Unconventional Wisdom

Now that I have a chance to think back on APA convention, I wanted to share a few impressions with my fellow psychologists, both those who attended and those who didn’t.

Cultivated serendipity: The first is a return to the challenge of unification that I discussed in my first post. I think one way that we can each address unification, and try to help make psychology stronger, is not just by strengthening our own science, or our own practice, or our own subdiscipline, but doing what we can to understand others in psychology. As I move further on in my career, I realize how difficult this can be. It is downright uncomfortable to sit in a session outside my subdiscipline, with unfamiliar assumptions and vocabulary. But if we force ourselves to think about how our discipline relates to what might at first seem strange, we can be struck with interesting connections. These serendipitous realizations can be tremendously and unexpectedly rewarding, but we need to be in the room to have them. I had several moments like this. One was on the morning of the last day, after the presentation of Margaret Tarampi, a psychologist who first trained and practiced as an architect, then changed careers into cognitive psychology. Dr. Tarampi had described condominiums in Japan which had been directly inspired by the work in neuroscience finding that enriched environments cause neurogenesis. Tarampi noted in her presentation that this was perhaps not the best research to guide architecture (the research compared cages that had essentially nothing in them to cages that had just a few things for the mice to do), but that architects had found the neuroscience (new brain cell growth!) much more compelling than psychology research. During the question period, in an offhand way, Tarampi mentioned that architectural photos almost never have people in them. I thought this was a fitting example of how a discipline like architecture could use psychology but clearly does not.

Slide from Margaret Tarampi of lofts designed by Arakawa and Gins

Slide from Margaret Tarampi of lofts designed by Arakawa and Gins

Impact at small sessions: Like at any conference, I went to a few sessions which were very sparsely attended given by junior colleagues. As I look into an audience of 10 or 15 (or sometimes five, as I have on occasion as a presenter), I sometimes feel downhearted. The presenter has often spent months on the research, weeks on the presentation, and days of nervousness and anxiety, and a small audience can leave one wondering if was worth all the trouble. While we may have an ethos of “only the quality of the science matters” in science, nothing confirms that status matters (and you don’t have it) like an 8 a.m. session with an empty room. But in these moments, I am happy to be in the audience myself, and I remind myself that even small audiences can yield great connections and can sometimes be the spark of collaborations. I saw this happen during several question periods, as questioners revealed themselves to have an expertise that complemented that in the presentation. Whether it was an ecologist curious about the psychological work in biophilia and the cognitive benefits of nature, or a sleep researcher interested about the role of sleep deprivation in the obesity associated with poverty, or even my own thoughts inspired by the history of the five senses, or how touch and movement are inextricably linked.

Take home messages and “positive psychology:” As a graduate student attending my first conference, I can remember sharing an elevator with a senior professor in my department, and sharing my youthful ebullience and eagerness at this session or that. He grumbled, “Oh, that’s nice you’re excited, I hate this conference, and actually, most conferences” or something to that effect. Although I had a good time at that conference, I could start to see what he meant. Sessions that looked absolutely fascinating to me on paper would all too often turn out to be mumbling through PowerPoint slides with tables and 10 pt font, or incoherent, or not about what they said they were about at all. In the past, those sessions would make me disappointed and get me down as I felt my time was being wasted. But as time has gone on, I have come to have a more positive outlook on these sessions. I try to take what I can from them, even if it is a reminder of what not to do and a single useful example. This positive psychological outlook has helped me get more out of conferences, and not dwell on those sessions that are not as useful or interesting as others.

I hope that you readers were able to find something useful in my blogging, too. Thanks for reading.

Unwinding After Convention

Whew! We survived another awesome APA convention. The weather in Washington D.C., was tolerable (and for me quite nice compared to the heat in Texas). The hustle and bustle of convention usually takes a toll on most people by Sunday of the convention. So it’s nice to be home to decompress after three to four days of back-to-back activities.

