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Interview with Elizabeth Emprimo (2008)

Rebekah: My name is Rebekah Jackson and I’m a 3rd year student here at GIPP, and today I am speaking with Beth Emprimo, who is a 4th year student. So why don’t we start with you telling me a little bit about yourself, Beth.

Beth: I’m from the Berkshire area of Massachusetts. I grew up in a little town called Stockbridge and then I went on to college in Bridgeport, Connecticut at Sacred Heart University where I majored in psychology. I went to UMass Boston for my master’s in counseling and stayed in Boston for five or six years, working and going to school. And then I made my way back to the Berkshires, and I live there now with my husband and my dog, Mulligan.

R: So what are some of your interests outside of psychology?

B: I love to be outside. I think that is one of the reasons why I love living where I live, because there’s a lot to do all seasons, between skiing and snowshoeing and hiking and I like to run and walk the dog. I also love to cook; it’s one of my favorite things to do.

R: Why did you choose to come to GIPP for your doctoral degree?

B: I chose GIPP because I wanted to get a Psy.D. degree as opposed to a Ph.D. because I knew I wanted to focus my interests more in the clinical areas. And when I came to the open house here before I applied, it just seemed like a really good fit in terms of the size of the program, as well as what they had to offer. When I came to the campus, I felt an immediate connection here.

R: What do you do outside of the program?

B: I work right now in a 25-30 hour clinician position. I’m a therapist in an agency called Northwest Center for Family Health. We are now a division of CMHA, which is a bigger agency, and I work in the Lakeville and New Milford offices. My clients range from young kids and families and teenagers to adults and older adults throughout a wide variety of populations. This past year I did part-time research at Austen Riggs in Massachusetts. I also work for CAFAP, which is Connecticut Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents and I do a variety of trainings for foster and adoptive parents around children’s health and mental health. I just started on a task force in my town for kids in the community who are having issues with violence. We are trying to figure out what it is that we need to do, both in terms of prevention and being proactive.

R: Have you found in your experience in GIPP that you have been able to make money while in school?

B: I have. I feel that a lot of the positions that I have taken have been fairly flexible. Obviously, school comes first and it’s full-time. I think that I’ve been lucky enough to find a lot of flexible opportunities that sustain me financially.

R: What are your interests within psychology? I know that you spoke about a couple of things that you’re doing right now.  What is some research you’ve done, or can you talk a little bit about your dissertation?

B: Well actually, I feel like my interests are kind of all over the map. My favorite population, I think, is older adolescents. But, at the same time, in the last few years, I’ve been able to branch out a little bit and work with younger kids and adults, and adults with chronic mental illness, which is a population that I didn’t know I’d want to work with. My caseload now is a combination of kids and families, and then clients with persistent mental illness. In terms of research, I like looking at different populations, especially those who have been in a lot of different treatment facilities and just have not been able to get better. And so that’s a lot of the research I have been doing at Austen Riggs. But I also have an interest in eating and weight disorders, especially now with what is going on in terms of child obesity, as well as disordered eating. So that’s also where the emphasis is placed on my dissertation. I’m using the students here at the University of Hartford, the first year females, and looking at their history of eating and weight behaviors, and looking at shared risk and protective factors.

R: When you first came to the program, or even prior, what were your expectations about what the program would be like?

B: I didn’t really know what to expect. I was very overwhelmed with thinking that I was beginning a doctoral program, and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I had been in a master’s program and finished, but you know, obviously a doctoral program was going to be a lot more intense. I wasn’t sure what kind of support they would be offering, and if the expectations were actually realistic. And I feel like overall, my expectations have been met and exceeded here, in terms of what the program has given to me and in terms of what I have been able to accomplish.

R: What was the transition like from a master’s program to a doctoral program?

B: Well, I had time off in between my bachelor’s and my master’s. And, in between my master’s and my doctorate, I had a lot of different work experiences. I think in some ways that was beneficial, because I came in with some clinical experience. But at the same time, I think it was difficult because I had been working, and then I had to come and settle back into school and studying and that whole routine. And I think that was a little bit more difficult for me, whereas people who come straight from undergrad or graduate programs are kind of already in that routine.

R: What have you liked best about the program?

B: What I’ve liked best is that I feel constantly supported here. I feel like there are faculty who have been very consistent with me and are really accessible. And I’m not sure if it’s like that everywhere. I didn’t necessarily feel that at other programs I attended.  I think the other thing is that I have been able to do a lot of different things. Not just practica, which have been essential, but I have been able to make my own kind of way. Even though obviously we have classes that we need to take and a dissertation to do, I feel like there is a certain flexibility too.

R: What are some other strengths of the program?

