30 years of love and labor

This month, it is exactly 30 years ago that I started my first job as a researcher at the Department of Psychiatry at Utrecht University. It was June 1986. I had just graduated with an MSc in Clinical Psychology. Two months earlier, I had completed my 9-month clinical internship at a counseling center in Eugene, Oregon. Still ‘wet behind the ears’, I was accepted to conduct three years of research on panic disorder and agoraphobia in relation to the so-called hyperventilation syndrome, under the guidance of Drs. Bert Garssen and Floor Kraaimaat. The job market for clinical psychologists was extremely tight at the time. I felt fortunate to have gotten this research job. Dr. Kraaimaat also offered me the opportunity to be trained as a cognitive behavioral therapist, which I gladly accepted, although it meant basically working day and night. I would never leave the joint career path of scientist and practitioner.

Thirty years is a long time, and if I count the hours, I probably have worked about as many as I have spent sleeping, over the course of my life so far. Thinking back of those countless working hours, I remember the first manuscript I prepared for publication. It was a review paper in Dutch about the relevance of the therapist-client alliance for the effectiveness of psychotherapy. I worked long nights to process the feedback from the editor of the Dutch Journal of Psychotherapy who was quite meticulous; I believe there were ultimately three rounds of revisions, so my stamina was truly tested. This first experience would be the foreboding of a scientific writing career, in which every research paper, book chapter or review came under the scrutiny of my own and other scholars’ critical eye, within the system of academic peer review. I have now served in the role of journal reviewer and associated editor myself, thus demonstrating the beauty of academia: one generation teaches the next one the skills of research and academic writing, for free. In a world that has become so dominated by monetary value, I cherish the fact that academia still has these niches where goodness, truth and beauty prevail.

Tijdschrift voor Psychotherapie [Netherlands Journal of Psychotherapy], 13, 255-265.Psychotherapie artikel 1987

Reminiscing about three decades of labor, I feel blessed in so many ways. Yes, I worked hard, and sometimes too hard, but I was also given lots of opportunities by senior clinicians, researchers and managers in the field. I was asked to give workshops across the Netherlands and in many other countries, among them Finland and the USA. I met so many wonderful colleagues across the globe at the many different conferences and scientific meetings that I attended over the years. Many of these clinical and forensic psychologists have become friends, and we share holidays and family events whenever we can. The deep gratitude that comes with meeting like-minded professionals, who share similar interests and ideals, is one of the highlights of my working life.

I have about one decade to go before official retirement (for myself, I do not foresee an unofficial retirement). Sometimes I have been discouraged because of unfair sanctions of review boards and unbalanced media portrayals. But hey, shit happens. What keeps me going is when I get an e-mail from a former Greek student who says she’s so thankful for her training in our two-year Master’s program in Forensic Psychology, because she is using her knowledge and skills in her work at the Greek police now. What keeps me going is a letter from a prisoner, who is still grateful for the forensic mental health evaluation of him that I conducted 10 years ago. What keeps me going is a young professional who works at Veilig Thuis (Safe Home) who shares the positive effect on her work of an evidence-based interview method that we recently introduced. What keeps me going is the fact that I still observe so much misunderstanding and stigma surrounding mental health and substance use problems, domestic violence, and sexual violence (to name a few), that I believe we need to keep spreading evidence-science to the general public.

stand-up-to-stigma1

All of these work activities could not have been performed by me alone. All work is teamwork. To all my bright, dedicated and generous colleagues, I say thank you for 30 years of fulfilling labor, and I look forward to the next half :).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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