if you can for sports psychology.
I actually, uhm, really, really encourage those who are interested in the field of psychology, certainly broadly, but even sport psychology to just be interested in a lot of things. Try out different things. You don’t know where those different paths are going to lead you, so you know, I imagine that we’ll talk about this as well, but a lot of my training is working with people who experience severe and persistent mental illness. None of my graduate training was working in sport psychology and I think by having these broad experiences it really helped me gain these different skills and then also, uhm, working with multiple disciplines like I, I think interdisciplinary work is so crucial in the field of psychology. So, if you have opportunities where you can work closely with other disciplines, training opportunities, work opportunities. I, I think that those can be so powerful actually, for, for both psychology and sports psychology, because the, the way that the field is, is going, certainly, generally but also sport related is that interdisciplinary framework, and I think that’s also where my background in team Sports has actually been really helpful. I love teamwork. I love interdisciplinary work and, and I think that that’s just really very helpful in in the communities that we serve.
Many other guests have also said if you’re interested in psychology or any of the branches, if you have the availability to volunteer in labs, definitely having that experience will, will come into play as well. What are your thoughts on that?
I completely agree. And that said actually, as somebody who is, uh, almost basically a full-time practitioner. I am so grateful of my research experience. I, I think that that’s fantastic. It really. It’s kind of the embodiment of the scientist practitioner model. Constantly you know, being familiar with the, the research process and you know the, the goals that you’re setting along the way in. In working in a lab, I, I think it’s just so powerful in helping us develop those critical thinking skills and, and just different lenses that we can learn to kind of think through as, as we’re working with our, with our clients?
And I think everybody would agree that there’s a difference between learning from a book and then actually practicing it and becoming a, a practitioner, and so that’s where your internships and your residencies come into play. And so, I noticed that you completed your pre doctoral internship at River Valley Services, I think it’s, Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown. Tell us how you found that opportunity and what was the most memorable experience that you had there.
Uh, hands down. That was probably the most powerful developmental year in my training. It was a phenomenal year. Uhm, basically decided I’d, because I was born and raised in North Dakota, I wanted to go somewhere different and I’d never been to New England, so I applied to a bunch of places in New England and really, really valued the people there. Uhm, and it, it was. But unfortunately, my internship site has since closed, but it, the, this internship site, the, the Community Mental Health Center was actually run by a psychologist, which is actually pretty atypical. They tend to be run with more the medical, the physician realm, and so you know, I think the so many so many experiences come to mind, but, but I, I have this one very specific memory of the director of the program, uhm, who we were in a seminar with her and, and she looked at us and said, you know, to the US four interns, “you know people are going to look to you to be leaders someday” and I remember thinking I don’t want to lead anything. I just want to do the work. I like to work hard. I don’t want to be in charge of anything that it terrified me at that moment. I was like I, I don’t, this is, I mean a long time ago. Uhm, and it’s so funny because when I think about that now I, I’m in plenty of leadership positions. I lots of leadership positions and I love being in leadership positions and it was just so cool how it, it, it made sense over time. Just how our training in psychology. At what we what we are trained to do how we’re trying to think about things and embrace complexity, but also really simplify that and meet people where they’re at. It really does lend itself well to being in leadership positions where people are looking to us for direction and guidance and, and so that’s kind of the one memory, I think that that will always stick out for me on that internship.
Well, that’s an interesting one. Thank you for sharing it and going along your, your response. It’s interesting how time and experience and wisdom changes your perspective on things as soon as they told you that you went, wait a minute. I I’m not ready for this I, I don’t want to be a leader and now you’re thinking, well I, I’ve been leading you know for so many years, here. So, I’m going to apply that kind of lens to this next question of in hindsight, when you, you said that you did apply to plenty of schools, it obviously worked out for you. But in terms of the process that you went through for searching for graduate schools, is there anything that you would do different or any other advice that you’d give people ’cause as undergrad put yourself back in in that time frame? I remember when I was an undergrad and going. What am I going to do next and if I have to apply to school, where do I start? What do I need to do? So, talk about that process a little bit and kind of think back what you did and what worked well. What maybe didn’t work well or any other advice that you might have.