As I reflect on my convention experience this year, I realize that APA has allowed me the opportunity to connect with so many driven and dynamic people. The past few days have been rewarding on so many levels. Walking through the halls of the convention center and socializing withDSC02145 friends and colleagues, I can say I will be attending the APA convention for many years to come — not just for the research and earning continuing education credits, but also to stay connected to the profession.

This year at convention was a little different for me than typical years. In the past, I have presented poster sessions, participated in symposiums and attended sessions and social hours. Busy, right? Somehow, I was able to do that this year, as well as, serve as one of four early career psychologist bloggers. You can imagine that at the conclusion of convention, self-care is needed.

So how do you unwind once you leave APA convention? For me the answer is pretty simple.

My luggage will probably be sitting a few days. PackingDSC02143 and unpacking have never been a fun activity for me. So thinking about unpacking is the last thing I consider doing after returning from convention.

 

I have a love-love relationship with my sofa! As I sit here now composing this post, I’m looking forward to getting comfy on my sofa to watch some television. I’m not sure about you but my guilty pleasure is reality TV. Since I hDSC02142aven’t had much time for TV while at convention, I definitely had some catching up to do earlier today.

We all need to relax and rejuvenate after a busy schedule. I hope you have some time  to refresh before getting back to your weekly routine. Unless you’re a super hero, remember, we can’t take care of others without taking care of ourselves. I hope to see some of you again next year in Toronto.

 

On Loneliness

lonelinessI don’t want to be a downer after reading about all of the exciting and innovative presentations but I cannot help the pull to highlight a session I attended on loneliness. I think that part of my draw, as well as my conflict, is that loneliness is such a universal experience.

Dr. Rebecca Curtis started the panel discussion by sharing a couple of case examples that highlighted the struggle with loneliness when there is a conflict between seeking others out and avoiding them. Dr. Curtis described characteristics of this type of loneliness as being related to perfectionism — that an individual desires being in relation with another yet simultaneously devalues others by having high standards for the relationship.

Dr. Rebecca Curtis

Dr. Rebecca Curtis

In helping to further expand the concept of loneliness, Dr. Ben Mijuskovic added:

The fear of loneliness is the ultimate universal drive in human beings, in all we feel, think, say and do … loneliness is the prime motivator in all our passions, thoughts and actions. The opposite of loneliness is intimacy, a desire for empathic unity with another self-conscious being, whether divine, human or sentient.

Dr. Mijuskovic went on to criticize behaviorism’s view that loneliness is passively caused by external conditions — environmental, cultural, situational and even chemical imbalances in the brain, in which he argues that the DSM is compatible with this approach since all of these external conditions are transient and avoidable.

On loneliness and the DSM, Dr. Mijuskkovic added:

The DSM analytically dissects, classifies, reduces and vivisects the emotions into separate “diagnoses” and thus fails to “see” the whole interplay of the emotions and its concomitant developing dynamic. Therefore, the DSM fails to include the “diagnosis” of loneliness because it has misunderstood the dynamic presence and force of loneliness by tearing it into lifeless pieces; it has separated the original constitutive members and transformed them into dead parts.

Dr. Ben Mijuskovic

Dr. Ben Mijuskovic

So much of this talk and presentation resonated to the core with my understanding of loneliness in my clinical work. After reflecting on the talk for a bit, I cannot help but see many of the parallels with a larger process of our work as psychologists, and also why the room for this talk was quite full. Each year, thousands of us gather at an annual convention with like-minded individuals in a way to avoid our experience of loneliness in our work, and increase our intimacy and connections with those who we truly believe have the capacity to understand what it is that each of us does. While loneliness can stem from the urge for perfection, I would also argue that loneliness, especially for psychologists doing the work, can also arise from personal insight and self-awareness. Perhaps it is because we are reflective clinicians and have a harder time connecting with those we encounter in everyday life outside of the office, in particular, those who struggle with self-awareness and do not value interpersonal connection.

