What is it like to be a colleague of your former professors?
Initially, I thought every day about using their first names. Now, it doesn’t feel strange. It’s truly collaborative. My colleagues in the department are interested in the research I do. I offer them opportunities to collaborate, and they do likewise. We critique each other’s work.
Did you always want to be a psychologist?
No, I wanted to be a nurse. I was always drawn to the helping professions, and I have a passion for helping women, especially women who have had traumatic lives.
What made you go into psychology instead of nursing?
During college, I volunteered at the New Hampshire State Prison for Women and began to understand the needs and challenges of the inmates. Then I took courses in psychology and recognized what that career opened up. By the end of my junior year, I had decided to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and focus on a career that would allow me to perform psychotherapy while also teaching and engaging in research about women’s issues.
You’ve said that your background is not ‘typical.’ What do you mean by that?
My mother was 17 when she had me, and my father moved to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic only three years before I was born. I grew up in New Hampshire in a time when young motherhood and interracial parents were not common or well accepted, so I often had the experience of feeling different from those around me. I was often the only ethnic minority in my school.
How has that influenced your teaching?
I was the first person in my immediate family to complete college, so I often see academia and higher education differently because of my own experiences. I understand that people have a lot of ways they can contribute, but their ways may not look as others expect them to look.
You developed a course called Cross-Cultural Psychology. What is that?
It’s the study of how culture influences cognitive perception and social interactions. Our own culture is often invisible to us. We think of people who look different from us as having a culture, but not us. We have cultural practices that we take for granted which influence our behavior and shape our views. If you recognize this, you may understand
that what we see as different or strange in others serves the same function in their lives as our cultural practices do in our own.
Why did you propose it?
A lot of our students live and work in the area after graduation. We didn’t have a course in cross-cultural psychology, but we were funneling graduates into the work force in a community that’s become increasingly diverse.
Do you use your clinical skills?
I’m a psychologist in a pain management center where I work with people who suffer from whiplash injuries, migraines, post-cancer pain and other issues. They may have mental health symptoms like depression or anxiety that interfere with their overall function and they need help managing their medications or reducing stress.
What kind of research are you doing?
I have three research projects underway. I’m working with two coauthors and a team of students to investigate the efficacy of a treatment for co-occurring post traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder. A second project is on the impact of strength-based
family interventions on homeless families with a parent in recovery and who are survivors of trauma. Lastly, I am in the early stages of a personality research project with the Elliot Pain Management Center here in Manchester.
Does your psychology background help in raising children?
We have four at home, three of our own and one nephew. I like to think I am a master manipulator and can trick them into making the choices I want them to. One of your special interests is women’s leadership development.
What advice will you give your daughter about being a leader?
My eldest daughter at four and a half is already so comfortable being a leader I can’t imagine she’ll need much advice from me! For any of my children, I would say that the key to successful leadership will be the difference between them filling a room with their great idea and getting a room full of ideas to be executed with passion and vision. I hope my children will learn the skills needed to cooperatively, rather than competitively, lead others.
What modern political figure or celebrity do you find fascinating from a psychological point of view?
Lady Gaga. She is a true performer, and the cultural threads she’s tying together in her work are really interesting. Her songs seem like pop nonsense, but I think she’s being very intentional about what she brings in.
What would a day without teaching or parenting include?
Something fun outdoors, an independent film, and then dancing.
Do you have any neuroses or irrational fears?
I don’t really like bugs.