Yeah, I I so relate to that like wait what? I, I don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life. How do I know where I want to go to Graduate School? Uhm, you know, I think for me I was trying so hard to figure out what’s the right thing to do. Like what’s the right graduate schools approach to, to apply to and I think in retrospect, really broadening my search. You know what are the things that really kind of I’m curious about, you know. Yes, I’ve been doing a lot of you know, anxiety research, but is that really where I want to continue to take things, do I want to go in different directions? Uhm to explore different disciplines you know, I think, had I encountered the concept of sport psychology back then, I probably would have gone that direction. I just didn’t know it existed and so I, I think you know, really that, that curious lens and, and, and working to not hold yourself back and, and knowing that there’s no one specific path right like, there’s so many different directions that we can go and, and something that you know might seem like a closed door or a missed opportunity is there’s going to be plenty more opportunities that you can kind of help shape your career path down the road. And, and you know, I think have having fun with that process, even though it’s terribly anxiety provoking. And like I said, it’s been a long time since I’ve applied to Graduate School but still, I overnighted my applications. This is pre-electronic applications ’cause I was so nervous, so I was like I don’t know if I wanna do this or not. Uhm, but really kind of invite like it’s it can be a really cool two to four to five years depending on your path of your life. And, and there’s so much growth that can happen. And so, you know, kind of embracing the opportunities rather than thinking about all the ways it could go wrong. I, I think, could be such a helpful perspective.
Well, thank you for sharing that. The other thing that I know our audience is concerned about is, you know the application fees and, uhm, sure I want to apply everywhere. But then you have to think about your budget, and you have to consider that so kind of narrow down your top three, five, or ten and then go from there as well. And then the deadlines are obviously very important when they’re supposed to be in. And then I would recommend I, I was telling you before we started the podcast that I grew up with my mom. She’s a licensed psychologist and an English professor, and I would also recommend sharing your application with having somebody else take a look at it, a second pair of eyes could catch something that you just don’t see, so those are some other recommendations that I’d have. You mentioned yep, North Dakota, North Dakota, North Dakota. Stay in Grand Forks, the Big City and then and then you went to Connecticut and now your next stage was Oh my gosh, how did you go from Connecticut to California? You, you completed your postdoctoral residency at the University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. How did you find that and why did you end up in in California?
And there’s even another layer to add. I literally ended my internship on one day and started at 9:00 AM the next day in California. So, like it was very quick and even though I didn’t have to, I, I chose to do it that way because I just sold all my stuff. Basically, actually I was still looking for opportunities in severe and persistent mental illness actually. And again, you know, had the opportunity on my post doc to actually direct the psychological services for a 100-bed inpatient unit at the time in downtown Sacramento, which was phenomenal. Like that was part of our experience which was so different than any, any places that I had lived, you know, the, working with such diverse populations and working with supervisors that are just amazing humans and have just such cool lenses on things. But really, still wanted to work in severe and persistent mental illness, and it had a nice combination between an academic Medical Center. So, I was really interested in kind of that research kind of academic Medical Center perspective, but also a community mental Health Center at the same time. And so, uhm, you know, just basically did a lot of searching for different opportunities and had applied to various places. I kind of broadened my search for my postdoc all across the US and, and, you know, went out there and interviewed and, and just really felt like home interacting with the supervisors who are all, and they’re all, they’re close friends now, so I’m, I’m very, very blessed to have worked with them.
So how did your family react to you going from North Dakota to Connecticut and then finally going to California when their advice was just stay close and try it out for a semester or two? Do you remember how their first reaction was when you said, hey, I’m going to California?
You know I laugh because I think Connecticut was a scarier move for them and California, they’re like, of course she’s moving to California, sure. But, but really, it, it was, I mean, my family bless their heart, that they’re, they’re, they’re such great troopers about it, and they’re like, OK, it was like, no, it’s, it’s a great opportunity and, and I think they’ve always been so supportive, even though I’m a first-generation college student, so supportive of pursuing education and, and trying different things and, and you know, and they, they trusted my ability to kind of navigate those situations and, and, and stuff like that. But when they came to Sacramento to visit, which is a much larger city than anywhere I’ve lived that that was a little bit more for them. My dad, who I grew up on a farm. He was like, yeah. No, no, we’re gonna go back to North Dakota, this is a little bit much for us.
