A surprising number of children have followed
in their psychologist parents’ footsteps.
BY TORI DEANGELIS
Psychologists’ children see firsthand both the trials and triumphs of the profession — whether it’s 4 a.m. emergency calls, department politics or the satisfaction
of helping people overcome traumas or harmful habits.
And sometimes those experiences make an impact: Many
psychologists’ offspring follow in their parents’ footsteps.
Informal outreach yielded dozens of these relationships (see
page 70), and there are many more.
Here, the Monitor highlights five. While each of these
relationships is unique, they also have many commonalities.
For one, these psychologist parents unanimously said they
never pushed their children to become psychologists, and their
children agreed. For another, these relationships are marked by
strong mutual respect. Parents were quick to say how much they
learned from their psychologist children, professionally and
personally, and their children said they felt the same way.
Having a common profession also appeared to deepen their
parent-child bonds as well as help the young people handle the
stresses of graduate school.
“To have a parent who understood exactly what I was going
through and who could talk with me at an academic level was
really wonderful,” says Kristen Kirkland, PhD, daughter of
Montgomery, Ala., practitioner Karl Kirkland, PhD. Her brother
Kale is also a psychologist.
Scant research has explored the relationships between
parent and child psychologists. But in her 2010 dissertation
from Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia practitioner Elisabeth
Zal Roland, PsyD, assessed 34 such pairs using interviews and
questionnaires. She found that most psychologist children chose
their career paths in part because they admire their parents.
They described their relationships as positive, close and warm.
This group was also less likely than the general population of
psychologists to report personal problems, she found.
Karl Kirkland adds that for him, at least, it is gratifying to
have his children not only choose a similar field but trump his
accomplishments — something he sees in both Kristen and
Kale, who attended top-tier graduate schools and are launched
on successful careers in industrial-organizational and forensic
“All parents want their children to have a better batting
average than they have chalked up,” he says. “Mine hit home
runs without breaking a sweat.”
While seeing their psychologist parents in action likely plays
a role in youngsters’ career decisions, Karl Kirkland adds it’s
important to acknowledge the allure of the field itself. “That
Kristen and Kale chose psychology says a lot about the field—
that it is rich in terms of diversity and opportunity, that it is still
alive and well,” he says.