B: One of the strengths is that, even though the program has 20 or more people in each class, I feel like there’s still an environment where everyone has a voice and everyone matters, but it still feels like a small program. I also think that, as we go, the program is expanding more in good ways.  I think each year students come from a lot of different places. I think that, when you’re in class with people who have had a lot of different experiences, it makes your experience so much richer in the classroom, in terms of getting to know people and learning from them. I also think in terms of faculty there’s a diversity of experiences in terms of what their interests are and what their backgrounds are.

R: If you could pick one area or one thing to be improved within the GIPP program, what would that one thing be?

B: I think it would probably be supporting students in their research interests. I think that sometimes because we are a Psy.D. program we sometimes fall short of that because we always put clinical first. But at the same time I think because there are more and more psychologists coming out of school, I think that we need to be more competitive and be more well-rounded.  So I think in some ways the program needs to foster that a bit more in terms of supporting students to go and present their research. I think this is actually happening right now. Students are being more supported, and I would like to see a focus on a lot of different areas in terms of diversity. I think in some ways we do have a lot of diverse students in terms of their experiences, but I think in terms of culture, that might be something that we still need to work on, that we really need to expand our program in that way.

R: How would you describe the student-faculty relationship here?

B: I think it’s pretty open. Looking at the experience I’ve had at different schools when I was getting my bachelor’s and my master’s, I don’t think it was as open and accessible. I feel like at this point I can knock on a faculty’s door and if they’re there, they’ll invite me in and we can have a conversation, and I’m not sure if it’s like that everywhere. There’s definitely a feeling that faculty want to help you if they can. I would say that faculty, although you might not have them as a professor, I think a lot of them are still so willing to reach out and help if they can.

R: And on the flip-side, how would you describe the relationship between students, within your class and across classes?

B: I think it’s fairly good. I think in any program there’s going to be certain people that connect more with others. And I think that if you have 20 or so people in a class that there’s going to be some people that obviously seem to have more in common. I think that, overall, we all obviously share the same interests.  Maybe even if it’s not the same exact interest in psychology, I think we’re all here for a reason. Even if we do not share interests in terms of a certain area of psych, I think that we can still learn from that.  I think that, between classes, we don’t always get exposed to students in other classes because they are obviously in different classes and doing different things. I think we do through more social gatherings, but I think that’s not something we can always do because we are studying or we’re in practicum.

R: And I know you spoke a little bit about the diversity within the program, the diversity of experiences, and how one of the improvements could be bringing in a more diverse group of students from different backgrounds. But how do you think the program’s commitment to diversity is manifested within the program in other ways?

B: I think that there’s a desire for diversity in the program. I think that in terms of classes, diversity and multiculturalism and just different experiences are talked about. I think at this point they are very ingrained in what we do and in our experiences and we talk about those. But I really do think that faculty and just the curriculum really tries to draw that out.

R: And what has been your most rewarding experience in the program overall?

B: I think it’s been working in clinical settings that have been fairly challenging, and I think learning to apply the skills that we learn in class. I feel like what I’ve gotten from classes has been very tangible and very appropriate for what I’ve been doing. I feel like learning from our professors and learning from each other and what people are learning from the outside and bringing that into the classroom, and then eventually I can bring that into our clinical settings. I think that I’ve gotten so much out of that, and that is something that, when you’re working outside in the field, we’re not really going to get. After we’re in jobs for a while, we don’t get supervised, and I think that there’s something so wonderful about being in a case conference seminar or a professional seminar that is amazing to be able to bring your experiences inside the classroom and actually talk about those, and be able to go back and forth on what you’re doing and what you can improve. But I also think that’s also been a challenging experience, to be able to kind of put yourself out there and put your clinical skills out there and kind of really test those. And have other people critique those, and also be able to help other people. I think that it’s extremely rewarding, but, at the same time, it’s very challenging because it’s work that is really difficult to do.

R: And it sounds like you’ve had a lot of experiences to take that from. Where do you see yourself going after graduation? What do you plan on doing?

B: Well, I am going to finish internship and go on post-doc, but I see myself working with a variety of populations. My heart has always been working with kids and families, but in a way I feel like I’ve really reached out to other populations and I really do like that. And I think the one thing I like is that going into a place clinically no day is the same. I like the fact that I work with a lot of different populations, so I think that I will always have to somehow be in a clinical area doing therapy as well as testing. But I also think that I’ve enjoyed my experiences with advocacy and with legislative issues, and with the state association, CPA. I’m the kind of person that needs to do a little bit of everything. I’ve also enjoyed some different experiences that I’ve had around policy and just kind of looking at things programmatically. I think that in a way I’ll need to do a little bit of everything.

R: Is there anything else that you would like to add for our prospective students or faculty who may read this interview that I have not touched on?

B: I don’t think so. I mean I would just echo the amazing experience that I’ve had here. I also think that some of that is what students bring. I think that yes, faculty makes it a great place and it’s a great program, but I also think that it’s what individuals bring to it and also what you want to get out of it. And I think that this is the place where you can get a lot out of your experience.

R: That’s a very, very good point. And I thank you.