Right, right? Everybody has their own niche and I, I remember growing up in North Dakota too and then traveling to the Cities. Back then we would just call it the Twin Cities or Cities.
So, huge change you know from, from Grand Forks. And then from California you moved back to North Dakota, unless I’m missing something in your timeline, but what brought you back to North Dakota? Was that UND or was it ATAGF and we’ll get into that as well.
Yeah, totally. It was actually ATAGF, so I was given an opportunity to work at the clinic that I’ve worked at since I’ve been licensed. And I remember in California and the we did seminars, as most people do on post doc and, and at that time the person who is the President of the Licensing Board in California. I’ll never forget we’re doing a seminar with him, an ethics seminar with him, and, you know, we were describing our next steps and I told him about my job opportunities. Like Erin, I don’t think you realize how awesome of a job opportunity that is, and I, I knew it was a wonderful job opportunity and, and truly he, he really was correct because we were co-located in in the residency training program at that time and that ability to be in a group practice, but then still have that interdisciplinary work was just such a such an awesome opportunity and, and that’s ultimately what I decided to do is come I, I tell people I split the difference and come back to the middle.
Right, no, that’s a good way to look at it. I’m going to share my screen for the viewing audience as well, and what I’m sharing is if you hopefully see the screen, can you confirm OK?
Yep, I can see it.
So, this is the Assessment and Therapy Associates of Grand Forks and very good facility. I went through the website; they have a wide variety of people on their team as well. You look at the Co-owners here and then you have some good, experienced psychologists, clinical counselors. And there you are, of course, with your nice smile looking at the camera. And then you have your, your credentials and, and for me I always like looking at the credentials because everybody has kind of a different combination of what they have depending on their focus area. And so, tell me, this is a good transition to talk about CMPC and so tell, tell the audience what that stands for and why did you, you, you elected to get that, and I believe you received that in 2014. So, tell us a little bit more about that.
So, the CMPC is, stands for Certified Mental Performance Consultant. So, when I was kind of looking around for sport psychology, what is sport psychology? Is that something that I could even do as a clinical psychologist came across the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. And that’s kind of the major organization in sport psychology and realized they had this credential, the CMPC. They renamed it. It used to be called something else, but it’s currently the CMPC which was a great opportunity to kind of build that expertise in sport psychology. So, it’s a combination of clinical or, excuse me, coursework that was covered by a lot of the coursework that I took in Graduate School, but I did take a handful of other courses. Uhm, and then actually mentored experience, which is so important when we’re thinking about establishing expertise areas is not only that book experience, but then to be able to have that kind of consultation with people who are doing the work to kind of help you really build those skills clinically or in in a sport perspective and be able to kind of understand clients and, and how to work with them and, and so decided you know if I if I’m going to do something, I’m going to go all in so I, I decided to pursue that that credential and I’m really, really glad that I did. It’s a, it’s a wonderful credential and, and really kind of opened a lot of doors for meeting a lot of people in the sport psychology community because there’s not many of me in Grand Forks or in North Dakota as, as we, as you mentioned so kind of connected me with, with the broader community of sports psychology and just some, some amazing people doing amazing work.
Well, it sounds like it, and I looked at that organization as well. And, and you’re I. I did see coursework and then clinical, practical side to that. But it, it, it definitely is a niche and speaking about a niche everything I read is saying that you’re the only sport psychologist, licensed sports psychologist in North Dakota is that still true, can you still say that?
It’s so I believe, so technically I am the only licensed psychologist in the state of North Dakota who has their CMPC. I do believe there’s another person who is residing in another state who’s licensed in North Dakota, but they don’t have their CMPC so technically, in the state of North Dakota, I am still the only one, the only licensed psychologist doing the work, technically, I believe.
Well, that’s good. We’re going to go with it until somebody reaches out and says no, you’re not.
