Role Transitions in Graduate School

In interpersonal therapy, one of the focal interpersonal problem areas that the therapy targets is role transitioning. Basically, it’s hard to shift roles, like from being married to being divorced, from being a college student to a college graduate, and the list goes on. I think that based off my very limited experience in graduate school, graduate students in psychology also have to go through shifts in role, often within the same day or even within a 4-hour time span, and I think more attention should be paid to the difficulties inherent to that. Some roles a graduate student may have to shift back and forth between:

  • Student: For the first however many years of graduate school, grad students are still actively taking classes, and overall, you are still learning and being trained over the course of your program
  • Teacher: Grad students also often serve as teaching assistants for undergrad classes, leading reviews, teaching lab or discussion sections, and occasionally teaching their own independent class
  • Researcher: Grad students are expected to be doing quality research, which involves trying to emulate an independent researcher as much as possible, and hopefully acting as a colleague to other researchers
  • Advisee: Grad students often come to a program to work with a specific faculty member, and hopefully can lean on that person for guidance
  • Advisor: Grad students might also advise undergraduate students working on their own independent research projects, or maybe supervise research assistants
  • Therapist: For those students in clinical programs, they are expected to also see clients and deploy therapeutic techniques

This isn’t even an exhaustive list, but you already can anticipate some of the difficulties that may come with role transitions. An obvious example is transitioning between paired roles, such as from student to teacher or from advisee to advisor. There are also different levels of “power” among various roles, different sets of skills required, different expectations, and so on and so forth. In our program, we sometimes reference “putting our different hats on,” but I think that metaphor really doesn’t do justice to these role transitions. These can be hard shifts; you may have to compartmentalize emotions from one role for some time, or you might feel confident in one role but really dread taking up another role.

So what’s the solution? It’d be awfully presumptive of me to know, but I think that mere awareness of role transitions is important. Perhaps even departmental support/advice on making role transitions, even in the form of just a brief workshop or guidelines, would also be helpful. It’s something I hope to monitor in myself over the coming years, and I hope to navigate it successfully.


How to Read?

So, I don’t know how to read.

No, not like that; I am literate. I’m talking more about academic articles, I don’t really know how to read those.

Well, not like that either; I’ve read a lot of academic articles and have discussed a lot of them, and have written papers citing them, so I know functionally how to read them. So maybe by “I don’t know how to read,” I mean “I don’t know how to find what to read.”

But even then, I know what tools are available to me; I use PsycINFO, I’ve spent a lot of time on Google Scholar, and I’m familiar with PubMed. Functionally, I can get what I need in terms of articles, but I have more trouble with the curation aspect, which poses the basic question: “What should I be reading?”  As an undergrad, this wasn’t really a problem, because I would be assigned readings in class, or I would only be reading primary articles when I was writing a paper. However, as a graduate student, I expect a little more of myself in terms of being well-read in my interest fields. Since none of my classes are in my primary research area, I don’t have the same sort of class-assigned reading structure that existed in undergrad. There seems to be two distinct solutions to this:

  1. Have my research mentor assign me articles. This definitely works, as my mentor is very good at knowing who to read in a particular field. However, I do want to develop my own ability to curate.
  2. Figure it out myself.

Given what I said about option 1, I’m interested in exploring option 2. There’s an additional tricky aspect of it, given that I am young, in that staying well-read in the field involves reading influential past research in addition to new research. That problem is more solve-able, as I can appropriate textbooks that are used for undergrad classes. So the problem of curating new research remains. I’ve tried to solve this in a few ways, such as just going through the top journals in my field (Child Development, Developmental Psychology, and Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in my case), and consulting the Annual Review line of journals, but this seems imprecise. It’s easier with older articles, as you can look through citation metrics to get a rough sense of importance, but without reading through the papers, it’s hard to quickly figure out what is good to read. I guess that’s where I’m at right now, having a hard time currently separating wheat from chaff, but not knowing how to make it easier beyond just getting more experienced at it.

Oh, and there’s the matter of making sure you have enough time to actually read what you find. That’s a whole separate 500-word post.

Therapist Brand Management: Likes and Dislikes

Let’s talk about this article on developing a therapist brand.

