Meet a Board Certified Psychologist

 

Katherine Jones, Ph.D., ABPP

Clinical Psychology

 

Q. What is your practice like?


I am currently a staff psychologist in the Trauma Recovery Program at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.  As with other VA's around the country, Atlanta's emphasis on the treatment of PTSD expanded rapidly when it became apparent that the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were exacting major psychological tolls on service members.  Though I'd been with the VA since 1998, most of my duties for the first six years were in the areas of general clinical and health psychology. I also served as Training Director. In the spring of 2004 I was called to active duty as a member of an Army Combat Stress Control unit.  That June found me as a team leader on a small Forward Operating Base in central Iraq.  Needless to say, there were many personal and professional challenges during the course of the ensuing year.  However, when I returned to the VA, I brought back a unique set of experiences as a mental health professional.  Thus, I was assigned to the Trauma Recovery Program. Initially, I worked solely with combat veterans.  Later, my work began to include veterans (primarily, women) who were sexually assaulted during their military service.  Currently, I work exclusively with our sexual trauma program, employing psychoeducational, exposure based, and skills building interventions.  Last year, I resigned as Training Director and have shifted my training energies to the development of a module in cultural competency for our psychology interns.  The work is challenging and stimulating.  And, though the bureaucracy can be frustrating at times, the VA has proven to be a great professional "fit" for me.  
 
Q. What motivated you to seek board certification in clinical psychology?
 
My motivation to seek board certification was to prepare myself for continued practice.  Psychologists tend to enjoy lengthy professional lives and, I'm no different.  I would like to remain engaged in some professional endeavors for at least another two decades.  In order to remain professionally viable, it's important to not only continue the learning process but, to highlight my knowledge and skills in a manner that is respected by my peers and, meaningful to consumers.  Board certification signifies that I have attained an advanced level of clinical accomplishment.

Q. What have you found most valuable or rewarding about board certification (e.g., salary increase, referrals, colleagues, increased self esteem, learning, something else)?

Interestingly, the most rewarding part of becoming board certified has been the process itself.  While I am certain that additional benefits will manifest themselves, preparing the application and submitting to an examination of my peers, afforded me the opportunity to reacquaint myself with my motivation for entering graduate school thirty years ago. The complexity of human behavior and the desire to alleviate mental and emotional distress are just as stimulating today as they were for me then.  That fact had become somewhat clouded over the years as I focused on the "bottom line"; and, juggled professional and family balls.  Board certification was an opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to professional psychology.

Q. What advice would you give to a candidate for board certification in clinical psychology?       
 

My advice to candidates for board certification is to integrate the process into your professional routine.  If you subordinate preparation of the Professional Statement and Practice Sample to other activities, you risk having to "cram."

Q. What would readers be most surprised to learn about you?

I collect African and African - American Barbie dolls.  As a veteran, I am proud to say that among my collection, I have Barbies representing every branch of the military except the Coast Guard.  I don't think there is one but, if there is, will someone please let me know where she can be found!

 

 

 

Hamid Mirsalimi, Ph.D., ABPP
Clinical Psychologist
 
Q. What is your practice like?
 
My practice of clinical psychology includes both clinical work and teaching. In my clinical practice I work most often with individual adults, couples and families. A great number of my clients are mixed-culture couples and blended families. This has been a rewarding experience for me as I can appreciate the beauty and challenges of immigrating and transitioning from one culture to a very different culture; that is because of my personal experience of immigrating to the United States as a teenager and now being married to an American woman. I have a bi-lingual practice as I am fluent in Farsi (Persian); and many of my Iranian client’s value being able to speak their native language with me. My life experience has been valuable in my work with mixed-culture couples, particularly when one is Iranian and the other is American.
 
In addition to seeing clients with a variety of psychological challenges including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, I work with individuals with chronic medical conditions, particularly HIV/AIDS and cancer. For the past eight years, I have been a co-facilitator of a prostate cancer support group at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta.  
 
I also write a monthly column on psychology for an Iranian newspaper that is distributed across the eastern and southeastern United States. The column allows me to reach a wider group of Iranian people who may not have the means, or may not be open to seeking psychotherapy.
 
Finally, I am a professor of clinical psychology at Argosy University in Atlanta where I teach a variety of courses including Group Therapy, Seminar in Psychotherapy, Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, and Statistics and Research Methods.  
 
Q. What motivated you to seek board certification in clinical psychology?
 
Three factors motivated me to seek board certification in clinical psychology. First was my desire to have my work evaluated by psychologists who had already demonstrated a higher level of competency in the field. There was a reason for that desire: I attended Georgia Stated University for graduate school, a program that was heavily humanistic and existential at that time. I completed two tracks of that program – a General Clinical Track and a Psychotherapy Track. So, by the time I graduated I had had training in person-centered, gestalt, psychodynamic, family systems, and behavioral psychotherapies. However, I believed I did not have sufficient training in psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral therapies. Therefore, I completed my internship at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School specifically because it afforded me training in those two modalities. Due to that background, by the time I became licensed, I considered my theoretical orientation to be integrationist. I also found many of my colleagues to consider themselves integrationist as well. I became very aware of the fact that although I had had many hours of supervision throughout graduate school and internship, my therapeutic approach as an integrationist was never evaluated. The process of board certification afforded me the opportunity to both examine my own theoretical beliefs, and to have more senior psychologists to evaluate my work. Board certification was therefore a self-imposed scrutiny of my work that I welcomed.
 
