Meeting an experienced mentor was no easy task for Sarah Morsbach Honaker, PhD, when she began her career five years ago. As the only behavioral
health specialist in pediatric sleep medicine at the University
of Louisville, Honaker couldn’t find a senior faculty member
or another early career psychologist who shared her distinct
professional interests and concerns.
“There was nobody within my institution I could go to for
help with clinical cases or research ideas,” she says. “It became
necessary to go outside the [university] system.”
So, Honaker applied to APA’s Div. 54 (Society of Pediatric
Psychology) mentorship program and requested that she be
matched with Lisa Meltzer, PhD, a pediatric sleep specialist
at National Jewish Health Care in Denver. “[Meltzer] was
incredible,” Honaker says. Her mentor offered opportunities to
speak at professional meetings and meet other psychologists
in the same field. “She has given me important guidance about
salary, career development and things as simple as how to
organize references,” Honaker adds.
Having a good mentor is a critical part of successfully
navigating the transition from graduate student to early career
psychologist, says Ayşe Çiftçi, PhD, associate professor of
counseling psychology at Purdue University’s department of
educational studies. “A mentor can show you how to problem-solve as a professional, and how to balance all the things you’ve
learned in graduate school,” notes Çiftçi, who also chairs APA’s
Committee on Early Career Psychologists.
Although APA is a natural resource for opportunities
to meet new mentors, it is, admittedly, “huge and it can be
intimidating,” says Çiftçi. That’s why she and others recommend
tapping into one of APA’s scores of divisions, as Honaker did,
to meet potential mentors. Çiftçi has met mentors by being
active in two — Div. 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology)
and Div. 52 (International). “I’ve gotten very different types of
mentoring from each,” she adds.
Since travel to APA events isn’t always possible for early
career psychologists, Honaker also suggests getting involved
with smaller state or local psychological associations. The New
York State Psychological Association launched its own Early
Career Psychologists Division in 2008, the first state association
to do so. The New Mexico Psychological Association has an
early career psychologists mentoring program, as does the
Contra Costa Psychology Association in California.
However, meeting mentors doesn’t happen only through
formal mentoring programs. Konjit Page, PhD, who completed her
doctoral degree in 2012, has sought out mentors on her own by
networking. While in graduate school at the University of North
Dakota, Page worked in a rural advanced practicum placement.
“I was the only black student within my cohort,” she
says. “Some of the clients had never worked with a black
psychologist.” So Page contacted Jessica Henderson Daniel,
PhD, director of training in psychology at Boston Children’s
Hospital, who actively mentors young black psychologists. “I
emailed her and asked if we could just touch base,” she says.
Daniel responded, and offered helpful advice.
Early career psychologists with physical or mental disabilities
encounter attitudinal and physical barriers both in work and
in daily life, says Anju Khubchandani, director of APA’s Office
on Disability Issues in Psychology. “And there aren’t many
psychologists with disabilities, so the pool of potential mentors
to help address and navigate those barriers is small,” she notes.
To help overcome that disadvantage, Khubchandani’s office
offers a disability mentoring program that works to match early
career psychologists with disabilities with mentors who have
a similar disability. “Finding a mentor who can address those
specific areas is critical,” Khubchandani notes. Recently, the
program matched a mentor and mentee with the same learning
disability to help the young psychologist successfully disclose
her disability and renegotiate her caseload.
It takes a village
Çiftçi advises young psychologists to attract multiple mentors
who can play diverse roles. “A senior mentor can help support
your career, but having peer mentors gives you some space to
exchange ideas and share experiences,” she says. In academic
settings, she notes, a department head often can suggest senior
faculty to approach for mentoring.
Page, now an adjunct professor at Alliant University’s California
School of Professional Psychology, maintains contact with several
peers from graduate training as mentors. All are in adjunct teaching
positions, so they share tips on how to improve their syllabi and
discuss the pros and cons of clinical, research, and academic
positions. “It’s another ear to bounce things off of,” she says.
Having mentors at the workplace and in other settings also is
important, says Honaker. “They offer different perspectives,” she
says. An outside mentor is important, Çiftçi adds, if a situation
such as stress or a power imbalance becomes troublesome at work.
Ultimately, Honaker says, early career psychologists
should ask mentors for their help. “Often, people are more
accommodating than you might expect,” she says. “It can be
hard to put yourself out there, but it’s the only way to realize the
potential benefits of that relationship.” n
Rebecca Voelker is a journalist in Chicago.
BY REBECCA VOELKER