Meet Dr. Laurie Heatherington

I am delighted to be joining the Publications Board of Psychotherapy and look forward to contributing to the efforts which have sustained the great success of the journal. I honestly don’t recall when I joined Division 29, but have subscribed to the journal for many years, and it has long been a source of information and inspiration. I very much appreciate its “big tent” philosophy, welcoming of diverse therapeutic orientations and diverse research methodologies.

Thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself. Like others’ paths, mine is one that could not have been predicted ahead of time. As even Bandura admitted (1982) some nonsignificant percent of the variance in our outcomes is attributable to chance, as well as our interests and preparation. Nonetheless, looking back at any point in time, we (re)construct a story that seems more linear. So here is mine.

Why Did You Choose to Get into the Field of Psychotherapy?

My path to psychology started when my family moved a block away from a big old State Hospital. I volunteered there throughout high school and worked as an aide one college summer. It was in the days before deinstitutionalization and there was much for an idealistic “emerging adult” to be outraged about. So I went to college (Miami University, Ohio), to major in psychology so that I could return someday and “rescue” the patients I had befriended. Who knew (I didn’t at the time) that psychologists also did research!? And built theories!? Once I discovered this in Psych 101, I was hooked on a career that combined research and helping others clinically, and as I later discovered, teaching.

I still didn’t know anything about psychotherapy or psychotherapy research but my graduate training (Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, University of Connecticut) was rich in ideas, with Julian Rotter (Social Learning Theory) the Director of Clinical Training. We loved his stories about being at Ohio State U at the same time as George Kelly and Carl Rogers. Strange bedfellows, but hearing about their disagreements and agreements sowed the seeds of therapy integrationism in us. A practicum in family therapy began my fascination with systems theory, conjoint treatment, and the study of social interactional processes in psychotherapy.

Tell Us About Your Work, Research Interests, and Clinical Areas of Expertise

Since then, starting with a dissertation on gender and interpersonal control in psychotherapy, I have been engaged in studying processes of interpersonal and cognitive change in family therapy, and devising strategies to measure and model family systems-level variables. Much of my work has been in collaboration with Micki Friedlander, at SUNY Albany, whom I met (chance again!) at an APA conference when we had neighboring posters. More recently we have collaborated with Valentin Escudero (University of La Coruῆa, Spain) on conceptualizing, operationalizing, and studying the alliance in family therapy.

What is the Most Rewarding Part of Psychotherapy, in Your Opinion?

For a number of years I was a consulting clinical psychologist at a local community mental health center.

There is nothing like doing psychotherapy to keep one humble and grounded when studying psychotherapy. 

Teaching curious undergraduates has the same effect and is a very satisfying dimension of my work as a professor at Williams College. My work has recently expanded to include treatment outcomes research in outpatient community mental health and residential treatment, including a 15+ year study of outcomes at Gould Farm, a unique residential treatment center/working farm for people with severe and persistent mental illness. Additionally, spurred by the interests of my wonderful and diverse students, I have become engaged in research on global mental health treatment.

What Piece of Advice Do You Have for Clinicians/Academics/Researchers/Etc. in the Field?

As for advice for emerging practitioners and researchers, I would advocate being open to connections between what may appear to be disparate domains of endeavor: psychotherapy, psychotherapy, basic research on psychological processes, and life lessons in general). There are synergies and opportunities for growth all around us and sometimes they arise when least expected.

About Dr. Laurie Heatherington

Laurie Heatherington (Ph.D., University of Connecticut, USA, 1981) is Edward Dorr Griffin Professor of Psychology at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Her work has combined research, teaching, and practice, focusing on processes of interpersonal and cognitive change in family therapy, measurement of family systems variables, and the therapeutic alliance. At Williams College, she teaches courses in Psychological Disorders, Psychotherapy: Theory and Research (a research seminar) and Clinical and Community Psychology (which includes a practicum). She also team-teaches in Introductory Psychology and the Psychology Senior Seminar. Her research includes treatment outcomes research in outpatient community mental health and residential treatment, and has recently expanded to studies in global mental health. She has published numerous journal articles and chapters and co-authored The Therapeutic Alliances in Couple and Family Therapy with Myrna Friedlander and Valentín She and co-author Myrna Friedlander were jointly honored in 2010 as recipients of the Distinguished Contribution to Family Systems Research award by the American Family Therapy Academy. She is Past-President of the North American Chapter of the Society for Psychotherapy Research, and is currently on the editorial boards of Psychotherapy, Psychotherapy Research, Journal of Family Psychology, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, and Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session.

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