Alumni Spotlight on… Kerry Makin-Byrd

Q: Why did you choose a career in clinical psychology?

A: I felt drawn to help people, to work to end suffering, and do what I could to stop the intergenerational transmission of violence – plus psychology felt much more stable than acting, my other career love at the time! One thing I didn’t understand that I’m really grateful for now is how both a liberal arts education and postgraduate work can be a license to learn. I think because I was fostered early to understand I could create my own education/career/life using the skills I had, it empowered me to create a diverse and varied career now. I have a private practice, I do national trauma policy and education work for Veterans Health Administration, and I have a blog called centered on mindfulness and compassion practices (informed by current psychological science on health and behavior change).

Q: Could you describe your therapeutic style/orientation? 

A: Hmm, at the root of it I’m a behaviorist, my work is most informed by what psychological science tells us about how we can most efficiently and impactfully reduce suffering and increase patients’ joy and quality of life (be that cognitive, behavioral, or other therapeutic methods). Personally, I’m drawn to Buddhism and mindfulness-based practices and it’s interesting to see the emerging science on how these tools can be used to help people reach their goals and improve their lives.

Q: How do you balance your psychotherapist work and your personal life?

A: Concretely, I work daily to balance in the ever changing flow of expectations and demands. I try to be flexible and mindful, with a few guiding principles: (1) I need sleep, food, and love to sustain my energy, clear thinking, and open heart, so I go to bed early, I eat well (and unhealthily if I want to), and I make sure I’m connected with those I love, especially when it feels like ‘I don’t have time’; (2) as my career has grown, there have frequently been times where it feels like there are 20 “top priorities” and time for only 4 of them. So, I work to be mindful that my time choices are consistent with my life values (compassion, growth, love). That means when I’m spending an hour on Facebook, news, or Netflix, instead of an hour connecting with friends, sleeping, meditating, or cuddling with my husband or daughter, I need to look at what’s going on. In terms of balance, the best thing I’ve learned so far is the importance of ‘walking the walk’ not just talking the talk. It’s good, hard work to create a life focused on what you want to create, in contrast to what an often mindless, financially success-driven society tells you is important.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring therapists and clinicians?

A: Know thyself. 🙂 It sounds odd but I think I spent much of my early graduate school trying to be what I thought other people wanted me to be, instead of investing the time and energy in figuring out where I wanted to grow and become more of myself, using my best strengths and working to address the problems I felt most drawn to, instead of what I thought would look best to my mentors.

Kerry’s IS was titled “The Effects of Skin Tone on Sentencing Bias in Sexual Assault Cases”.

Thank you, Dr. Makin-Byrd!