And when they do reach out, I want to meet the other person and I want to interact with them and consult so that would be great.
Yeah, that would be wonderful. I’m going to share my screen again because you do have your own website and I’m sharing the website now and I love it. It’s, it’s got a nice feel. It talks more about you and then your consultation services, continuing education, a media page, about me page talks about why you kind of came into this area and then the assessments you know that you do at the other I, I always forget the acronym, ATAGF, Assessment and Therapy Associates of Grand Forks. And then you have a nice about page on there as well. So, tell us, what is the most challenging aspect of your job at ATAGF?
I wear a lot of hats. And so, I, I think for me actually, one of the most challenging things regardless, is not saying yes to everything. Uhm, not doing more, making sure that I’m, I’m kind of sticking to kind of, I, I just love to stay busy and so I would, I, I’m responsible for a lot of different things in a lot of different areas, so I that that’s probably I, it’s not, it’s not clients, it’s not administrative like it’s not taking on too many projects. That is literally the biggest struggle for me across the board.
Well, speaking about taking on too much, you also are an adjunct faculty member at the Department of Psychology at UND. So, my next question, you know, blends right into what your response was, how do you balance working at ATAGF and working at UND and then working with your own clients as well?
Yeah, you know I uhm, I think it’s, it’s really making sure I step back and think about OK, what is it, what, what, what are my goals? What is my? What is my mission? What are my values? You know, using a lot of those sport psychology principles that I use with clients, and you know, using them myself, you know, I, I love serving the collegiate athlete population and, and I’m so blessed to be able to work with the, the Athletics department and Sportsman Department. And, and, and so I, I think it’s also making sure if I’m taking out another project or my approach to another project is that fitting with overall what I’m trying to accomplish in my in my work with, with athletes. And if it’s not, I think that that’s where that other kind of adjunct piece also builds in to is I’ll supervise graduate students and, and supervise those kind of wanting to do the work and, and learn how to do the work and do consultations and judgeships with others. And so, if I’m not that person you know, really kind of passing along those opportunities to people who are also kind of getting more in the field and, and, and sharing, you know some of those wonderful opportunities with others. I, I really love to do that, and I think that that kind of helps keep me centered and grounded. So those, those, those needs are still served. But then also, I’m not necessarily taking on all these different things because there is only one Erin, and as my husband tells me, we probably don’t need two Erins in this world because that would be a lot because Erin has a lot of energy. And then also, you know, making sure I’m prioritizing my family as well. And, and so you know I have border collies who are very honest that they need my time so they, they also keep me very honest too.
Yes, definitely, and now I I. This is bringing you back a couple years here. I believe August well, almost, almost a year and a half, I think. You were interviewed by Tom Miller for the Grand Forks Herald, and at that point you were mostly focusing on how anxiety has increased during and through the pandemic. So, ah, I know that that might have changed slightly now that we’re kind of coming out of it, but I also want to ask you another question. One change, since back then, I believe, was collegiate athletes now can receive compensation and sponsorships. And so, I’m, my question just personally was or is has that come up in your discussions with some collegiate athletes, and is that an issue now that they’re having to deal with that?
Yeah, you know the, the one thing about collegiate athletes is they are navigating so many different things and, and I think that’s another layer for them. You know, I think that there’s a lot of wonderful things about that, but, but also, it’s you’re kind of helping them make decisions around that. And what’s the best opportunities for them and, and what might not be as powerful of opportunities as they might seem, so I, I think that there’s a lot more kind of decision making around those types of things. You know, I think also as sponsorships can be kind of increased media attention as well, and, and so I think in some ways, that’s really powerful and, and kind of awesome. But then that also you know media can be really fickle and social media can be really fickle and, and so learning how to kind of buffer themselves from the impacts of that and, and not let that distracts them from what they’re trying to do has been certainly conversations that that I’ve had in my office. And well, for you know quite a while which I which I’m. I’m always happy to have, but they’re I, I think it’s just added another layer of things that they’re managing at the collegiate level.
