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.

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.

Top Five Reasons Why Every Psychology Grad Student Should Come to the Annual APA Convention (And How to Prepare For It)

The annual convention of the American Psychological Association is a unique event not only for psychologists and people who work in the various sectors in the field of psychology. It is also an excellent opportunity for psychology graduate students (both master’s and doctoral candidates). Even though I am attending the conference as a neuroscientist who finished graduate school a while ago (I used to attend the annual APA conventions while I was in grad school), I want to share my thoughts on why every psychology graduate student should attend the annual APA convention.

1. You will learn much more about the most recent breakthroughs in the field. Psychology is a hot science, and while you are undoubtedly learning a lot in your own institution, no other event will give you an opportunity to learn more than the annual APA convention. Make sure to start perusing the schedule of the events early, pick and choose the ones you’d like to attend, and learn about the areas that interest you most.

2. You will make connections. Widely attended by world-renowned scholars and established professionals in the field, the convention is the ideal place to make professional connections. The environment is also extremely conducive to networking, with many social events scheduled throughout the four days, making it easy for people to meet and establish new connections. Don’t be shy! People are here to talk to other psychologists and students with similar interests. Be sure to bring your business card for quick and smooth exchanges of contact information.

3. You will be able to explore the career opportunities available to you. This year, the APA is offering a new PsycCareers LIVE program (Booth No. 370), which will allow you to talk directly to recruiters and employers (through visiting employer booths), connect to prospective employers, access live career management sessions, and attend moderated panel discussion sessions to learn about what employers really need. Make sure you prepare in advance. Create your profile and upload your resume at PsycCareers.com, and flag yourself as a Career Fair participant, which will allow potential employers to reach out to you directly. Dress appropriately (business casual), ask questions and be confident.

4. You will meet other graduate students. The convention has plenty of sessions and events that cater specifically to graduate students. There is even a session (in the morning of the first day of the convention) called “Making the Most of Convention” for graduate students, which I highly recommend to attendees of future conventions. In addition, make use of the social hours for the divisions related to your professional interests (they are usually open to all convention attendees), and go to the social hours that are specifically for graduate students. Both are a great way to meet other students as well as get to know some professionals in the fields that interest you most.

5. You may discover what exactly you want to pursue after graduate school. While many graduate students already have clear goals or ideas of what they want to do after grad school (such as teaching), some may have less-structured plans, especially in the first year or two. The convention is an ideal place to learn more about the areas of psychology that you’re most passionate about, and learn more about yourself by exploring the fields that you’re less familiar with, as well as meeting established professionals from different sectors of the field. Don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to the people you admire or whose work you find interesting, and ask questions to get an insight into the work they do.

Nicole Avena, PhD studies appetite and addiction at the NY Obesity Research Center, at Columbia University. You can learn more about her work at DrNicoleAvena.com. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook, or on her Psychology Today blog.

Connection, Authenticity and Mutuality in Clinical Supervision

“We are relational beings,” said Dr. Pam Niesluchowski at a roundtable discussion I attended during the convention. “We strive to be in relation with and long for connection. But we keep parts of ourselves out of relationships in order to be in them.” She called that “the core relationship paradox.”

This is one of the main tenets of relational cultural theory (RCT), a feminist-based approach originally developed to focus on women and their relational experiences.

While this approach is effective for understanding therapy relationships, what does this have to do with clinical supervision? “Everything,” said Dr. Meghan Hanlon, former supervisee of Niesluchowski. “In growth-fostering relationships, RCT describes the ‘five good things’ that those involved in the relationship experience.”

Those five things — an increase sense of worth, a sense of zest or energy, an increased knowledge of the self and the other in the relationship, a desire to take action both inside and outside the relationship, and a desire for more relationships because of the feeling of the current relationship — are extremely applicable to providing competent and effective supervision.

