Working in the community
Early career psychologists are also embracing community
mental health as a rewarding interdisciplinary profession.
Allison Ponce, PhD, has found herself on the streets of New
Haven, Conn., helping homeless people as part of her job as
associate director of the Community Services Network of
Greater New Haven. Ponce works with psychologists, social
workers, nurses, psychiatrists and employment specialists to
help clients with therapy, housing, employment and social skills.
“We work together to create solutions for the clients,” she
says. “One of the beauties of working in an interdisciplinary
field is that no one person is expected to hold all the knowledge.
I’ve taken the approach of not needing to be an expert in every
area but knowing who I need to talk with and consult with.”
Ponce also serves as an assistant professor in psychiatry
at Yale University, where she researches community-based
mental health services and supervises psychology interns and
postdoctoral fellows at the Connecticut Mental Health Center.
Anne Klee, PhD, also works in community mental health as
the training director for a postdoctoral program in psychosocial
rehabilitation at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. The
fellowship offers interdisciplinary training in clinical services
and research for students in psychology, psychiatry, nursing
and social work. Klee supervises the fellows at a community
care center serving veterans with severe
mental illness and often co-occurring
substance abuse disorders. Many of the
veterans are homeless or unemployed,
and some suffer post-traumatic stress
disorder from recent deployments in Iraq
“Each team member comes with
different skills and experiences based on
their professional training,” Klee says.
“On a multidisciplinary team, you can
get a richer sense of your clients because
there are so many perspectives on how to
help them. It’s a great training ground.
It’s also the real world, and this is where
intersection of fields has always appealed to me. I find it to
be especially fascinating at the intersection of psychology,
economics and public policy,” Lerner says. “One way to have
more influence on public policy is to be able to speak the
language of policy and translate it. The key is to work with
economists who recognize that psychology has so many
contributions to make.”
Lerner, who earned her PhD in psychology from the
University of California–Berkeley in 1998, also teaches Harvard
students in an interdisciplinary doctoral program in decision
science. She advises early career psychologists interested in
interdisciplinary work to find postdoctoral programs in those
fields to get a feel for the work. But she warns that psychologists
need a clear focus for their work. Even though she collaborates
with economists, Lerner publishes most of her research in
psychology journals. “You need to decide where your research
is going to make its mark, and it’s impossible to make a really
significant mark if you’re publishing in multiple fields,” she says.
Brendan L. Smith is a writer in Washington, D.C.
Breaking into public policy
Psychologists aren’t usually associated
with public policy, but Jennifer Lerner,
PhD, is connecting the two fields through
her research at Harvard University’s
Kennedy School of Government, where
she is a professor of public policy. She
also co-founded the Harvard Decision
Science Laboratory with two economists
to study how emotions and other factors
affect decisions by consumers.
“The research being done at the