Recent Posts

Learning from Practitioners

Posted on December 03,2013 by aliatmspp

When I was in undergrad, I found that I learned the most from the professors who wove anecdotes from their professional lives through the course material. This seemed to make the research more relevant and helped me to connect with these instructors. As I was looking at graduate programs, I realized that if I wanted to focus on clinical work, I also wanted to be taught by professionals who were active in the field, not only through review boards and academia. MSPP seemed like a natural fit.

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Studying, with a side of ...?

Posted on November 25,2013 by aliatmspp

Take a look next to your computer right now. Is there a cup of tea there, a carafe of coffee, a mug of hot cocoa, maybe some juice? When you think about sitting down to get some work done for an hour or two, do you immediately pair it with a chai the way a chef would pair a filet mignon with a full-bodied red? Looking around at MSPP, many folks have the same generic paper “hot cup” in hand or at the ready. However, because we have a vast array of free coffee flavors, frothy foam, hot chocolate and tea, one can never assume that we’re all drinking the same type of coffee-like Kool Aid.

Personally, I try not to have a standard pairing. My most regular choice would be hot water; yes, just plain ole’ hot water. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it. But on a cold winter day if I’m in the vicinity of a fireplace, I’ll likely go hot cocoa all the way, perhaps with a healthy dose of marshmallow on top. This fall, the warmed caramel apple cider has become a go-to on the run or when I’m editing papers. A coffee lover turned decaf (still haven’t found one that hits the spot), I do appreciate the barista artwork that the folks at The Thinking Cup in the North End deliver. An iced tea has a certain summertime appeal as I’m turning pages of a reading assignment while at the park.

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Culinary Therapy

Posted on November 17,2013 by aliatmspp

Culinary therapy, or the act of preparing and cooking food as therapeutic process, is an area that intrigues me. There is somewhat of a parallel process of culinary therapy to psychotherapy in general in that there can be group, or communal culinary therapy, in addition to individual culinary therapy. Culinary therapy can be used as a cognitive restructuring tool around food and eating habits, to gain a better understanding of the nutritional aspect of well-being, and to release stress.

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Removing Potential Barriers to Mental Health Care: Social Stigma and Insurance

Posted on November 09,2013 by aliatmspp

They say when students are in medical school, they sometimes begin to diagnose themselves with rare and horrible diseases that they’re learning about. Most of the time, these diagnoses are unfounded and devoid of any real meaning, but the prevalence of self-diagnosis is due to the fact that the students are immersed in this newly discovered (for them) medicalization of the world. My experience in studying psychology isn’t necessarily the same; I’m not scribbling and erasing a new Axis I or II diagnosis for myself on the regular. However, this week, I came across three interesting story lines that made me wonder if suddenly I was more attuned to mental health and news thereof (similar to our med students) or if this was a moment in history that mental health was finally getting the attention it merits.

The first story line was about mental health parity in insurance. Good ole’ NPR provided food for thought yet again. It seems as though the mental health parity law that was signed in 2008 finally is going to be upheld with some regulations. What this does is guarantee that people with mental health and substance abuse issues will be covered by insurance the same way that someone with a “medical” issue would. According to NPR’s story, with these new rules now “most health insurance plans offer the same amount of coverage for mental health and substance abuse claims as they do for medical and surgical coverage. That means insurers can't charge someone more for mental health services than for other services.” This may seem like a minor victory, and although we should be cautiously optimistic (some big plans still may be allowed to skirt the system), this could be a real step forward to helping the insurance and sometimes medical field reduce the financial barriers to accessing care for mental health issues.

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Beards on Boylston: risk-taking and resiliency

Posted on November 03,2013 by aliatmspp

This past weekend the city of Boston hosted a rolling rally, a parade that on its surface was a celebration of the inconceivable rise of the Boston Red Sox; however, it was clear that this was also a celebration of the city of Boston, rocked by the tragedy of the Marathon bombings in April. I’ve been lucky enough to have attended some other “rolling rallies” and post-championship parades in Boston, but this one felt different. Sure, there was silliness in Papi’s ad hoc rapping and some goofy beard-pulling. But there were also somber moments at the famed finish line, and some survivors of the attack in April were spotted in restaurants along Boylston Street, celebrating both the rise of the Sox and their own recovery thus far. This made me think about resiliency and risk-taking. The spectators lining the streets of Boston this weekend demonstrated that many people in our city have begun working through the traumatic events of April. For some, this may have been part of an exposure therapy-like opportunity. Exposure therapy involves consulting with a therapist to practice engaging with a stimulus that causes fear or anxiety. While exposure therapy is a more controlled form of risk-taking, the importance of taking appropriate risks in order to grow, heal, and move forward is part of a common experience.

