“I teach what I do and do what I teach.” As an active practitioner myself, I aim not only to teach the “nuts and bolts” of what a practitioner does, but more importantly, to cultivate in students a sensibility, an ethos, and a worldview that guides both clinical work and a psychologist’s professional identity. Not infrequently, the medium is the message. My teaching style and techniques include aspects of the way I view my work and actual ways in which I do my work with clients. Further, the worldview to which I referred above includes an appreciation for the ongoing role of scholarship and science in informing clinical work, along with critical reflection on what constitutes evidence, what constitutes desirable clinical outcome, what constitutes “the person,” and the dialectic between individual clinical expertise/experience and research data.
I believe that psychologists must be “citizens of the world” and, therefore, I encourage and require students to be aware of important issues and conflicts on the national and global stages as well as to understand how these impact the people they will help as psychologists and the profession of psychology itself. More importantly, being a citizen of the world and a psychologist requires that students develop a deep appreciation for and understanding of the sociocultural dimension of the lives of the individuals they will eventually serve. This means I aspire to model for students by virtue of a given course’s curriculum, the clinical examples I share, and my personal sensibility, a commitment to attending to issues of diversity/difference, oppression, marginalization, stigma, and resilience on par with any other dimension of human experience I attend to. Whenever I can, I emphasize the role of psychologists in social justice efforts beyond the consultation room. This is practical in the sense that my students need to be aware of the array of roles psychologists may play in their careers. It is also, I believe, reflective of values inherent to the worldview and project of the kind of psychologists we ought to be launching.
My teaching philosophy links to my belief that education at the graduate level ought to entail active learning, wherein students are not passive receptacles for unprocessed data. Instead, they are to be engaged critical thinkers. Therefore, I always keep in mind a persistent focus on the promotion of critical thinking skills and a spirit of impassioned inquiry in my students. As I believe the capacity to reflect is crucial for success as a practitioner, I work to cultivate an appreciation for and capacity in my students to reflect on course material and on themselves. As clinical work and learning must be collaborative, I aim to invite students to engage with me in creating a “transitional space” in the classroom within which creative learning can occur. This space is most often characterized by active discussion, frequently stimulated by Socratic questioning. My goal is for students both to generate their own questions, but also to gain a tolerance and appreciation for complexity. Socratic questioning fosters a process of unpacking of ideas that demonstrates complexity, but also invites synthesis of ideas and their component parts with ideas from students’ experience, other courses, and the like.
Class discussion often centers on the inherent dialectical tensions that underlie our work as professional psychologists, including examples such as theory and practice, the individual and the social, the intrapsychic and the interpersonal, the dominant group and the minority group, authority and mutuality, social constructionism and essentialism, the conceptual and lived experience, and knowing and not knowing. This final dialectic, “knowing and not knowing,” has become core to my work with students. Often in response to student anxieties that sometimes propel them to demand of me “the answer” or “the truth” and to provide it to them to swallow whole, I advocate the value of not knowing. I talk about ways in which knowing too much can foreclose inquiry and dialogue, ways in which certainty about what we do cannot do justice to the rich complexity of human lives. I illustrate both my own way of working with not knowing as well as the process of critical thinking by sharing aloud the steps in my own thinking process when I am unsure of something. I articulate the questions I ask myself, the links I attempt to make between the question at hand and my experience, associations that come to mind, etc. I believe students’ witnessing of this kind of process fosters learning via modeling or internalization and is an important mode of development for them.