Of the many different psychotherapy approaches, I was drawn to cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) when I was training to be a psychologist. It was straightforward and had strong scientific support, and I saw over and over as a therapist what a difference it could make. And yet I felt like something was missing in my clinical work.
Around the same time I began to sense that something was missing in my own life, as well. Long hours of research and grant writing to advance my academic career took me away from my growing family and consumed my nights and weekends. Of all my time at work, only the few hours a week treating men and women with crippling anxiety and depression felt like time well spent.
After a decade in academia, I had an experience I can only describe as an awakening. I encountered an approach to living based in a present-focused embrace of life as it is. This mindful approach not only became invaluable in my work as a therapist but helped me to align my life with what was most important to me.
Along the way I realized quietly and with complete clarity that I could not stay in academia, and decided to focus my efforts on work where I found a deep connection. I left my assistant professor position at Penn and opened a practice in psychology where I could provide CBT and mindfulness-based therapy.
I also came to see that waking up is not a once-and-for-all experience. Even when we know the path we want to be on—whether to manage stress, face our fears, leave behind addictions, or anything else—we need reminders to think and act in line with our best intentions. Mindfulness-Centered CBT provides three such reminders:
Think: Fostering patterns of thought that serve us well
Act: Planning our behaviors to match our goals
Be: Opening to our present experience just as it is
I started my clinical training in The George Washington University’s community counseling program where I learned the fundamentals of human development, the therapeutic relationship, and how people make positive changes. While at GW I had the opportunity to work with individuals in a partial hospitalization program who were dealing with major mental illnesses and addiction, as well as with adolescents, college students, and adults in GW’s outpatient counseling clinic.
After the first year in my master’s program I knew I decided to pursue more specialized training in cognitive behavioral therapy, which I had learned was the best-tested approach for the conditions I wanted to treat. I also got excited about understanding the role of the brain in depression and anxiety. I continued my education in the doctoral program in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, which is strong both in brain research and in evidence-based psychological treatments.
After I finished my clinical training and defended my dissertation at Penn, I completed my internship at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey. At Ancora I returned to similar work as I had done while at GW—completing assessments and developing treatment plans for individuals with serious mental illness and drug addiction, this time on inpatient units. I also trained in the secure unit of the hospital which housed patients who were involved in various ways with the legal system. During my internship I worked with Dr. Judith Coché in Center City Philadelphia for my outpatient placement, where I got additional supervised experience working with individuals and groups.
I considered going into full-time practice after my internship, but decided to pursue an academic track instead. I felt grateful for the evidence-based treatments I had learned about and was using, and wanted to contribute to their further development. I worked as an Assistant Professor at Dr. Edna Foa’s Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety (CTSA) in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Foa is a pioneer in the field of OCD and PTSD treatment, and I learned an extraordinary amount in my time at the center.
While I was there I did research on posttraumatic stress disorder and smoking cessation, provided treatment for OCD, PTSD, depression, and anxiety (click link for my free e-guide, “10 Ways to Manage Stress and Anxiety Every Day“), and supervised psychology trainees and psychiatry residents in the delivery of CBT for these conditions. I also was trained in mindfulness-based therapy for anxiety, especially for generalized anxiety disorder.
After I left my full-time position at Penn I pursued advanced training in CBT for insomnia (CBT-I) since so many of the people I was treating had sleep problems. Since summer 2012 I have been in independent private practice, delivering treatment in suburban Philadelphia (currently by video conference only).