Rehabilitation Psychology

Treven Pickett , Psy.D., ABPP

Rehabilitation Psychology
Associate Chief and Supervisory Psychologist
Mental Health Service
McGuire VA Medical Center


Q. What is your practice like?

At present my practice is mostly administrative within the Mental Health Service at McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia, where I have served as the Associate Chief and Supervisory Clinical Psychologist since February 2008.  My administrative responsibilities extend to the psychology, homeless, and compensated work therapy programs.  I serve as training director for a Polytrauma Psychology, and a Mental Illness Research and Clinical Center (MIRECC) psychology fellowship.  Clinically, I contribute to one of the four regional Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers in the VA, where case mix ranges from combat-injured OEF-OIF TBI/Polytrauma Veterans, to Veterans who have sustained TBI in non-combat accidents, to general sub-acute rehabilitation patients including stroke, dementia, and a host of other conditions requiring inpatient rehabilitation.  In research, I serve as Principal Investigator on studies investigating the neurocognitive sequelae of TBI with and without PTSD both through the VISN 6 Mental Illness Research and Education Clinical Center (MIRECC) and the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center – Richmond (DVBIC-R).

Q. What did you learn about yourself and your practice while doing board certification?

Pursuing board certification in rehabilitation psychology was instrumental in helping me feel grounded at a time when, as a recently licensed clinical psychologist, I felt swept up in a rapidly evolving Polytrauma System of Care in the VA.  This was a system replete with exponential programmatic growth, staff hiring, interdisciplinary team development, media attention, and clinically challenging patients and families.  During this time I gained a keen appreciation for the value of post-licensure mentorship.  To this day I credit the feedback from my ABPP-Rp mentor with helping me navigate some of the early storms.  While doing board certification I learned that as psychologists we can always benefit from the experience and wisdom of others in our discipline, and that there is never harm in pursuing clinical mentorship and consultation.

Q. What might you consider doing differently based on what you learned?

There was opportunity early in the ABPP certification process to translate feedback into immediate changes in clinical practice, and to be more assertive in the early phases of this process in peer groups.  Through the preparation I would consider applying the valuable feedback received on the clinical case samples more immediately to clinical practice – rather than waiting for successful completion of board certification to implement practice modifications.

Q. Do you see yourself in a different light for having completed the board certification process?

Yes.  As one of our psychology interns humorously remarked when asked about a recent successful dissertation defense, “They don’t just give those PhDs away,” I feel similarly about completion of the board certification process.  What may be known within psychology circles, but not appreciated outside of psychology circles, is that obtaining board certification in psychology is a multiple step process including initial verification of eligibility, successful submission of written samples, in some cases passing a written examination, and then a separate oral examination.  Throughout the process I felt encouraged and, at times, challenged to stretch my thinking to fully explore areas I had not previously.

Q. What motivated you to seek board certification in rehabilitation psychology?

The primary motivating force to seek certification in rehabilitation psychology was that I felt clinically and ethically responsible to ensure that I was providing the most competent, empirically-based, and relevant services to our nation’s most recent OEF-OIF combat Veterans and their families.  I pursued board certification at a time when combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq were resulting in severe TBI and Polytrauma injuries.  This was a time when the DoD and VHA systems were adjusting to meet the intense cognitive, emotional, and physical complexities of soldiers who had been exposed to blasts and/or other combat-related injuries.  The VA Polytrauma Centers were receiving combat injured soldiers and their families at times within 1-2 weeks of the injury event.  Within this epoch of time, and still now, pursuing board certification was far less about upward career mobility, and far more about a sense of duty to provide the best clinical services to service men and women who had been injured in the service of country.  There was simply no hitting the snooze alarm during this period of time.  A secondary motivating force was that I wanted to ensure my own clinical competencies as a supervisor of practicum students, interns, and fellows, as my sense was that the DoD and VA healthcare systems would be in need of psychology professionals trained in TBI/Polytrauma Rehabilitation. 

Q. Having attained board certification, looking back, what was your greatest misconception about the ABPP or the credentialing process?

Perhaps my greatest misconception about the process was that I held a belief that successful attainment of the credential was more subjective, when in fact it was based on explicit objective competency criteria and meeting those standards through written and oral examination.  Actually, I was relieved to learn that the process was not “political,” and that attaining the credential would amount to a true accomplishment (i.e., the end product of learning, work, preparation, and that real professional change had transpired).  The board certification process felt challenging, fair, and ultimately validating. 

Q. What was the most challenging/interesting/surprising aspect of the board certification process?

The most surprising aspect of the process occurred when I showed up for the oral examination in Chicago and realized that, looking around the room, I was being evaluated not only by some of the more prolific names in the rehabilitation psychology, but also by professionals who were continuing to dedicate their professional time and energies to younger professionals who felt similarly committed.

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

My first line advice would be to find a mentor who is supportive, challenging, and who models those characteristics in a professional that you would want to emulate as a professional yourself.  In my mind choice of mentorship is something to weigh carefully when deciding about ABPP subspecialty.

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

The most rewarding aspect about pursuing board certification was that, throughout the process, there was opportunity to solicit feedback from a group of well respected clinical psychologists.  Also, the focus on competency areas facilitated growth in unexpected areas.  For me one of the most important learning experiences was grappling with the disability experience as related to various aspects of cultural background, ethnicity, spirituality, and gender.

Another incredibly rewarding aspect of the experience was that throughout the application and examination process, I felt a great deal of institutional support from my home VA, and also the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC).  Whereas outright financial offset for obtaining psychology board certification is inconsistent at the facility level in VA, professional standards boards for psychologists routinely make recommendations to the facility for salary increase once board certification is attained (1 step within grade increase).

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

Wow this is quite a question.  Perhaps that as part of growing up in a Navy family I lived in Maryland, Morocco, England, and Puerto Rico before the age of 8.  Another tidbit might be that I sang close harmony in college in part as a self-derived behavioral intervention to improve assertiveness in social situations!

Q. How has your professional life changed since attaining board certification?

My professional life has changed in the sense that during the board certification process I was a clinical neuropsychologist on a TBI/Polytrauma unit, and now I have moved to a more administrative role within a VA Mental Health Service.  Another way my professional life has changed is that I am humbled daily with a keener appreciation for the clinical competencies of psychologists with whom I work.  Board certification has helped me become more sensitive and appreciative of the strengths of others, and more comfortable with my own strengths and weaknesses.

Q. What is the most interesting/challenging/rewarding/fulfilling aspect of your work as a psychologist?

For me, the most rewarding aspect of work as a psychologist is that we are honored to be present for those moments in peoples’ lives when proper assessment and intervention services can result in observable, positive quality of life change for patients and their families.  Outside of clinical work, the most fulfilling aspect of my professional life at this stage is working on behalf of psychologists in our department, and helping to provide avenues for those individuals to showcase their strengths.  At work, I am repeatedly struck by the proficiencies of my psychologist colleagues and reminded why ours is such a noble enterprise.


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