Watching Drs. Hanlon and Niesluchowski interact and reflect on their supervision experience had a profound impact on me, as I could experience their deep sense of understanding and connection. As I stood witness to their supervision relationship, I could not help but reflect on what the quality of supervision would look like if supervisors emphasized the core relational factors that an RCT therapist would recognize in psychotherapy:

  1. Power — acknowledging and addressing power in the supervisory relationship while working toward collaboration mutuality (not necessarily an egalitarian approach and denying the inherent power and responsibility of a supervisor).
  2. Space for relational images — providing space to explore a supervisee’s relational images that they bring to the supervisory relationship, welcoming what might have been previously denied in order to have a growth-fostering relationship.
  3. Mutuality and authenticity — the ability of the supervisor to be authentically affected by the supervisee, and for the supervisee to know that she or he had that impact.

After participating in this roundtable discussion, I very much want RCT to be further integrated into all supervisory relationships. I walk away from this discussion offering a series of challenges: For institutions — how might you integrate the RCT framework in teaching supervision models? For clinical supervisors — does your current practice of supervision incorporate any or all of the tenets of RCT as a way to further enhance the quality of your supervision? For supervisees — continue to ask yourself if you feel safe to be vulnerable in your work with your supervisor and if you are able to be your “authentic self” in supervision.

10 Reasons Why I Still Love Coming to the Annual APA Convention

The annual APA convention is a truly fascinating event. I have several meetings under my belt now, and I have only good things to say. I also firmly believe that every psychologist, neuroscientist and psychology student should attend it. And while we all might have slightly different reasons for coming to it, I want to share the 10 reasons why I love attending the annual APA convention.

1. It’s the biggest gathering of psychologists and psychology students in the world. I think this reason alone is enough to want to attend the convention. No other event (anywhere) has as many attendees as the APA convention, and your chances of meeting and hearing world-renowned psychologists and researchers are greatest nowhere else but right here.

2. Networking. This almost goes without saying, but the annual convention of the APA is probably the best place to network if you are working or studying in the area of psychology. This applies to both networking with other specialists in your field, as well as with people from other fields in psychology, making the convention unique in that regard.

3. Diversifying yourself. It is important to stay up to date on the general literature and advances in the field, not just on the specific area that you work in. Personally, I probably learn most about the research that is outside my own area (appetite and addiction) at the annual APA convention.

4. Perusing posters. It is a great way to see summaries (in five minutes or less) of some hot-off-the-press research. By coming to the APA convention, I am one of the first to learn about the newest research that is taking place in the field of psychology.

5. Bumping into or setting up meetings with people whom you might not otherwise see.People come from all over to attend the annual APA convention. Although we tend to feel like we keep in touch with people via social media or email, the truth is that seeing people in person is really important, too, and helps to solidify connections. When I come to APA, I make a plan to meet up with former colleagues, mentors and friends beforehand, and look forward to bumping into other people at the meeting.

6. Meeting the psychology “giants” you admire most. Many of us have at least a few researchers, doctors, educators or policymakers in our field we truly admire and look up to. There may be few opportunities to meet them in person, especially because they tend to be the busiest people. However, many of them come to the convention (even if not every year), making it the best place to meet them, introduce yourself and learn even more about the work they do.

7. Meeting graduate students. Even though I finished graduate school (what feels like) a long time ago, I always find it exciting to meet new graduate students. It’s refreshing at the very least, and I sometimes meet some who are deeply interested in areas of psychology that are close to my own field.

8. The number and variety of sessions provided. The annual APA convention provides so many different sessions and different types of sessions that I always find more than a few (and more often than not, too many) sessions that I want to attend.

9. Continuing education credits. The convention provides an excellent opportunity to be a lifelong learner and to continuously add to my professional development. I can also meet very well-known psychologists and experts in the field, who often lead the workshops.

10. It’s fun. The whole experience of the convention itself is unbelievable, even if sometimes it may feel overwhelming. I cannot think of many other professional, academic, or educational events (that are also very social) that would top the annual APA convention.

Nicole Avena, PhD studies appetite and addiction at the NY Obesity Research Center, at Columbia University. You can learn more about her work at DrNicoleAvena.com. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook, or on her Psychology Today blog.