Rehabilitation Psychology

Martin Waalkes, PhD, ABPP

Rehabilitation Psychologist


What is your practice like?

I am the supervisor for seven doctoral and master’s level psychologists in a network of post-acute neurorehabilitation programs treating persons with acquired brain injury spinal cord injury and multiple trauma.  My practice is divided between direct clinical service of treatment, assessment, and patient-specific consultation with additional roles of clinical supervision, curriculum development and program administration.


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

I appreciated the increased resolution and clarity that the professional identity as a specialist provides. Having the clarity of a specific sphere of competence as a rehabilitation psychologist helps me to confidently describe and implement my unique role and contributions to our clinical team and the persons we serve. I have always valued the  range of general clinical skills psychology provides, but the specialty certification brings these into a clearer focus for the department, our interdisciplinary teams, and for me.

I came to this specialty through work experiences and mentored, supervised practice. As a mid-career psychologist, the certification process exposed me to an educational process that consolidated my experiences in a framework that established a professional identity that was missing for me.


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

I would have done this sooner in my career had I known how supportive and helpful the process is. It took me a long time to decide to immerse myself in the process.  The scope of the education and examination preparations made me a better supervisor and sharpened my clinical skills. It was unfortunate that such gains had to wait until I was committed to the process.


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

I do view myself as a more effective leader and supervisor after the certification process.  I have more confidence my grasp of the body of knowledge associated with the  specialty and the contributions we make to the teams and people with whom we work. I have a clearer sense of direction for my clinical assessments and treatment plans, as well as in the supervision I provide.


What motivated you to seek board certification in rehabilitation psychology?

As a supervisor and program leader, it became increasingly clear that I needed to be setting the best professional example for continuing education as well as the awareness and integration of practice standards in our clinical work. I was also concerned about the erosion of the scope of practice I could claim without board certification.  The expectations of our hospital relationships and advancing professional standards, including expectations of key stakeholders, were part of the motivation for me.


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

I believe the board certification process should be viewed increasingly as an extension of formal career preparation educational activities.  It provides a great foundation for role development and professional identity. Waiting until mid-career missed this opportunity for me in the early formative years.  The process itself was supportive and collegial, and never felt judgmental or critical. I set aside protected time on a consistent basis to work through the steps, just like going to work.  The support of a peer group of recent certificate recipients and peers in the pipeline was critical in the process for me.


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

While the congratulatory response from peers was a joy, the relationships with professionals who supported me in the education and process were most rewarding.  My employer supported this process financially and with intangible assistance. For the program, the benefit of ABPP certified staff helps with marketing our services in a way that brings confidence to our stakeholders about the quality of the qualifications of the staff.

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