So, I know you can’t really discuss names of your clients or anything else, but you’ve, you’ve helped clients from just recreational all the way up to elite Olympic and, and well-known athletes. Tell me I have two questions and it’s a kind of a loaded question here. Number one number one is can you remember the first time that you, uhm, took on a client of your highest caliber and did you talk about performance anxiety? Did you think? Oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into? Tell me that that experience that went through your head and now looking back at it kind of talk about oh now I’m fine with it. I’m used to it, we’re all human. I don’t want to answer the question for you, but.
Yeah, you’re, you’re going in the right direction though, Bradley, you really are.
You really are. No, I truly I remember early on. Like you know, oh my gosh I, I recognize that person name or you know I know them from you know such and such and, and, and truly like you’re, you’re spot on, that performance anxiety, because, truly, what we’re performers, right? Like all of us are performers. You know business we’re performers as parents we’re performers as teachers, especially in sport psychology where we’re performers because where we’re helping somebody improve their performance, and we’re also trying to make sure we’re performing well too and, and so, uhm, performance anxiety was definitely part of what went on, and ironically is one of my favorite things to work with athletes on. I love working with performance anxiety and, and I think you know things that I really learned about that is, is you know, much like we talk with athletes like stick to your mission, stick to who you are, stick to your stick to your game plan. Of course, there’s going to be some activation that comes up but, but one of the things that early on that I would catch myself doing is OK, what’s the right thing? Or you know what’s, you know, how am I supposed to do this? And maybe almost be a little bit too by the book and, and forget that I have a human over there sitting across the room from me who’s potentially feeling frustrated or confused or awkward about coming to talk to a psychologist because I’m a stranger and, and that might feel uncomfortable for them, and so I think as I was able to kind of settle into that space and trust my own skills and abilities, it really, really just helps me connect with their humanity. You know, first and foremost, athletes are people. And they are people who do amazing things and the more than I can kind of meet them where they’re at and, and have those conversations and, and see them in their humanity. And yes, absolutely their athletes and performers, but I think having that holistic perspective can just make it so much more comfortable for, for them. And then I’m also much more being myself as well. And so, it is kind of funny when you mentioned that looking back and I’m like. Oh, Erin Oh yes, I just have so much empathy for early Erin and, and you know, again, we do the best that we can with the skills and the information we have at the time. And you know, that’s what growth is, is we, we get to see how we kind of adapt and adjust and build those skills, which is which is also very cool.
Well, the follow up question after I, I read that article in the Grand Forks Herald again talking more about the anxiety and sports athletes, whether collegiate or all the way up to professional, always have kind of a calendar. They, they know what they’re supposed to be doing on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays. I know that I do this, this, and this, and then through the COVID, you know it was disrupted and so has that theme still remained, and, if so, what other themes have come out during your, you know, sessions with other clients? And maybe there are different themes for different levels. I’m not sure, but I’m, I’m just asking what are your thoughts on that?
Yeah, yeah, no, I you’re, you’re spot on with the, the structure that that athletes have and, and I think that that’s such a wonderful thing for athletes. Uhm, it, it kind of frees them up to kind of do the work and it has that predictability. I think sports have somewhat established predictability again, but we’re, we’re also still, we’re still navigating COVID. People are still navigating quarantines. We’re still navigating games being cancelled where athletes are still navigating injury, right? One of the biggest kind of predisposing factors to enter is stress, and we’ve been under a massive amount of stress for a period of time, and, and so I think we’re still adapting and adjusting and, and you know the term I love to use this psychological flexibility. We’re still working on and developing and, and using our psychological flexibility skills all the time. So, I think in some ways it can be reassuring for athletes, but it’s also frustrating ’cause we’re still navigating it and we’re still dealing with it, and so I, I think that that’s where you know still helping athletes remember, you know, there’s still going to be some unpredictability. There has always been unpredictability in sports, but there still is going to be some stuff like, you know, is that game going to get cancelled because somebody’s on a COVID protocol, and we have to be able to regroup and, and OK, that’s what it is. And how do we you know, center ourselves and move forward, that’s definitely something that we’re still navigating and, and honestly still might be for, for a period of time. I, I, I don’t know, but that’s part of psychological flexibility, right? We, we adapt and adjust to whatever is presented to us.
