Alumni Spotlight on… Dave McNew

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the program you are attending?

A: The Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) Clinical Psychology program at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania is a highly involved program of study and practice, ranked among the top 5 of its kind in the country. From the start, we receive personal mentoring (from faculty and an upper year student) as well as hands-on opportunities to develop clinical and cognitive/personality assessment experience. In the meantime, students are encouraged to collaborate with faculty on research projects and attend regional conventions and workshops.

As the years go on, the balance between classroom courses and practical experiences shifts increasingly toward the latter. Short and structured clinical interview training paves the way for rotation through several internal clinics during years 2 and 3. Years 3 and 4 incorporate external practicum placements (for class credit), as well as the development and defense of the doctoral thesis. Year 5 is the internship, which can take place in virtually any city in the country. Along the way, there are ample opportunities to work with faculty who espouse a variety of theoretical orientations, then apply these new techniques in the training clinics. The ability to explore and integrate prepares us to be flexible in tackling wider ranges of cases in both assessment and therapeutic contexts.

As opposed to Ph.D. programs where prospective students apply to individual openings beneath specific faculty (and are essentially “locked in” with him or her for the duration of the program), Psy.D. programs such as IUP’s operate such that students become part of a cohort. This tends to foster more collaboration than competition, as funding and research opportunities are made accessible to all, not only to those faculty/student pairs with a grant. The professors in our program are very vocal in encouraging us to try collaborating with various research faculty research partners: the cultivation of our research/clinical skill is more important that dedication to a single mentor who may be the best fit in terms of personality or intellectual interest.

Q: How has your time at Wooster helped you achieve your goals?

A: Wooster set the stage in ways I could never have fully planned or appreciated in the moment. I did not apply directly to the Psy.D. program at IUP; rather, the experiences at friendships at Wooster set the stage for several years of further study, travel, and personal development. I volunteered with Americorps in NYC, taught abroad in Bangkok, earned an MA in general Psychology at Hunter College CUNY, and did another stint of teaching through the JET Programme in Tokyo. Wooster, as well as the opportunities it afforded me after, led me to be here now. Wooster was the first place where I was actively encouraged to explore more provocative, engaging, and challenging material- and the breadth of it! That matters. Psychopathology grows from and is treated through so many intersecting contexts, personal and social. Wooster brought me to the place where I could live through a number of them firsthand before initiating my formal training. It was the place where the diversity of the student body, the material of study, and the expertise, engagement, and personal attention of the faculty gelled to make something more than the sum of its parts. I’d do it all over in a heartbeat.

Q: How did you decide which programs to apply to?

A: When applying to different Clinical Psychology programs, I juggled a number of factors. I had research experience from senior I.S. at Wooster and from my master’s program, so that led me to weigh Ph.D. programs. The theoretical orientations espoused by the faculty mattered as well: I wanted exposure to the prevailing approaches to treatment as well as the option to integrate other modalities as I saw fit. Finances will of course be a consideration, and that is a major tradeoff between the Psy.D/Ph.D. split. IUP is lucky enough to offer partial remission and assistantships to its students, though that is admittedly a rarity. I switched horses midstream and fell in love with the Psy.D. model during the interview process, actually: the freedom to explore and collaborate (a la Wooster) compared to the (relative) competition and rigidity of Ph.D. programs swayed me. Are the students happy with what they do, where they’re going? Are they accepted at high rates to internships of their choice? If yes, that’s another good sign. Of course, the research vs. practice angle is another important consideration, but remember there is flexibility both ways. When I began to imagine myself as a college counselor at an international university, a senior consultant for peer mental health counselors in the JET Programme in Japan, or working for Doctors Without Borders, I was ready to go the practice-oriented Psy.D. route.

Q: What advice do you have for current Wooster students?

A: Get to know your professors. Do research with them. Ask questions in class, and hang around after to ask more questions. Be a TA. I did not grasp the unique position COW students have with such a low student to faculty ratio, plus the sheer number of research opportunities. I was swapping stories with my girlfriend about applying to grad schools; she had attended a massive school with auditorium-style classes. Reaching out for a recommendation after graduation was the first personal interaction she had with most of her profs, which doesn’t necessarily guarantee the most compelling letters. Instrumental benefits aside, the personal mentorship alongside I.S. is not something to be taken lightly. (And when they drop book recommendations in class, jump all over it. Your wiser self will thank you.)

Also, get to know people different from yourself. The degree of diversity among students is one of COW’s greatest assets. What you will learn will surprise you. In the same vein, get out of your comfort zone and try your hand at as many different student groups as possible: go backpacking in the Smokies, try singing acapella, take up an intramural sport. There is no telling where these things can lead.

Finally, don’t be afraid to take a gap year or two.

Q: What drew you to Clinical Psychology?

A: The idea of sitting in a room and having a series of conversations that lead to another person’s healing sounded like something akin to magic, or about as close as we’re going to get to it. Reading a book (given away by Dr. Bill Scott upon his retirement from the Wooster Psychology department) where Carl Roger’s talks about “being a midwife to new personalities” stirred my imagination further: I wanted to do that for other people. Sitting up all night hashing out problems with friends was my bread and butter; why not learn to do it more effectively, maybe even make a living out of it? Here was a chance to weave together seemingly disparate threads of interest: mindfulness meditation discovered while living in Thailand is a component of many therapies. Journaling about one’s problems can become “expressive writing”, and has stress-reducing effects. Jogging—or any physical movement—is a natural mood enhancer, and is prescribed under the name “behavioral activation”. From the problems to their solutions, all of it is intellectually engaging- a prerequisite for anything I would consider doing as my life’s work.

Dave’s IS was titled “Fighting the Inevitable: The Effects of Religious Orientation and Mortality Salience on Self-Esteem and Anxiety” and was advised by Susan Clayton.

Thank you, Dave!