I’m a couple weeks late on this, but it was certainly an eye-grabbing read, as I’m currently in graduate school, so it was good “water-cooler” fodder around the lab. It’s the kind of article that I would be tempted to dismiss at first, writing it off as “selling out” and no different from the approach that pop-psychology folks have utilized to make a name for themselves and a quick buck (I’m looking at you, Dr. Phil). However, this article isn’t wholly about that, it’s more about trying to scrape together a solid living in an environment that requires you to separate yourself a little to have some sort of success. But given that, there are still parts of this article that raise my hackles, so I’ll go into a little detail about what from this article I like (or at least understand), and what rubs me the wrong way. Keep in mind it’s not the article or author that I’m criticizing when I write that I “don’t like” something, it’s more about the methods people use to sell themselves (in fact, I think the author handled it really well, interjecting when she felt something was at odds with her training).

What I like (or understand):

-Maintaining a web site:

This is a necessary step in my eyes. Having a competent, professional webpage is certainly good for enhancing your credibility; and it also is a good step towards improved communication. I know when I was applying to grad school, I appreciated well done departmental websites, and I was definitely impressed when faculty members maintained clean, elegant personal or lab websites. It certainly gave me more confidence that I was looking at a professional, productive lab. I would imagine the same applies to therapists, having a slick, well-designed websites helps your business out, and if you are private practice, you are running a business. The caveat is that a slick website shouldn’t make up for lack of credentials, but it definitely is a requirement nowadays.

What I could be convinced to like but currently don’t:

-Branding yourself as a specialist:

This tactic has the potential of bordering on the lines of misrepresentation. It’s one thing to become a true expert in a certain field of clinical psychology, to put in the hours, see the clients, keep up with the research, all in service of becoming well-versed and authoritative in a certain subject. I wholeheartedly endorse that approach. That approach leads to great clinicians being developed, great researchers, and truly informed people that can really make a significant impact in a certain domain. But something about the way the specialization is presented in this article makes me think it is more about capturing a certain piece of the market by catering to a specific form of psychopathology (Oh right, the “thriving but untapped market” statement). Call me naive and stuck in the academia world, but I want to specialize in a certain part of psychology because it really interests me, and the motivation to increase my knowledge in that area comes from that interest. For me, specializing in something because I want to hit the “untapped market” just wouldn’t work, because I wouldn’t do it well unless I was interested in it already. I do think there is something of substance behind “finding a niche,” but something about the way it is presented here seems a bit too cynical for my taste.

What I don’t like:


This idea was brought up in the article was about offering “life coaching”, which consists of quick consultations over the phone, rather than extended therapy, to help people out. There’s a couple things about this that I’m not entirely comfortable with. First, the ethics of this are slightly murky. Clinicians are likely to be licensed in the state in which they are practicing and physically located, so doing consultations on the phone if someone is out-of-state may be unethical because the clinician isn’t licensed in the state where the client is located. Of course, there are guidelines for this, but overall, the practice is not one of my favorites. In my opinion, this consultation idea is certainly toeing the line between therapy and not therapy with regards to establishing a client relationship with somebody. An additional ethical dilemma is that of being (or not being) in the room with your client. You lose a lot by not being in the room with the person you are talking to, and something like Skype might help settle that concern, but over the phone, you are losing all sorts of nonverbal communication that might be useful for your therapeutic relationship. I get that it is problem-focused, and likely to be easier completed on the phone, but if it were me, I’d prefer to see someone in person.

-Instant message therapy:

I do not like this idea, and it seems like the author doesn’t either (she was more diplomatic about it than I will be). Can you imagine trying to construct a therapeutic alliance over instant message? How am I supposed to practice empathy? If I am uncomfortable about consulting over the phone, I am so much more uncomfortable with trying to do therapy through messages. It doesn’t seem to be ethical in terms of confidentiality issues or licensing issues, and you lose out on a ton of nuance by not seeing someone in person. Also, where’s the research? A quick literature search turned up 6 articles on APA PsycNET on instant message therapy, so I’m not seeing much in terms of validation. Note that this is separate from talking about online therapy, as people have done solid research showing that you can computerize therapies such as CBT or exposure therapy to good effect. Instant message therapy, which one of the people in the article touts for its anonymity by likening it to Facebook (which by the way, is mostly not anonymous), is more like an emotional gloryhole; you don’t care who’s on the other side as long as it makes you feel better. That type of impersonality does not have a place in my personal conceptualization of therapy.

Okay, so I ended up with more things I didn’t like than things I did like, which I guess isn’t surprising, seeing as I wanted to knee-jerk dismiss the article. However, this article is certainly illustrative in terms of the climate and business realities facing therapists trying to carve out a profession for themselves in private practice. I agree that therapists cannot just proceed as they have been proceeding in past years, but I would argue that we can do better than this in terms of modernizing the field and adapting to the market. This post is already getting out-of-hand long, so I’ll leave that discussion for another day.