My second reason for seeking board certification had to do with the perception of potential American (and other non-Iranian) clients regarding my competencies. I am a clinical psychologist from a middle-eastern background with a middle-eastern name. In the eyes of many potential American clients I am likely to be pre-judged in a number of ways, some of which are not complementary. I believed that board certification would allow my clients to have more trust in my abilities, and to help in the establishment and development of therapeutic alliance. I still believe that to be the case.
 
My third reason for seeking board certification had to do with the perception of my Iranian clients. Although many clients, particularly Iranian clients, may not be aware of licensing laws, it appears that all clients understand that board certification is indicative of an advanced level of professional competency.
 
 
Alina Suris, Ph.D., ABPP
Clinical Psychologist
 
Q. What have you found most valuable or rewarding about board certification (e.g., salary increase, referrals, colleagues, increased self esteem, learning, something else)?
 
I have found board certification to be incredibly valuable regarding all the issues I discussed in the previous question (i.e., belief in my competency as a psychologist, and increased trust of my capabilities by potential clients). In addition, being board certified was helpful in my advancement to the rank of professor. 
 
Another benefit of board certification has been the collegial relationships that I have either established or deepened. That is because of my involvement in ABPP first as an examiner of new candidates, and recently as the southeastern regional coordinator of the American Board of Clinical Psychology (ABCP). In addition to collegial relationships, I also feel fortunate to have the opportunity to sit with a candidate and other committee members and have intellectual discussions about clinical psychology.
 
 
Q. What advice would you give to a candidate for board certification in clinical psychology?
 
My advice is to prepare well, be thoughtful about practice samples, approach the examination with professionalism, and maintain a non-defensive stance. ABCP examiners are fully aware that they are examining a colleague who has had many years of training and experience. Hence, a typical examination is a collegial experience in which mutual learning is a desired outcome. That is not to say that this is not an examination! It is! However, we all know that clinical psychology is a vast field of many specialties. Many candidates have expertise in specialty areas that are of great interest to the examiners. Hence, I encourage candidates to approach the examination with professionalism, curiosity, and excitement.
 
 
Q. What would readers be most surprised to learn about you?

I took my first psychology course in the second semester of my forth year of college; until then I was studying electrical engineering and mathematics. I never felt excited about those fields. Taking Psychology 101 with Dr. Randy Diehl (a cognitive psychologist) at the University of Texas at Austin was like finding my intellectual home. I changed my major to psychology and never looked back. I am sure Dr. Diehl never knew what a tremendous impact taking his course had in my life. 
 
What is your practice like?
My professional time is divided among clinical, research, administrative, and teaching/supervision activities. As the clinical director of a Mental Health Trauma Services Team at a large VA Medical Center, and the Principal Investigator of multiple research studies, the bulk of my time is taken up with administrative duties and research meetings. However, I always make time to teach interns and physicians, as well a take every opportunities to educate others about PTSD, the impact of military sexual trauma on men and women, the impact of war on our Afghanistan and Iraqi military personnel and their families, as well as teaching evidence-based therapy to clinicians from all professions. I also think it is important to give back to the research community and spend time doing reviews for both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense on various topics including PTSD, mental illness treatment, and suicide prevention.
What did you learn about yourself and your practice while doing board certification?
I went through the board certification process at a pivotal time in my career, as I was trying to decide whether to continue doing research, become exclusively a clinician, and/or add additional leadership duties to my repertoire. As I addressed each of the questions in the required professional statement, it gave me an opportunity to be truly thoughtful , not only about who I am and what I do as a professional, but also allowed me to understand how important all my work including clinical, research, teaching, and administration was/is to me. I also realized that I have made valuable contributions to my patients, students, staff, and the field of PTSD and was proud that I have been able to impact people’s lives in a positive way. As a psychologist trying to do both research and clinical work in a purely clinical setting, the reinforcement schedule is intermittent at best. The boarding process allowed me to reevaluate what I have been doing and informed my decision to continue being a clinician-researcher (despite few rewards or recognition) and also take on leadership duties. 
What might you consider doing differently based on what you learned?
The process of self-evaluation was so valuable, that one thing I would definitely do differently is I would have applied for board certification sooner. The process and as well as the successful attainment of board certification in clinical psychology has provided validation for me as an individual and also contributed to my pride in being psychologist.
Having attained board certification, looking back, what was your greatest misconception about the ABPP or the credentialing process?
The greatest misconception I had about the certification process was that the oral exam would be unpleasant and grueling with me having to defend not only my professional choices, but my fund of knowledge and practice style. Please note, I believed these things despite assurances to the contrary from a respected ABPP board member and examiner, who kindly mentored me through the process. My attitude was probably reflective of examiner attitudes during oral exams during both graduate school and the state licensing process that surprisingly, despite over 15 years since the later, still influenced my beliefs! The reality was that the oral exam although a bit nerve-wracking, was a collegial and friendly experience with questions from examiners demonstrating an interest in my work and point of view.
How has your professional life changed since attaining board certification?
Since becoming board certified, nothing that other’s could observe has changed in my day-to-day professional life. However, one thing that I have noted over and over is a quiet respect from colleagues at my affiliated medical institution, when they see the “ABPP” written after my name or signature. The congratulatory head nod, handshake or smile is rewarding and despite almost a year passing since being certified, I am not tired of the acknowledgement! Relatedly, my interns, students, and some of my clinical staff have been more open about their feelings and have demonstrated respect in both words and deeds. For example, one of my research assistants insisted on resubmitting a name change to all my IRB paperwork so that she could add the “ABPP” to the forms.  

 

 

 

 

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