Tag Archives: self care

Dear Me, Future Psychologist. Yours truly, Dr. Thomas Plante

It’s time for the next installment of Dear me, future psychologist, a gradPSYCH Blog exclusive in which a prominent psychologist writes a letter to his/her 16-year-old self. We hope you enjoy these letters and glean some invaluable wisdom and guidance as you decide whether to enter graduate school in psychology, as you navigate the challenges of graduate school, and as you make decisions about your career and life.Thomas Plante

This letter is from Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP. Dr.  Plante is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J. University Professor and directs the Spirituality and Health Institute at Santa Clara University. He is also an adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. He recently served as vice-chair of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is past-president of the Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (Division 36) of the American Psychological Association. He has authored or edited 21 books including, Graduating with Honor: Best Practices to Promote Ethics Development in College Students (2016, Praeger), Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: A Decade of Crisis, 2002-2012 (2011, Praeger), and Spiritual Practices in Psychotherapy: Thirteen Tools for Enhancing Psychological Health (2009, APA).  He teaches courses in abnormal, clinical, health, and general psychology as well as ethics and maintains a private clinical practice as a licensed psychologist in Menlo Park, CA.






Dear Tommy at 16,Thomas Plante, 16-years-old

This is your 56-year-old self now sending a letter to you (the 16-year-old version).

No matter how thoughtful or wise, advice is so hard to receive since most people need to discover things on their own and often want to do things in their own way and in their own time. Yet, I hope that you will listen to your older, and perhaps wiser self, and consider the following 5 items of advice for your reflection.

  1. Treat everyone, even those you don’t agree with or even don’t like very much, with great kindness and respect. The adult world, even in areas like psychology, higher education, and health care, can be competitive, mean-spirited, and unkind at times. Don’t falter from your efforts to be respectful and compassionate to everyone (even when you are tempted to do otherwise). It will serve you well, you’ll sleep better at night, and it is the just the right thing to do as an ethical human being. In a nutshell, treat others as you wish to be treated and try to see the good and sacred in all. Always remember the words of Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.”
  2. Try your best to surround yourself with people who are ethical, gracious, and are trying to make the world a better place. Our society seems to be getting more and more selfish and narcissistic with an attitude that “it’s all about me.” It isn’t! It’s about “us” and the common good. Stay close to others who are working hard to make the world a more humane, just, and compassionate place and with people who are not too full of themselves. Don’t be afraid to give corrective feedback to those who act entitled, demanding, and narcissistic. And always stand up to people who are bullying and disrespecting others.
  3. Keep up with the rapid changes in society and remember that no matter how fast the world spins, for good or for bad, it is evolving in ways that are often unpredictable and sometimes scary. Hold on for the ride, keep on top of things, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, and don’t get too nostalgic for the “old days.” Remember that we live in the world that we live in and not necessarily in the world that we’d like to live in. Adapt!
  4. Be quick to compliment, thank, and appreciate others. Be grateful. Laugh a lot. And give hugs freely and often.
  5. And finally, in the words of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, “Go set the world on fire!” In other words, go out there and try your very best to make the world a better place! Be part of the solution and not part of the problem. The world so desperately needs humble helpers of good will and kindness focused on the common good. Be that person!

May life be kind to you and may you be blessed with good health, healthy loving relationships, hearty laughter, and a vocation that gives you great meaning, purpose, and joy.

Your older (and perhaps a bit wiser) self,


Editor’s Note: Dear Me, Future Psychologist is inspired by the Dear Me book series by Joseph Galliano. Special thanks to David A. Meyerson, Ph.D. for creating this series for the gradPSYCH Blog. Please check out other letters in this series from Dr. Howard Gardner, Dr. Robert Sternberg, Dr. Mitchell Prinstein, and Dr. Phil Zimbardo.

Dear Me, Future Psychologist. Yours Truly, Dr. Phil Zimbardo

It’s time for the next installment of Dear me, future psychologist, a gradPSYCH Blog exclusive in which a prominent psychologist writes a letter to his/her 16-year-old self. We hope you enjoy these letters and glean some invaluable wisdom and guidance as you decide whether to enter graduate school in psychology, as you navigate the challenges of graduate school, and as you make decisions about your career and life.

This letter is from Dr. Philip G.  Zimbardo. Dr. Zimbardo is the Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University, two-time past president of the Western Psychological Association and past president of the American Psychological Association. He became known for his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment and has since authored numerous psychology books, text books and other notable works, including The Lucifer Effect, The Time Paradox and The Time Cure. He is also the founder and president of the Heroic Imagination Project.




FROM THE DESK OF Phil Zimbardo:

Greetings to my youth-filled, 16-year old, skinny Phil!

From my ripe, old vantage point of 83 years of age, I want to share with you some psychological wisdom I have gathered over many decades of teaching, conducting a variety of research studies, writing books of all kinds, and  making educational videos.