This blog was initially started as part of a social psychology class at my undergraduate institution. I have graduated since then (yay!) and am headed for grad school, so with that transition, I plan to shift this blog from being about social psychology topics to being about psychology in general. So hopefully this space will be filling up soon!

Breaking Down Ads with the Message Learning Approach

The message learning approach (Yale Model of Persuasive Communication), developed by Hovland, Janis, and Kelley, describes how attitude formation and attitude change works. This theory had, and still has, applications to advertising and how advertising influences behavior. The message learning approach works through a “chain of persuasion,” with the stages of : Exposure, Attention, Comprehension, Yielding, Retention, and Action. Each stage represents a different aspect of the attitude formation/change process. Because the message learning approach has been applied to advertisements successfully, I figured I’d take a look at a few ads and deconstruct them by the message learning approach. Mainly, I’ll be focusing  on Attention (what about the message catches my attention?), Comprehension (do I understand the message?), and Yielding (how does the message lead to attitude change?) because some of the other stages won’t be easily discussed about in relation to an isolated ad.

Ad #1: Metro

 This ad is for the Metro news mobile app; Metro is a set of newspapers available in certain cities around the world.

Attention: Is this eye-catching enough? There is the novel component of the audience perspective coming from some sort of mailbox/newspaper box. Otherwise, there is not much going on, perhaps in order to focus the audience on the product. A good-looking person is used at the center of it, as unsurprisingly, good-looking people attract attention.

Comprehension: I think this ad rates pretty well on comprehension. The simplicity focuses the viewer’s attention on the newspaper, and they utilize a picture of what the app looks like to hammer home that message. Furthermore, the text makes it clear that you are inside the box that houses all the newspapers, and this person is getting the box even inside the car, so the link between mobile app and having the newspaper everywhere is well-drawn.

Yielding: This ad goes for the yielding concept of identification. The lady featured in the ad is on her way to work, like many people who may see this ad, so they will be able to identify with the idea of being on the go every morning and maybe not being able to get to a newsstand every day.

Ad #2: McDonald’s

This ad is for McDonald’s, specifically the large coffee. I assume it’s from somewhere in Europe, given the way the price is listed.

Attention: This ad does a nice job on using a slight illusion to grab your attention. Given the way the sky is over the liquid, you expect there to be ocean underneath, but instead, you can make out the rim of the coffee cup holding all the coffee.

Comprehension: I think this ad hits all the right notes in terms of comprehension. There is the visual analogy between the ocean and the coffee, the singular focus on the product sold, and even the price listed in the ad to let you know it is cheap to get an ocean’s worth of coffee. A simple message is easier to comprehend.

Yielding: In terms of yielding, I’m not sure that this ad in specific does anything to address that. Perhaps if the ad would feature lots of other people enjoying McDonald’s large coffee in a social manner, this ad would have to do with yielding, but on its own as it is, it doesn’t do much for yielding. I think they would rely on making the McDonald’s coffee cup ubiquitous like the Starbucks coffee cup in order to address yielding.

So despite this ads being for different kinds of products and from different countries all together, they still both contain several aspects of the message learning approach. These ads are just a small selection of the numerous ads that have elements of the message learning approach, showing that it is still an effective way to induce attitude formation/attitude change.

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What Can We Do With Attachment?

The dimensions of attachment and their corresponding prototypes

Attachment theory relates to how our relationships function with those closest to us. Attachment theory, established by John Bowlby, holds that attachment results from the close relationship needed between infant and caregiver in order for the infant to survive. Under attachment theory, we base our expectations for future relationships on the relationships we had at an early age; most prominently, those with our caregivers. Research done to characterize the attachment has resulted in the proliferation of the idea of “attachment styles”, which are descriptive categories for the attachment behaviors displayed by someone towards their attachment figure. According to Hazan and Shaver (1994), these attachment styles were initially characterized as secure (in which the caregiver is responsive to the infant), anxious/ambivalent (in which the caregiver sometimes is responsive and sometimes is not), and avoidant (in which the caregiver isn’t responsive). Later, attachment was categorized through the use of two dimensions, those being avoidance and anxiety experienced in the relationship with the attachment figure.