Working with adolescents, I find myself considering risk-taking frequently. Adolescents, after all, are in the stage that Erikson described as being marked by an evolving concept of identity. Part of that evolution involves taking risks, “trying on” different identities to see which one feels right. Part of counseling adolescents is helping them navigate the risk-taking process. We may not run a cost-benefit analysis with the help of specific metrics, but we do discuss potential outcomes and the consequences of risks taken in the past.

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Posted on October 26,2013 by aliatmspp

Mid-fall is my favorite time of the year. It’s sweater and boot but not yet shoveling weather. The leaves light up the sides of streets and pathways, but the trees are not completely bare yet. But even more wonderful than warmed caramel apple cider is the fact that at this time of the year, on this very year, it is the perfect storm for Boston sports fans. Yes, the Red Sox are chasing late October victories. The Patriots, for better or worse, have begun playing with my heartstrings again. The Celtics and Bruins are kicking into high gear, previewing what promises to be an exciting winter (and hopefully spring) full of green and white, black and gold. For a girl who grew up planning weekends around games of my own and my beloved Boston teams, this is pretty close to heavenly.

With all of these games, the demands of my practicum, and my coursework, sleep has become a cherished resource. Some nights, I’m not going to lie, I find myself crawling into bed whispering in a Sméagol (Gollum) voice, “my precious …” before conking out. Others, I am on the edge of my chair, adrenaline pumping as my former athletic competitive spirit is awakened. Unfortunately, this occasionally results in using the snooze button a little too liberally the following morning. This past Thursday morning, the day after the first Red Sox-Cardinals game of the series (which started at 8:00 pm – Fox, you’re really making it tough for us), it was clear from peers’ arrival times for our 8:30 class that I was not the only one mumbling, “just another minute” to my annoyingly cheery alarm. And while this may have been an irritating side effect of Boston fandom for our instructor, she handled it the way that most instructors do at MSPP – with understanding.

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A walk down memory lane

Posted on October 22,2013 by aliatmspp

Recently, some clients and I were chatting about childhood games and past times. Yes, I realize that this self-disclosure probably dated me, but heck, we were playing Jenga-Unchained, wherein each time a participant pulls a Jenga block successfully, s/he must answer a question about her or himself. So, I taught these youngsters a little something about the prehistoric days: the hours spent fording a river only to lose half my crew to dysentery on the Oregon Trail, the joys of Kid Pix, the accuracy of the MASH game, the dust from sidewalk chalk (and classroom chalk), the familiar sounds of AOL loading up its connection … If you missed that last one, I've included a short reminder:

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Team MSPP Midterms: Mission Possible

Posted on October 16,2013 by aliatmspp

With all of the excitement around Boston sports teams recently, I was inspired to think about collaboration and teamwork à la MSPP. And no, this is not a post regarding good luck beards or other talismans.

It’s a lovely fall Saturday morning, around 11 am. Some 20 students or so stream out of a classroom where a review session has just taken place. Some are trying to digest the material. Others are thinking about which marathon – ‘Law & Order: SVU’ or ‘Sex in the City’ – to commit to for the day. Curiously, there’s a group of students still in the classroom. No, they’re not refreshing Twitter to see what Miley’s up to. And they’re not just waiting to hit up the coffee machine. Instead, this group is asking questions of each other, working together in continuing to review.

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Tagged Clinical PsyD

From Français to Field Placement

Posted on October 07,2013 by aliatmspp

Hello! I’m Ali, and I’m a first-year Clinical PsyD student at MSPP. I grew up a dozen miles or so from MSPP’s campus. Actually, my grandparents used to live within a ten minutes’ walk from Wells Avenue. I went to Amherst College for undergrad, where I majored in two departments that are not widely regarded as traditional foundations for a career in psychology: French and Political Science. Eager to start doing “meaningful” work after graduation, I took one of the first jobs I came across, which was working as a teaching assistant at a residential treatment center. At the time, I had no idea what a “residential treatment center” really was, whom it was intended to serve, and what the academic goals would be for these students. But the combination of kids, counseling, and teaching seemed like a good one.

I was there for a short time in a variety of roles, from educational advocate to frequent participant in crisis management. However, the one-on-one and group teaching moments made me curious about teaching. There was a school nearby that needed a French teacher to cover for one semester. It was a match made in online job posting heaven. That one semester of teaching turned into eleven semesters; I taught languages for five and a half years, teaching every grade from first to eighth – except for second. While teaching, I also had the opportunity to coach, to mentor and to advise students. And I was fortunate to learn a lot about the ABC Family television line-up and songs from the Top 40. All the while, I found the most fulfilling aspects of my job to be getting to know my students as people outside of their French personae (each student picked a new francophone name like Fatima, Jacques, or Boubacar) and helping them navigate the bumpy terrain of middle school life.

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Tagged Change of Career, Clinical PsyD