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Interview with Howard Oakes, PsyD

Rachel Schein (RS): My name is Rachel Schein and I am an advanced student at GIPP and today I am talking with Dr. Howard Oakes, a 1993 graduate of the Graduate Institute of Professional Psychology. Dr. Oakes, tell me a little bit about yourself professionally.  For example, what is your current job? Are you licensed? What kinds of Clients do you work with and what are some of the accomplishments that you are particularly proud of?

Howard Oakes (HO): I am licensed in CT and MA, I currently work in many different settings. I am an employee of Hartford Hospital/IOL and I am the associate director of the head injury program that’s run out of Hartford Hospital.  I’ve been doing that for about 14 years. In addition, I am in private practice providing consultation for disability companies, evaluations, and a very minimal amount of the therapy. I also sit on the psychiatric security review board which is the parole board for people who are found not guilty by reason of insanity. If you’re found not guilty by reason of insanity in CT, you get initially placed at Whiting Forensic in Middletown, where they do evaluations on you.  If you are deemed safe to move up to a less restrictive environment, the hospital has to come to this board and say they think the person is doing better, etc. And the board decides if people get increased privileges, all the way from the hospital setting to living in communities to no longer being under hospital jurisdiction. It is very cool and kind of a different thing to do. There is a psychiatrist, psychologist, someone with knowledge of the criminal justice system, community members, and an attorney who sit on this board.

RS: Great! What are some of the accomplishments that you are particularly proud of?

HO: Well, after I left GIPP, I got interested in Neuropsychology, and I did my post-doctorate at the Institute of Living in Neuropsychology and went on to get my board certification in Neuropsychology. So I would say that is one thing that I am particularly proud of, and the other thing is that I was the head of the fellowship training program for about 10 years at the hospital. That was something I really enjoyed and took a lot of pride in.

RS: Tell us a little bit about yourself personally. Where are you from? Where did you grow up, go to college, etc?

HO: I am a military brat. My father was in the Air Force. I was born in California but pretty much lived all over. In 4th grade, I moved to Germany, where I lived for 3 years. Then I moved to England where I lived for another 3 years, and then I lived in Belgium. So pretty much 4th grade through high school I lived in Europe. Then I went to Allegheny College, which was in Western, MA, a small private liberal arts college. And then by a stroke of fortune, I ended up at the University of Hartford. I was not going to go to grad school but was going to work in a group home. But I had a girlfriend who lived in West Hartford, and drove her home and saw an ad for a Resident Director position at the University. So in one day, I met with Residence Life people, and then I met with the head of the masters program who accepted me on the spot. So I came in under the health psychology program, which I did for one year. Mid-way through that year, I applied for the PsyD program and was accepted! Right now I live in West Hartford, with my wife, who is an occupational therapist and actually taught at the University of Hartford’s OT program for a number of years.

RS: What are some of your personal interests outside of psychology?

HO: Fly fishing, I love it! Also, little league with my 11 year old son, church, etc. We keep busy.

RS: It would be interesting to hear a bit about your reflections on your time at GIPP. Why did you choose GIPP? What do you remember most about your experiences there? What was the most valuable aspect of your training? What was the most challenging part of your experience?

HO: Actually, the program now looks a lot more like it did when I was there then it has in the in-between years. As in, all of the classes are back on campus. However, the building that we had classes in isn’t even there anymore! I lived on campus the whole time I was in school and now I think there are hardly any students in the graduate programs who live on campus. It was a small program then, I think we maybe had 10 students in a class. Some of our class sizes were a little bigger because there was overlap with the masters classes at the time. One of the things that I really liked about the program was that the class sizes were pretty small and you really got to know your professors fairly well. It really had a community feel to the program. There was fair mix of students between people who were at a master’s level and out practicing and then came back to the PsyD program. It was sort of an exception that you had somebody who was going straight through school, and I know that has changed. I am also pretty sure the gender ratio has changed too, because I’m pretty sure that when I was going it was maybe 3/10 women, and now I think it’s the majority women. I think the gender switch happened in the late 90’s.

RS: What was the most valuable aspect of your training?

HO: For me, it was the fact that I was somebody who thought I wanted to be a psychologist but wasn’t so sure what I psychologist did. I really think that the practica gave me that chance to see what it was like to really practice in the world and to understand if this was something that I wanted to do, which I think was really important because it helps you hang in there and see the light at the end of the tunnel through the grueling part. My first practicum was at Capitol Region Mental Health Center, where there are people with severe, chronic mental illness, and that was not something I had ever seen in my life.  So it was a great experience. I had a great practicum supervisor, who was John Mehm. So I think the practica were some of the highlights.

RS: And what were some of the most challenging experiences?

HO: I think at some point the academics were very difficult, like when someone would assign 1,000 pages of reading in 2 days and then not even talk about it. So it was very hard to keep motivated to do the readings that no one seemed to care whether you did or didn’t do. I think the transition to internship, the program sort of left you on your own when you went off to internship and didn’t provide you with a lot of guidance. I think the program hadn’t yet developed relationships with APA internship sites, so we were kind of left on our own to do that, which was a really difficult thing. That was also prior to the match system.

RS: What about your training experiences at settings outside of GIPP? Where did you do your practicum, your internship, etc and how would you evaluate your experiences in these settings?

HO: My first practicum was at Capital Region, and my second practicum was at St. Francis, back when they had an inpatient psychiatric unit. Both of my supervisors had some neuropsych background, so they fostered my interests in those types of things. I did my internship at the Coatesville VA in Pennsylvania and I did my post-doc at Hartford Hospital. My internship experience wasn’t so great. Some of it was good, but some of it wasn’t so great.

RS: Please talk a bit about your transition to the working world. What was it like for you? How easy or difficult was it to find a job, get licensed, pay back loans, etc.?

HO: I went straight from internship to my fellowship which was a significant salary increase. Then I was fortunate that I was hired right out of my fellowship to work at the hospital So I never really had to go out and look for work, and then, being in the hospital, you sort of develop skills to go out and do private practice kinds of things. So after a few years of work, I started to do consulting work in the disability world. Now I’m down to just one day a week at the hospital and doing private practice other days.

RS: Is there any particular advice you would like to pass on to current or future students at GIPP?

HO: There is a lot of burnout when someone is doing straight therapy all the time, particularly in private practice. In an institutional setting, you get a lot of peer support, but a lot of my friends have very difficult cases that may not start off difficult but become difficult. So I think developing a range of different skills and services that you can provide is probably the key to long term success. I think that having interests outside of psychology is also helpful. Having ways to burn off stress is really important. Work in the summer and raise some money to pay for your books if you can!