So beyond being a way to describe relationships, what can we use attachment for? Research done on applying attachment to therapy by Simon Fraser psychologist Marlene Moretti and colleagues has shown that focusing therapy on attachment concepts in the parent-teen relationship has benefits for aggressive behaving teens. This therapy notably centers on the parents of the teens that are at risk for aggressive behavior and does not actually directly intervene with the teen. Each week for the therapy features an attachment principle; examples given by the researchers include “Attachment is for life,” “Conflict is part of attachment,” and “Understanding, growth, and change begin with empathy.”  The therapy intends to improve security within the parent-teen relationship by focusing on these attachment principles. The researchers have also been able to involve a wider group of parents in the therapy through dissemination of their therapy manual and training.

While improving parenting is a relatively proximal application of attachment, other applications have been more abstract from the central focus on the parent-child of relationship. For example, Ciechanowski and colleagues applied attachment theory to health care, assessing how attachment related to symptom reporting and primary care use and costs in a sample of female patients. The researchers focused on attachment styles, putting the patients in the various attachment categories based on a self-report measure. They found that patients with a fearful attachment style and patients with a preoccupied attachment style reported more symptoms than those with a secure attachment style. They also found that patients with a preoccupied attachment style had significantly more primary care visits and costs than the other patients. The authors attributed these findings to preoccupied individuals being highly dependent on others as a result of how their attachment experience shaped their expectations for relationships.

These two research projects are quite disparate in their focus, but they both rely on attachment theory to provide the theoretical basis for their efforts. It is interesting to find that attachment theory, which began as a way to describe close relationships, has a varied set of applications to the real world.

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The Psychology of Pressure and “Clutch” in Sports

If you dig into sports writing and analysis, you will hear the words “pressure” and “clutch” used all the time. Analysts love to debate the hypothesized effects of pressure of the situation on athletes’ performance, whether it is the deciding game of a playoff series, the potential game-tying shot in a game, or the bottom of the 9th in a close ball game. Going hand-in-hand with pressure is the idea of clutch, which holds that some athletes have the ability to resist the pressure of tense situations and either perform up to expectations, or even supposedly exceed their normal ability and perform better in pressure situations. There’s even statistical metrics devoted to clutch ability in the pursuit of a way to define what being clutch means. Clutch is debated like a personality trait, in that analysts and fans posit that some athletes have it and some athletes just don’t have it in their DNA. So what’s the psychology surrounding this?

One of many ways to try to heap pressure on athletes

To understand pressure and clutch, we should turn to the Social Facilitation/Inhibition literature. The idea behind pressure impacting performance comes from early studies about performing tasks in front of other people. In these studies, the way other people’s presence would affect your performance would depend on the tasks you were performing; intellectual tasks were difficult, physical tasks were easier, new tasks were harder, familiar tasks were easier. It was theorized that arousal was the key factor here; others’ presence would physiologically arouse the subject, which would make the dominant response (things learned well and accessible) easier to undertake. So the more aroused you were, the easier dominant responses would be.

Billiards skills interacted with pressure

Michaels et al., (1982) tested the effect of arousal on performance on pool players. Michaels found that good players made more shots in front of people compared to in front of no one, while bad players did worse in front of people than when alone. This makes sense when applied to pro sports, as professional athletes who are very good at what they do and very skilled should do better than the average non-athlete when put in front of people. But within that subset of professional athletes, are some better in front of people than others?

Looking at a study by Otten (2009), we see some evidence for being clutch, albeit in non-professional athletes. Otten had college undergraduates shoot 15 basketball free-throws, first without any sort of pressure at all. After that initial round, he told the students that they were going to be video-taped for the purpose of studying the effects of pressure on their performance, and additionally, that a psychology class would be viewing the video (which wasn’t actually true). After that, all the participants completed a battery of measures, including anxiety and self-focus measures, among others. Otten created a model using the various measures to understand what exactly contributed to performance under pressure, and found that perceived control (in relation to the task/sport) was the only significant predictor of performance under pressure.

These results would suggest that if there is something such as being clutch, it is related to feeling in control when you are playing a sport. So maybe being clutch isn’t some personality trait and isn’t part of a “have it/don’t have it” dichotomy. Rather, it might be tied in to the athlete’s mindset, the degree to which they feel mastery of the task and that they control the task. So perhaps clutch can be trained; maybe we can coach athletes to always try to maintain a sense of control over their sport in the face of pressure. But for now, what exactly makes up the supposed quality of being clutch is not completely realized and begs for more research.

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