And it’s not only the stress, but the inability for that consistent workout that comes into play and not only physically, but the stress related to Oh my gosh, am I going to get back to pre-COVID, you know, level or anything like that I would imagine.
Absolutely, absolutely. Yep, and, and so, or you know, yeah, they’re, they’re quarantined. You know, then? OK, I’m not able to do my workouts normally. Or if you know there, they may be quarantined but don’t have symptoms, then they’re quarantined and like I feel OK, but I have to be on a quarantine protocol and, and so navigating that frustration and keeping them focused on what they are able to do, even with those restrictions. Another thing that comes to my mind actually too as we’re talking is, you know, international student athletes haven’t been able to go home for a period of time and, and so that that also I have a lot of. I have a lot of respect for international student athletes who are who are navigating that maybe haven’t seen their family members for a long period of time. Fortunately, some of that stuff has been shifting, but, but that’s that that’s one of the challenges of being an international student athlete already, and then adding that on top of it’s more of a prolonged period that they haven’t been able to connect with their families in person.
As a practitioner and a clinician, normally you’re sitting in person in front of somebody, and you might have been asked this long ago, it still applies today when you’re doing Tele health and, and my background is mostly in interpersonal communication as well, and so you’re not seeing the nonverbal signs or the leakage or anything else. Has that made it a little bit more challenging to help diagnose or identify anything through the Tele health kind of forum?
You know, I, I will always have a preference for in person. Truly it that there’s a, there’s an essence that you’re not really able to capture as well over telehealth. On the flip side, though, I’ve been able to connect with student athletes in ways that you know due to quarantine protocols or even you know if they’re in another state, and I’m also licensed in Minnesota, I can connect with them so you know it might not be perfect, but it’s also, you know, been a tool that I think has been really wonderful to be able to use in a time that has brought so much uncertainty actually.
Well, that’s a good response. It’s a good, uh, you’d rather have that ability, whether it’s in person or not, then not have that ability and that opportunity. So, I, I agree with you. Is there anything that you wish you had known about psychology ahead of time before choosing this career path?
Gosh, that is such a good question. Uhm, you know, I think when I went into psychology I was really like OK, you have to choose this one thing and you have to stick with this one thing forever. And as you can probably tell, just looking at my stuff I, I don’t do just one thing. Uhm, so I actually had really resisted the idea of going into private practice or clinical work or group practice ’cause I literally thought I would just be sitting in a room with one client at a time, every day, all day for the rest of my life. And, and I love that work I just I like to do a lot of other things too, and so I think for me I wish I would have known earlier that you know you can do so many things with psychology in ways that probably haven’t even been figured out yet, right? Like there’s so many cool things that we can do, uhm, and, and it’s OK to be flexible about that stuff. It’s OK to adapt. You know, something might work really well for a while, but you know, if you have that training or if you don’t have that training, get that training and, and you can shift even though you know I have a PhD in clinical psychology, there’s a lot of other things that I do that aren’t necessarily related to diagnosing and treating mental health concerns. And so, you know, I think that just knowing that there’s so much flexibility within the field I think is so powerful.
You know one thing that I, I don’t want to forget some of your history and experience includes uhm, I believe you were a former faculty member at Altru Family Medicine Residency. Is that right?
So, tell us, I’m sharing the screen and here’s the website, so tell us how you found that opportunity. What did you actually do there and then any memorable experiences you had there?
So that opportunity was actually one that came to me because of the practice that I worked with actually, uhm, there was some other one of the, the other faculty members had left and, and they had an opening for another behavioral science faculty member to come on. And so, they had asked me if that was something I’d be interested in and, and I love educating others, I love consultation so I, I took that on, and kind of the primary responsibilities were the behavioral science lectures that we, we gave to the residents and faculty. Uhm, doing a lot of consultations and education, you know interdisciplinary work, some warm handoffs and things like that with, with the faculty and residents. And you know, I, I think that there’s just so many things that that stick out from that opportunity. But, but I think what was just so cool is that it’s just such a group of people who are so curious about psychology and so curious about how can we all work together effectively? Uhm, it’s, it’s truly one of my favorite things about interdisciplinary work. And I think sometimes you know, people in psychology might have that idea that you know medicine doesn’t want to work with us and they’re closed off to that. And, and that really hasn’t been my experience at all, and really finding cool ways. OK, they’re, they’re the specialists in medicine, but we’re the specialists in psychology. And how can we kind of own our spaces and work together to serve our clients in the best way possible. You know those are some things that that, just that that theme is just so, so powerful and, and really sticks out for me.
