Active Minds Blog » Jessica Harvath-Hilgeman Changing the conversation about mental health Mon, 11 Jan 2016 13:10:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Emerging Scholars Fellowship: Imposter Phenomenon and Finding a Voice Wed, 03 Jun 2015 08:50:06 +0000 Jessica Harvath-Hilgeman is a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology at the University of Missouri. Her most recent blog post, Making Insomnia a Superpower, uses personal narrative to present academic research. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaHarvHil and on Facebook.

In honor of Active Minds’ suicide prevention mission, Kelly Sheline, doctoral candidate in counseling psychology at Colorado State University and suicide researcher, contributed to Jessica’s blog. Not sure how to talk to a loved one who may be thinking about suicide? Check out her post.

artwork-jessicahh blog

When I heard about the Active Minds Emerging Scholars Fellowship last fall, I thought how amazing it would be to get guidance on combining psychology and creative writing. And immediately after that, I thought: No way. I’ll never get it.

First, Active Minds is an organization dedicated to preventing suicide, particularly in high-school and college-aged populations. I do not research suicide prevention; I do not specialize in working with students.

Second, my project was wildly different from what Active Minds proposed. Unlike the other scholars, I did not propose to conduct my own research. I instead proposed to synthesize the academic writing of established researchers using narrative and creative writing techniques.

Third, I had a case of imposter syndrome. First studied by Clance and Imes in the 70’s, the imposter phenomenon is the feeling people sometimes experience when they believe their success is due to luck or external circumstance, and it’s only a matter of time before they are discovered as incompetent imposters.

So, No way was a somewhat reasonable, if unproductive thought. On the surface, the mission of the Active Minds Emerging Scholars Fellowship is to help researchers share helpful psychological information with the public. But the beauty of the program—and perhaps its deeper mission—is that it empowers researchers to believe they can disseminate to the public. After all, nothing builds self-efficacy—the belief someone has about her ability to complete a task—like actually completing a task.

Here are some of the topics I wrote about in the past six months:

  • Cognitive dissonance, or the discomfort someone feels when they realize they have contradictory beliefs, is an important part of human meaning-making. Leon Festinger first researched cognitive dissonance by watching what happened when a doomsday cult failed to predict the apocalypse in the 1950’s.
  • Puncky Heppner, counseling psychology professor at the University of Missouri, has had a long career teaching compassion and multiculturalism. In an interview, he shared with me how his upbringing and experiences helped him understand people from different backgrounds, and how leading students through difficult experiences abroad increases their empathy for others.
  • Psychological approaches can be used to solve real world problems. In a recent blog post, I explore how disgust can prevent people—primarily Westerners—from eating a sustainable source of protein: insects. Using psychology to help people accept this food source can contribute to sustainable agriculture and increased access to food.

But beyond these topics, I have come to appreciate something deeper: believing you have something useful to contribute is an act of faith. Writing is hard. I feel like an imposter when I write, and I am sure the next person who reads my work will see the sham: shoddy writing scaffolding half-connected psychological concepts.

The act of faith is plodding along anyway, keeping the word processor open when there are more attractive things to do, like clipping Aunt Rita’s toenails. And good writing is the product of consistent plodding. Sometimes.

In sum, thank you to the folks at Active Minds for taking a chance on me. Kaja Perina, it has been unreal and amazing to work with you and learn how to establish my voice. Candace Daniels, you’ve been an utter pleasure to work with. Many, many thanks to you both.

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Emerging Scholars Fellowship: 5 Tips for Getting the Word Out Tue, 07 Apr 2015 19:46:23 +0000 calvin and hobbsGraduate students and professors in psychology are trained the scientific process. Over the course of months and years, researchers add small bits of data to our knowledge of what helps people thrive. We discuss statistically significant results and debate findings among ourselves at conferences and in peer-reviewed academic journals.Of course, everyone can benefit from psychological science, and professional conferences and academic journals are not accessible unless you happen to have or be working toward a graduate degree in psychology. Here’s what I have learned so far about how scientists (or professionals in any field) can translate their work for a broader audience:

  1. Work with someone who knows what they’re doing. (AKA find a good mentor.) Many of the tidbits I’m going to share here come from my Active Minds mentor, Kaja Perina. She has been extremely generous with useful information and advice—the action items she has shared are indispensable. If you don’t have a mentor, find one.
  1. Write. A lot. Or practice whatever medium you will be using to communicate. Academic publishing is often about getting the facts down on the page, and articles are accepted to journals based on the statistics. Writing clearly is a lower priority, but a compelling idea or interesting finding isn’t enough to capture attention. Join a writer’s group and write consistently. I highly recommend How to Write a Lot—you have to love well-written, concise craft books backed by psychological science!
  1. Make the data human. Emotional lessons stick. You may have all the hard data in the world, but people forget statistics about two seconds after learning them. Tell a story. It may be funny, it may be sad, but as long as it’s true, as long as it’s human, you’re giving people a toehold on your data. It’s a long-held writer’s trope: Show, don’t tell. Show your reader why your data makes sense through story.
  1. Know your audience. Before working with Kaja, I had a vague notion of writing essays on topics I found interesting and—hopefully—helpful to other people. My knowledge of what is already out there was (and if I’m honest, still is) extremely inadequate. What magazines (in stores and online) publish psychology, and for what audiences? What are their articles typically like—length, reporting style, topics? How do authors submit or pitch their work? Any magazine will care about the quality of the writing, but even the most eloquent and moving piece won’t find a home if it’s not a good fit with the publication.
  1. Branch out and build a reputation. I had not considered writing a blog or an op-ed before talking with Kaja, but writing for multiple outlets makes sense. “Building a brand” can sound sinister, capitalistic, and even narcissistic, but spreading the word on high quality psychological science helps If you build a reputation for writing well-researched and engaging work, people will trust what you say. I don’t like having my name at the top of my blog, but the stronger the reputation associated with that name, the more I can contribute to making psychology and therapy accessible for all.
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Meet Jessica’s Mentor: Kaja Perina Tue, 10 Mar 2015 08:13:10 +0000 When I applied for the Active Minds Emerging Scholars Fellowship, I created a list of possible mentors in the world of science publishing. In my training and in professional development workshops, I learned a simple truth: If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

I studied the masthead of Psychology Today and Scientific American; I named my favorite behavioral science authors. I did not actually believe anyone listed would have time or energy to invest mentoring someone who had never published. But…if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

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I am thrilled to announce that my National Mentor is the woman at the top of my won’t-get-but-gotta-ask list, Kaja Perina, Editor-in-Chief for Psychology Today. In addition to her regular contributions in PT, Ms. Perina’s work has been anthologized in The Best American Science Writing series. (Check her out on Twitter: @KajaPerina).

When I learned Ms. Perina was willing to volunteer her time and expertise to be a National Mentor, I had to scrape my jaw off the floor. That’s so cool! quickly turned to Don’t mess this up. We talked on the phone, and I realized how much homework I needed to do before finding a home for my writing. (I am also extremely grateful to have the homework—it’s nice to have a direction.)

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Ms. Perina’s first action item: start a blog! Check out my most recent post, 6 Things to Know about your rights in therapy. Stay tuned for weekly updates, and if you like, follow me on Twitter (@JessicaHarvHil) or like me on Facebook. Since I’m new to the form, tweet me instructions for how to use Twitter! (No, really—connect with me and tweet me your favorite Twitter pro tip.)

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Emerging Scholars Fellowship: Meet Jessica Harvath-Hilgeman Tue, 10 Feb 2015 14:56:25 +0000 Photo Credit: Rachel Coward

Photo Credit: Rachel Coward

My name is Jessica Harvath-Hilgeman and I am thrilled to have been selected as an Active Minds Emerging Scholars Fellow. I am a St. Louis, Missouri native, and am currently a doctoral candidate in the counseling psychology program at the University of Missouri in Columbia. I plan to defend my dissertation this spring and begin my doctoral internship in summer—barring bumps in the road, I will graduate in August, 2016.

For my project, I am working on a series of creative non-fiction scientific essays in order to present psychological concepts —specifically, those associated with the connection between brain, body, and behavior — in order to reduce stigma surrounding mental health concerns and therapy.

Those of you in academia are already aware of the importance of peer-reviewed journals for disseminating the latest and greatest scientific research to fellow psychologists. For those unfamiliar with the process, scientists conducting human-subjects research (any research that studies human behavior, including medicine and psychology) must first submit their work to a university internal review board to make sure what they are proposing to do is ethical and avoids harming participants.

Then, with the help of grants, university funding, colleagues, and psychology students, the primary investigator conducts his or her experiment.

After collecting data, entering it into statistics software (and checking it twice), and running analyses, the investigator has results in hand. From there, he or she will typically work with colleagues and students to write up an article, which consists of a literature review (a brief summary of the current scientific research on the study topic), research question (what the investigator is trying to find out), methodology (a description of the experimental design), results (what the analyses showed and whether they were significant), and discussion (what the results mean).

From there, the investigator will submit the article to peer-reviewed journals, and, as the name suggests, the articles are then scrutinized by peers in the field of psychology. Once an article is accepted for publication (usually with edits), it becomes part of the scientific literature and may be used as the basis for future study.

Regular publication in peer-reviewed journals — or productivity— is extremely important for faculty who are working their way through the tenure process. Access to future funding and faculty promotions are based in large part on scholarly productivity.

Unfortunately, however, nowhere in this process is there a clear step for disseminating research to the public. There is a long list of important reasons to intentionally share psychological research with the public — chief among them, to get the word out about behavioral science to the majority of people who are not reading research journals.

He also suggests policymakers are often unaware of the important work psychologists do, and journalists, while important for disseminating research, may be motivated by increasing readership instead of advocating for important issues in public health.

As former APA president George Miller said, “I can imagine nothing we could do that would be more relevant to human welfare, and nothing that could pose a greater challenge to the next generation of psychologists, than to discover how best to give psychology away.”

As someone in the field of psychology, I know we have good stuff; in a small way, I hope that this project contributes to letting others know, too.

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