"The sense of community and support is the first thing I think of when asked about Medaille's PsyD program."
Medaille College doctoral program in clinical psychology (PsyD) alumna and adjunct professor Colleen Adams, PsyD, ’10, ’14, ’18 started her career out in the special education field after earning her M.S.Ed. in literacy degree from Medaille. Her experiences in that field allowed her to support and interact with children, adolescents and families, both in and outside of the educational setting. Dr. Adams quickly noticed many skills develop that felt similar to therapeutic skills. She became very interested in psychology, specifically the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents and families. She applied to the PsyD program at the College, and while enrolled in the program, she was also able to obtain her master’s degree in psychology, which allowed her to seek out teaching opportunities as an adjunct instructor at Medaille while completing her PsyD coursework.
Here, Dr. Adams describes how the PsyD program impacted her personally and professionally, and she shares her professional advice on the best ways to cope with stress and achieve a work/life balance.
How did your PsyD education impact you personally and professionally?
I have grown and learned so much about myself, both as person and a professional, during the last seven years. On a personal level, there were some challenges I had to overcome; specifically learning to balance life, family, friends, work and educational responsibilities. Seeking out mentors (in and outside of the Medaille community), asking for support from PsyD professors, and connecting with my cohort was imperative. I think the culture of support, from both peers and professionals I interacted with, is something unique about Medaille’s PsyD program. I learned that at times, it is okay to not feel okay, and how important it is to find support from others during those moments. Learning about the lives of peers and professionals (though modeling and many discussions) taught me the importance of self-care, developing a work-life balance, and not being afraid to ask for help from mentors and peers when needed. I also developed friendships and mentor-mentee relationships that I currently lean on for support and to celebrate accomplishments.
The PsyD program influenced my overall happiness and confidence level, allowing me to take risks and push myself to try new (and sometimes anxiety-provoking) experiences professionally. I learned so many lessons from the numerous opportunities experienced throughout the PsyD program. In addition to confidence, I have grown as a leader, mentor and teacher. Practicum and internship experiences, where I was able to use the skills developed during the PsyD program, continued to fuel my love of therapeutic work and reinforced the decision to enroll in the program. Additionally, I learned the value of involvement in networking and professional organizations, which continues to directly influence my professional endeavors and provides opportunities to impact the community.
What path did you pursue for clinical work after obtaining your PsyD degree?
I was offered the opportunity to join Explore What’s Next, a group practice founded by Elvira Aletta, Ph.D. I am extraordinarily grateful for Dr. Aletta’s willingness to serve as a supervisor and mentor, as well as the opportunity to develop a post-doctoral position in a private practice setting. This position was very appealing to me, as it allowed for scheduling flexibility and the ability to develop my own clinical interests. I have been able to continue teaching as an adjunct instructor at Medaille and participate in PAWNY (Psychological Association of Western New York), which are both experiences that benefit my clinical work, as well. At Explore What’s Next, I offer assessment and therapy services. I primarily serve the “school age” spectrum-individuals five years old to late twenties / early thirties. I do see a few older adults, as well, if we both feel we are good fit. I specialize in anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, neurodevelopmental disorders, depressive disorders, interpersonal problems and general difficulties with life transitions. My theoretical orientation is grounded in cognitive behavioral theories; however, I supplement this with other approaches and interventions, if appropriate.
How does the knowledge and experience you gained as a PsyD student, affect the way you now run your practice?
There are countless ways the knowledge and experience I gained as a PsyD student impacts my clinical work. I feel that my background in elementary and special education established a solid foundation; however, the PsyD program nurtured existing skills, introduced me to various theoretical orientations and helped me develop many clinical skills (assessment and therapy).
How does your own PsyD education affect the content or methods you use to teach?
Working as an adjunct instructor at Medaille has been mutually beneficial. I love teaching, and am grateful I am able to continue using those skills in the field of psychology. Through teaching, I am able to keep up with new research, continue to learn and refine my own skills, and then bring this information into my clinical work. I am also able to bring my clinical work into the classroom, providing real life examples and perspectives. I have received positive feedback from current PsyD students regarding my willingness to act as an informal mentor, provide information about “next steps,” and answer questions about the transition from “student” to “professional.”
What are some of your favorite aspects of Medaille’s PsyD program?
The sense of community and support is the first thing I think of when asked about the PsyD program. I have been able to develop what I feel is a professional “Medaille family,” including peers, mentors, past supervisors and professors. Specifically, developing relationships with my cohort members had a significant impact on my personal and professional life, which can be expected, considering you spend five or more years together! As opposed to a constant competitive environment, I found my peers and students in other cohorts to be very supportive, resulting in a team-like environment. These connections have continued, even after completing the program. Similarly, the core faculty, adjunct instructors and practicum/internship supervisors associated with the Medaille PsyD program have all been crucial in developing my personal and professional skills during and after program completion. The support, encouragement, and continued connections have provided support in my current work and encourage me to continue working in clinical, educational and professional organization settings.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in the PsyD program or clinical psychology in general?
Enrolling in a five to seven-year educational journey is a major life decision; make sure that you do your own research to determine if a clinical versus research-focused program is best for you. I encourage anyone interested in the PsyD program to attend events (open houses, PsyD informational meetings, etc.), explore information online, and reach out to discuss the program with current professors or mentors, PsyD program students or alumni, PsyD faculty members, family, friends, or your own therapist. Preparing both open-ended and specific questions, and presenting them to various individuals suggested above, can help with the decision process.
What advice do you try to impart to the PsyD students in your classes?
There are times that you will feel discouraged, frustrated and overwhelmed, but there also so many moments of pride, success and fulfillment. I always encourage students to develop and maintain a self-care routine. Although this is something students talk about and are aware of, actually developing and maintaining a self-care routine can be a major challenge. In my own experience, learning to “ride the waves,” taking one semester at a time (while being mindful of the future), enjoying experiential learning opportunities, and making time to celebrate accomplishments with peers, friends and family was very important! Additionally, I cannot describe the unique yet shared feeling of pride and honor experienced after taking big risks, pushing yourself past perceived limits and completing the program.
Coming from a psychology-based background and having a lot on your plate with your clinical work and serving as an adjunct professor, what do you find is the best way to achieve a work/life balance? What is the best way to cope with or handle stress?
Having a proactive self-care routine is a must; however, it is something that can easily slip. Being mindful of what works for you is important. I personally try to employ both proactive and restorative practices, including getting enough sleep, eating healthy (while also enjoying treats), regularly exercising, yoga and using essential oils/aromatherapy. I also make sure to have a solid support system in place of family and friends, separate from my professional life. Some additional professional self-care practices I incorporate include having supportive mentors, finding fun and interesting conferences or seminars, and reminding myself during challenging weeks that I am human and am allowed to take a mental health day or cut back on my workload when needed!
Medaille College’s doctoral program in clinical psychology (PsyD) is a full-time, five-year, practitioner-oriented program that prepares a student for a career as a licensed psychologist. The PsyD program requires over 1,000 hours of supervised practicum experience in assessment and therapy, as well as the completion of a clinical dissertation in close consultation with the student’s faculty advisor.