It’s not only the, you know, work in our own space, but as you mentioned earlier, becoming more interdisciplinary as well, because more and more of the psychology branches are bringing in the neuroscience into their field and so have you experienced that since you started on the sport psychology aspect, or can you speak to that a little bit for us?
Yeah, I, I haven’t necessarily dabbled as much in that, but that’s definitely a movement that’s also moving. It’s just a fascinating movement, but I think probably the reason I haven’t dabbled too much is I’ll probably want to go and re-specialize again, knowing myself, I’ll get really curious about it. Ah, but, but, but that’s just, I mean again, there’s just so many cool, you know, virtual reality opportunities. You know eye-tracking. Just so many different things, from kind of that neuropsychological perspective that that we can understand just in terms of human performance, that that is just. It’s just humans are so fascinating and so amazing in science when you combine humans and science, it’s even better.
So, plans or goals for the future? Where are you headed? I know you mentioned simplicity and, and almost reducing the baggage was, was a priority. So, plans and goals for the future.
Priority, but probably not going to happen. Let’s be honest actually. No, I’m actually one of the things that I’m really passionate about is providing quality education to sports medicine professionals about athlete well-being, athlete mental health to coaches to systems and, and so you know one of the next steps is really just kind of thinking about you know how can we develop some good programming around that that can make it sport psychology more accessible to those who work in sport spaces but also for athletes. Uhm, you know there’s a lot of collegiate institutions, smaller D1 institutions, D2, D3 institutions that just simply don’t have access to a sport psychologist like I just so happen to be in Grand Forks, uhm, which is fantastic ’cause you know then we can serve the athlete population here, but there’s a lot of places that don’t have access and, and so I’m really interested in thinking about how can we more creatively or more effectively pair institutions with mental health professionals. Ideally people have training in sports, so we can serve athletes across the board, which is probably a bit of an ambitious goal, but you know I like a challenge and we’ll probably not take things off my plate to be honest.
Well, that’s, that’s a good ambition to have, and hopefully other people would be on board and help as well instead of saying, you know I don’t want to encroach on your unique situation where you’re the only one in North Dakota, but I actually have my certification as well.
I, I would love that I would love that I that’s why I’m like I’m pretty sure I would know if anyone was here because I would call them immediately but yeah.
Right? We have a few fun questions that we always ask all of our guests, and so the first one that I always ask is what is your favorite term, principle, or theory, and why?
I love psychological flexibility, uhm, and act more broadly, but, but I think it’s just it’s, I mean, it’s evidence-based, you know, with their psychological flexibility is an evidence-based principle and it really describes everything that I’m doing all day long with athletes. We’re learning to adapt and adjust and, and be effective in in that given moment at any point in time, so I, I love psychological flexibility.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your life? Could be inside or outside of psychology.
I, you know that wow, there’s so many. The one I, I routinely go back to though is do the things that are scary actually. And certainly, you know not necessarily jeopardizing one’s well-being but, but there’s so many times where I would pause about an opportunity because it was maybe a little bit scary, maybe felt it was a little bit outside my comfort zone. Had people around me that were like Erin, go do it, you’re fine, you can do it. And it turned out to be a pretty pivotal point in my life or my career. So really, you know, do, do those, do those scary things and you’re going to learn something regardless, even if you fail, you’re going to learn something, so give it a go.
Do you have any other advice for those interested in the field of clinical psychology or those wanting to focus on sport psychology?
