Web-only Feature

Web-only Feature

Top 5 Lessons Gained in Working with Dr. Jeffrey Barnett

Clinical Impact Statement: Those at all stages of their career will benefit from reading these life and career lesson about navigating confidence, career development, and personal/professional identities.

This past December, Dr. Jeffrey Barnett stepped down from his leadership role as Publications Chair of the Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy. Dr. Barnett has been instrumental in the mentorship, guidance, and friendship he has bestowed to me. In reflecting over the past four years of knowing and working with him, I found myself struggling to find the words that captured his generosity, simultaneous prestige and humbleness, and dedication to the field. I was flooded with memories that have stayed anchored in my mind throughout these years.

I recently began reading a book by Simon Sinek in which he states that the make of a true leader is someone who inspires their employees. They do not rule by punishment, or even incentives, but rather seek to help their employees find true meaning in their work and seek to invigorate their passion. Dr. Barnett embodies this mark of true leadership and inspiration. Below are some of the most poignant examples of his leadership that have resonated with me and that I believe will help seasoned and less experienced professionals in their own personal and career trajectories.

Here are five (I’ve been told that the original 50 would take up too much space) lessons learned from Dr. Jeff Barnett that I seek to live my professional (and personal) life by

1. Be Confident and Set Soar

In September 2013, I reached out to Dr. Barnett, with the strong urging of Dr. Steve Gold, to become an Associate Editor of the Psychotherapy journal. I imagine anyone in his position might have had a chuckle...or two...  A student without her doctoral degree eyeing a coveted position on one of the most prestigious publication’s Editorial Boards. But if he did chuckle, he never did so to my face. Instead, he worked diligently to find a place for me that would be suited to my experience and skill set, and before I knew it, I was appointed the Associate Editor of Website Content where he gave me unlimited support and encouragement to make that position into what I wanted it to be.

And well, here I am as the Editor of our respected and esteemed website. Dr. Barnett never doubted my ideas and dreams of turning the website into a rich content warehouse, and along every step of the way, has supported my ideas. As an ECP (then a doctoral-level student), I could not have achieved nearly half of what I did without him inspiring me to fulfill my passion and carry out my ideas. My confidence in myself, my abilities, and my professional identity were shaky at best, yet he never faltered in believing that I could do it.

The lesson here – even when goals are not reached, continue to maintain confidence in yourself, your future, and your abilities. The opportunities will arise but self-doubt can put a serious dampening on forward movement.

2. Treat Everyone as a Colleague

Since then, Dr. Barnett has bestowed such kindness, respect, and generosity to me as a junior colleague. I use the word “colleague” quite pointedly, as he has effortlessly created a working relationship and mentorship that seeks to guide me in my career, but never with the intention of directing or lecturing.  As an Associate Dean, I am incredulous at how he finds time to talk or email with me whether it is about publication business, my career goals, or to check in and see how I’m faring with a new job or position. He has never given me the impression that he is too busy for me and has always prioritized me, treating me with the utmost esteem.

Mentorship implies that one party knows more than the other, and can bestow their wisdom and experience onto the other person. But how this is conveyed is paramount. Treat others with dignity and respect not because you’ll need something from them at some point (though you may), but because that’s the type of person you want to inspire others to be.

3. Learn to Say “No” and Learn That It Will Be Okay

Perhaps my fondest memory is sitting in my car talking to Dr. Barnett one afternoon when he gently addressed my penchant for taking on more than I can handle. He shared stories of his own career trajectory and how saying “no” is not about closing a door, but actually leaving room to open another one. As he said to me that day (and basically every day since then…), if you say yes to everything, you run the risk of having no room for the really great projects that come your way. And you know, since I’ve attempted to start saying no, not only has my mental health been spared, but a lot of really fabulous opportunities have come along.

I have to be honest that I didn’t truly learn the magnitude of this one until one month ago. I was invited to author a book chapter. I mulled over the idea for a few days. Part of my reluctance was because it would involve a tedious literature review and would be a huge undertaking. Practicing the lessons of #1, I was confident I could deliver, but I asked myself, “at what cost?” Would it mean prolonging the write-up of another project I have in the pipeline? Ultimately, I decided to practice Dr. Barnett’s advice. I politely responded to the Guest Editors and explained that I had to hunker down and finish up some projects. Not even a week later, I received another invitation asking me to co-author a manuscript; this time the request seemed manageable, up my alley, and something I could do with minimal neuroses involved. It was, in fact, okay—if not more than okay, in the end— just as Dr. Barnett had promised.

4. Don’t Do Something Just for the Ego

This one dates back about a month ago when Dr. Barnett shared some recent events in his life, his own journey of saying “no” and trying to figure out timing that would best meet his personal and professional needs. He mused to himself that he did not want to shoot for something simply because of the ego boost, the accolades, the “CV-factor”. Rather, he sought to immerse himself in projects that inspired passion, excitement, and purpose.

It would be remiss to say if we didn’t, at least to some extent, do things for our ego development – and of course, there would be nothing aberrant about this statement. I’ve learned to observe where my desire to say “yes” to a project stems from, being careful to check whether I am eager to begin something for personal passion and enjoyment, or for professional gain and advancement. Neither is wrong, but when I notice my scales tipping in one direction or the other, I pause and question what might be going on for me that I need the ego boost, or what’s going on that I’m avoiding digging in and pushing myself professionally or academically.

5. We All Have to Start Somewhere and Then Build On That

When I first started teaching, Dr. Barnett sent me countless emails, and had numerous phone calls, helping to mentor me and prepare me for the job ahead. One of his early pieces of advice was to think strategically about my long-term career plan. I won’t get into the logistics of my particular plan, because the advice he gave me really applies to any ECP or student starting on their professional journey. He wrote to me an email that, “We all have to start somewhere and then build on that. The goal is to demonstrate ongoing progress.” His spotlight on “progress” was so pivotal, I took this quote and have kept it on a sticky-note on my laptop ever since. He didn’t say “outcomes” or “tangible work products” or “publications”. His words deliberately focused on the process of growing, which in turn, has helped me to produce outcomes in the form of tangible work products and publications, too.

The lesson for me here was that I was becoming heavily consumed with anxiety about producing and the fears of “publish or perish” were looming in my mind. Shifting that thought to progress over time, made it seem small, manageable, feasible. It’s been a key mantra I’ve repeated to my own students through the years – my desire and expectation to see progress in their clinical abilities over the course of the practicum year, to see progress in their research methodology and critical thinking skills over the course of the semester, to see movement and growth in their dissertation or research project over the course of their program.

It’s the fact that I wrote this blog post over the course of several months and even though the temptation was there to reprimand myself (just get it done already!), I steadily saw growth in word count and flow. Each time, I turned inward with compassion, understanding that there was an influx of emotions behind writing such a piece and that it was so important to me to carefully choose each and every word. And ultimately, I took a breath, remembered Dr. Barnett’s words and reminded myself that I was making progress the finished product would be there in good time.

Cite This Article

Ellis, A. E. (2018, June). Top 5 lessons gained in working with Dr. Jeffrey Barnett. [Web article]. Retrieved from http://www.societyforpsychotherapy.org/top-5-lessons-gained-in-working-with-dr-jeffrey-barnett

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