Psychologist Spotlight: The International Journey of a Psychology Student by Daniel Elchert
As a doctoral student in counseling psychology, I am fortunate to experience a wide variety of training opportunities. I am currently in my second year of graduate school in the University of Iowa’s Counseling Psychology program, and have been involved with different research, coursework, and counseling activities. In this entry of the “Psychologist Spotlight,” I comment on some of these experiences and share how I developed my passion for counseling psychology.
My interest in counseling psychology started while studying internationally as an undergraduate student. Over the course of six months, I was privileged to study at The American University in Cairo, The Ecumenical Christian Centre in Bangalore, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Yonsei University in Seoul. During this period, I observed cultural barriers – driven by religion, values, and many other factors – that could prevent people from seeking mental health services. I remember feeling queasy while speaking with one particular young man who shared his view that depression is a “weakness” – a perspective I strongly disagree with. This conversation was a wake up call; mental health is stigmatized, not only in our country, but also in many places around the world.
At the University of Iowa’s Counseling Psychology program, I have opportunities to better understand cultural barriers to mental health. Recently, I’ve researched therapy process and outcome expectations with my colleague Owen Gaasedelen and advisor Dr. William Ming Liu. We are specifically investigating how diverse peoples’ counseling process and outcome expectations are impacted by variables like religious affiliation and morality. In better understanding these expectations, we hope to promote mental health seeking behaviors and reduce stigma, much like the kind I encountered while abroad. Classes offered by my graduate program, such as process and outcome expectations, multicultural counseling, research methodology, and statistics, augment my ability to shed light on expectations that diverse populations may have of counseling.
In addition to researching the process of counseling, I’m also gaining clinical experience as a doctoral trainee at the University of Iowa’s University Counseling Service (UCS). In this position, I enjoy working with college students in an individual counseling setting. My approach is best described as collaborative; when I meet with clients, my goal is to create a comfortable, open environment using active listening, reflection of thought, and appropriate levels of challenge or support. Collaborating with clients involves establishing mutually agreed upon goals and taking progressive steps to improve overall functioning. In my opinion, counseling does not involve the psychologist simply telling the client what to do; instead, psychologists and clients work together to form a better understanding of counseling goals. In this way, psychologists empower clients by providing them opportunities to identify specific areas that impact their day-to-day functioning.
Although psychologists consider many factors while working with clients, such as personal history, assessments, and multicultural awareness, the relationship or rapport between the psychologist and client may be the most important aspect. Although these are my personal opinions, they have been influenced by the thoughtful supervision that trainees receive at the UCS, such as regular meetings I have with my individual supervisor and thorough group supervision. Moreover, classes in cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, multicultural counseling, and ethics, supplement my clinical training by exposing me to a wide variety of theoretical orientations and perspectives.
Although my professional interests are still developing, I am motivated to understand stigma associated with mental health. I have taken steps toward this goal through research, counseling, and coursework; additionally, as a writer for the National Register’s Findapsychologist.org website, I help connect people to psychologists and other credible resources. As I continue my graduate career and expand my professional interests, I’m looking forward to learning more about the services the National Register provides graduate students. I’d like to thank Dr. Judy Hall and the National Register for this opportunity to share my experiences and interests as a psychologist-in-training. I appreciate the invaluable work the National Register does to support Health Service Psychologists and the general public, and am thankful to contribute to the “Psychologist Spotlight” blog.