I, I love, you know, be curious, you know, work with, take opportunities. You know. Maybe working with a different population than you think you’re interested in. You know I had training experience working with kids. I don’t work with kids, but I learned things about working, you know, learned about things when I worked with kids. Uhm, you know, I think with sports psychology a lot of times there’s that pressure, OK, like I have to work with sport populations right away, and, and certainly we want people to get that experience. But you know, dabble around and, and you know clinical realms, you know get, get a feel for kind of working with humans across the board and then you know. So you can worry about specializing a little bit later, or if you have a program or enter into a dual program with clinical psychology and sport psychology, that’s awesome, but you can always add that piece later, and so I think as long as we’re working with humans and systems and things like that, you’re going to gain skills that are going to be helpful for you in sport psychology.
Very good advice. If you had the time and money to complete one project or go on one trip, what would you do?
Oh my gosh, oh, that is such a good question. I actually this isn’t really a project, it’s a second PhD, but that’s a project, we’ll go with that. I would love to get a PhD in canine cognition and behavior. I love dogs. I love dog performance. I’m fascinated by it. My husband laughs is like you’re going to get a second PhD at some point here and I know that. When you retire, you’re probably going to get a second PhD and, uhm, yeah, that that’s what I would do. It’s, it’s so wild and random, but I’m fascinated by dogs.
I will share the screen one more time. You know, you know where I’m going so.
I do I do I do? But I’m alright. I’ll never turn down dog photos, ever.
So, on your about page, you actually have your four puppies here, and unfortunately Molly did pass away fairly recently, less than six months ago, and so.
I mean, uh, did they help you train? Do they help you train for some of the triathlons and, and that sort of stuff? Or they kind of stay inside?
Their, they help me train my rest and recovery actually. I’ll run faster than I do and it’s just I ran with Fromm one time, and I felt so defeated ’cause he’s just floating along. So, I was like we’re gonna keep you at home. It’s OK.
Right. Now you brought up one other thing that I did uncover, and you brought this up, not me, but you referred, you referred to your husband two times. I believe that your husband also is a psychologist, so tell me how is how does that work in a relationship where both of you are psychologists?
I actually get that question quite a lot, Bradley. Uhm, yeah, you know it’s so funny. So, my husband is not only a psychologist, he specializes and he only does couples and relationship work. So, he, he only works with relationships, which is funny, actually. People are like, OK, that’s even more interesting. Uhm, I, I often joke is it works very similarly to other people, we just use fancy words when we argue right? Like, we talk about attachments and things like that. Yeah, and but, but truly, all joking aside, I actually also swore that I would never be in a relationship with the psychologist. Uh, because I was like I do not want to talk about psychology all the time, but psychology is just so much a part of who I am and, and how I think about the world. That there is something very valuable about having a partner who kind of understands the job, understands the lifestyle, understands the work, but, but then also I think along those lines because we both understand that we both understand how we have to protect our personal time and we have to protect our self-care time and our downtime and so I, I think it’s actually been a really, really helpful thing. You know, despite all my jokes about being married to a psychologist, it, it actually is it’s, it’s helpful, but it does make me laugh, actually, a lot.
I could actually envision, you know, when you were growing up as a kid, if your parents used your middle name, you knew you were in trouble. And so, I could imagine being a fly in your house and all of a sudden you pulling this card and saying, you know, honey, you’re projecting. Something like that.
That does happen. Accurate. It absolutely does. It absolutely does. That would be a fun, that would be a fun little mini video to do. Actually, at some point it really would.
You guys could do a live stream show and then just see the interactions and see how many people chime in so.
Oh, that that should be entertaining. Actually, it really would be.
Right. So, Erin, is there anything else that you would like to discuss or bring up in this podcast?
Yeah, you know I, I, I just I love what you’re doing Bradley, I think it’s such a wonderful opportunity for, for students to have access to, to just different professionals doing the work, uhm, to different disciplines, uhm, you know, I, I think for, for me something like this would have been phenomenal when I was thinking about psychology and Graduate School. So, I just want to express my gratitude to you, for you know, taking your time to do this and, and speak with a bunch of us about the, the cool work that people do.
I appreciate your time and willingness and sharing your thoughts and advice. Erin thanks again for sharing your story with us.
And thank you for having me, Bradley, I appreciate it.