While this talk focused on understanding loneliness in clinical work with patients/clients, I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the loneliness and isolation of our work as clinicians. If you are willing, please share your experiences in the comments.

Sessions to See: Making the Most of the Last Day

at APA 2014

at APA 2014

Convention is winding down and many people are preparing for the last day of sessions before heading home. After a busy three days of activities, most people are ready to skip out on sessions to sleep in or go to the airport to beat the afternoon madness.

However, the convention still offers lots of exciting and interesting sessions. Plus, it’s a great time to visit the bookstore to make your purchases. As the convention comes to a close, below are some sessions that may be interesting to see if you’re still wondering, “What session should I go to?”

8AM

Therapist Self-Care – A Lifespan Perspective: Evidence-based Expressive Writing as a Tool

CC Room 145A (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will cover empirical studies of expressive writing, an experiential portion involving expressive writing, and discussion.

How Do Psychologists with Privilege Respond to the Stigmatized Others?

CC 209A (50 minutes)

The session will focus on individual, cultural and contextual barriers and assets, as well as training implications for working with culturally stigmatized others.

9AM

Integrating Individual, Family and Systems- Focused Interventions: A Video Illustration

CC 101 (50 minutes)

The session will illustrate the interdependent nature of individual-, family- and systems-based interventions in a program focusing on family-based treatment of adolescent substance abuse and delinquency.

Taking a Stand? Sport Psychology, Media and GLBT Athletes in Sochi

CC 158 (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will focus on the experiences of GLBT athletes competing in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Criminal Justice System

CC 209A (50 minutes)

The session will present on overview of ASD by a psychologist and a parent of a child with autism who is also a former judge.

10AM

Children’s Resilience in the Context of Military Deployment and Their Aftermath

CC 204C (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will discuss how scientific knowledge about resilience can provide the evidence base for programs to support and enhance the resilience of military-connected families.

11AM

Influence of Culture and Context on Family: School Partnerships

CC 209A (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will explore various influences of culture and context on the development and implementation of family-school partnerships.

12PM

Global Violence Toward Women: Interventions and Strategies for Change

CC 152A (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will explore global violence toward women through an examination of sexual assault and rape in Africa, domestic violence and international sex trafficking, emphasizing treatment methods and interventions.

1PM

Interprofessional Training: Preparing Psychology Students for the Changing Health Care Market

CC 154B (50 minutes)

The session will showcase an interprofessional training program for psychology graduate students and interns to address changes in health care.

Self-Care and the APA Convention

As psychologists, we know that self-care is important to well-being. Life can be a challenge at times for everyone and having a balanced approach helps to prevent burnout and physical health problems.

Sometimes life gets busy and makes it extremely difficult to engage in self-care. One of those busy moments is the APA convention. As I write this blog at the end of a busy convention day, I realize that self-care takes about as much effort as it takes to do other important task.

photo 1Throughout this convention, I have been working to balance my schedule and engage in self-care. For example, exercise and fitness have been an integral part of my life since being a graduate student. Being at convention with a full day of activities sometimes makes me feel like I should avoid practicing my typical self-care activities Yet, I have been motivated thought the past three days to have a little balance.

My self-care activities have included:

  1.  Went to the gym to exercise
  2.  Walked to the convention center from my hotel, which is several blocks away, instead of taking a cab
  3.  Took the stairs instead of the escalator (if possible)
  4.  Used relaxation techniques
  5.  Watched a little reality TV
  6. Attended division social hours

    photo 4

    Food truck festival

According to the APA Practice Organization (APAPO), balancing a healthy mind and body enhances our personal and professional lives. Engaging in my self-care activities definitely gave me the energy to make it through the day. Below are some additional tips for the APAPO:

  • Maintain awareness of stressors
  • Use self-assessment and plan coping strategies
  • Get enough sleep
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Nurture meaningful relationships
  • Allow for leisure time

 

receiving Judy E. Hall, PhD Early Career Psychologist Award from the National Register of Health Service Psychologist (L-R, Dorothy Holmes, Ph.D. (Board member), Erlanger Turner, PhD., and Sammons

Receiving Judy E. Hall, PhD Early Career Psychologist Award from the National Register of Health Service Psychologist (L-R, Dorothy Holmes, PhD (board member), Erlanger Turner, PhD, and Morgan Sammons, PhD (executive director)

Going to Mars

DSC_0028What amazes me the most about this convention is the diversity of how psychology is applied across disciplines, fields and careers. The panel discussion and presentation titled “How Psychologists Can Help Create Healthy Workplaces” examined the role of psychologists in shaping organizations to promote overall employee health.

Dr. Eduardo Salas of the University of Central Florida shared his experience as a psychologist in working with NASA astronauts to help design and organize a team for a landing mission to Mars. “From the research, there are five characteristics that this team must demonstrate in order to achieve mission success,” Salas said. He described healthy team resilience as incorporating the following:

  • adaptability and the ability to tolerate stress through self regulating
  • the ability to manage conflict within the team through mutual trust
  • mutual support and backup behavior
  • a strong “team coach” who promotes others, develops the team and creates incentives for success
  • organizational conditions that align with the team and the mission, which includes the policies, procedures and senior leadership to promote change

Nasa-MarsAs I reflected on Dr. Salas’ work, I started to think about his role with NASA and team training and considered all of the factors that the general public may discount in the process of selecting and training a team for a mission to Mars. Dr. Salas emphasized the concept of stress inoculation training — cognitive training to help individuals cope with stressors – to help train astronauts how to respond effectively and efficiently in extremely stressful conditions, in particular those conditions that would be unique to a mission to Mars.

“Communication to and from the International Space Station is about one second,” said Salas. “Communication to and from Mars would be 20 minutes in each direction, which can result in a multitude of issues.” He continued to describe many of the likely and possible stressors that these astronauts would encounter, including not being able to see Earth from Mars and living with seven individuals in an enclosed space for a prolonged period. I continued to think of simply how much the field of psychology can be applied to so many different situations. I’m recognizing more and more, despite of how obvious it is, that wherever there are people involved, psychology will always play a role.

Lunch with the Masters

Dr. David Songco and Dr. John Norcross

Dr. David Songco (right) and Dr. John Norcross

Many of my fellow convention bloggers have posted their reasons why the APA convention is the best convention to attend. While I do not have a list of reasons, I do have one experience that I believe will inspire any graduate student or early career psychologist (ECP) to attend.

APA’s Division 29 — Division of Psychotherapy — hosted its annual “Lunch with the Masters.” It was an incredible opportunity for graduate students and early career psychologists to engage in an informal dialogue with leading experts and role models in the field. Notable guests included Pamela Hays (author of Creating Well-being and Connecting Across Cultures), Joseph White (“godfather” of black psychology), Raymond DiGiuseppe (author of A Practitioner’s Guide to Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy) and John Norcross (author of Changeology – 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions) among many others.

Lunch with the Masters

Lunch with the Masters

During this “Lunch with the Masters,” graduate students and ECPs had the opportunity to take a break and have an informal conversation about their career aspirations, and also ask the “masters” about their career development, personal passions in the field of psychology and their professional journey.

As an added perk, Division 29 and many of the masters provided their books to be raffled to all the students and ECPs in attendance. I walked away with John Norcross’ book, which he was more than happy to sign.DSC_0026

As an early career psychologist, I found it a wonderful opportunity to network and be surrounded by so many like-minded individuals. Each of the masters was willing to listen, encourage and ask about our personal desires and passions. The ability to connect with successful psychologists in such a personal way has been one of the most beneficial experiences that I have had here at the APA convention.

Have you had any pivotal interactions or moments during this conference? Please share them in the comments below.