First, I recall that you still live in the South Bronx of New York City, where you were born and bred, and now you are attending James Monroe High School, after returning there from a year’s journey with your family to North Hollywood, California. One of your most interesting classmates is Stanley Milgram, who was voted the smartest kid in the senior class, while you were voted the most popular boy. Nice award, especially recalling that you were the least popular student last year at North Hollywood High School!  In fact, you were openly shunned by everyone because they thought you had Mafia connections, because you were a Sicilian from New York, and therefore potentially dangerous.

But what changed in going from most undesirable kid to most desirable kid in a short time? In your discussions with little Stanley, he suggested that it was the “situation” and not your personality that had changed. You were the same inner person, but that was defined differently in those two different situations. So keep an eye on that kid – when Stanley grows up, he might have something significant to say about situational forces dominating individual dispositions.

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Now that you’ve submitted your internship application…

For many students training to be Health Service Providers (HSP), the internship application process tends to be one of the most stressful periods of their graduate school training. Preparing applications by looking through training brochures of multiple internship sites, writing cover letters, completing essays, logging hours… the list goes on. It is difficult to really practice self-care during this intensive process, and sometimes we find ourselves struggling to complete an application in the eleventh hour. A number of sites have early deadlines, some before November, while others go straight through to the end of November/early December. Students can choose different ways of submitting their applications, some opting to submit in batches, based on deadlines, while others may opt to submit all applications at one time.

If you’ve finished submitting your application at this point, CONGRATULATIONS! This is the perfect time to take a break!


Some students may be thinking, “Now is the time to prepare for my interviews, plan travel, etc.” As someone who has been through this same process last year and also taking part in it again this year, my advice is this: DON’T DO IT.

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Dear Me, Future Psychologist. Yours truly, Dr. Mitchell Prinstein

It’s time for the next installment of Dear me, future psychologist, a gradPSYCH Blog exclusive in which a prominent psychologist writes a letter to his/her 16-year-old self. We hope you enjoy these letters and glean some invaluable wisdom and guidance as you decide whether to enter graduate school in psychology, as you navigate the challenges of graduate school, and as you make decisions about your career and life.

mitchThis letter is from Mitchell Prinstein, PhD, ABPP. Dr. Prinstein is the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and the Director of Clinical Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Mitch’s research examines interpersonal models of internalizing symptoms and health risk behaviors among adolescents, with a specific focus on the unique role of peer relationships in the developmental psychopathology of depression and self-injury. He is the PI on several past and active grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Child and Human Development, and several private foundations. He serves as the Editor for the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, and is an editorial board member for several developmental psychopathology journals.






Dear 16-Year-Old Me,

Hey! I’m you thirty years from now!  I know you must have a million questions, and I’ll try to tell you everything you want to know, but first things first:  yes, you will be over five feet tall.  Not by much, but you finally will start growing any day now!  Great job hanging in there for so long!

Guess what! You’re also going to be wildly ecstatic about your career choice!  It’s going to take a little time and struggle to get to that point too, however.  When you get to college, you’ll get wrapped up in all kind of questions about psychology vs. advertising vs. law, and you’ll end up sending in applications for law school and clinical psychology Ph.D. programs at the same time.  It will be tough.  Everyone will have an opinion on what is best for you – what seems most prestigious, what will earn you the most money, etc.  Don’t worry – the choice becomes pretty obvious just a few minutes into your first interview at doctoral programs.  You end up picking what you genuinely love, and that ends up more important than anything else.

For real – if you choose your path to make someone else happy, you will have a job, but if you choose what makes you truly happy, you will have a passion for life.

On internship, it will start all over again. You’ll start debating whether you want to stay in a med school environment or pursue your dream of a traditional arts and sciences job.  Even after you get tenure, you’ll fret over how much time to invest in your research versus university administration, or even service to the profession.  Your career will be filled with these kinds of decisions and questions.  But that’s the great thing about the path we’ve chosen, I think.  There are so many options, and so many ways to make a difference.  Clinical psychologists can do a ton, and there are many paths that lead to helping others.  Over the next thirty years you will hear so many of your friends in other fields complain that they feel stuck in their jobs, or bored with their careers.  But in psychology we pick what we love, and we can even change over time.  It really is the best job in the world!

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that most of your research will focus on relationships. But it turns out that this isn’t only an important area of study for you.  Professional relationships also will be where you find the energy to keep your career going for the next three decades.  It starts with the two most amazing mentors you can have – Annette La Greca and Tony Spirito.  They will teach you how to work with students, how to give back to the field, and how to meet trainees where they are while encouraging them to reach for more.  You will spend your entire career trying to be half the mentor that they were for you.  Relationships will also be the feature that makes you happiest in your department.  No one wakes up to look at their pay stub, and no one is addressed by their fancy title every day.  What gets you out of bed every morning is the excitement that comes from being part of a team that shares common goals and values each other.  It’s really quite simple, but so often forgotten in too many settings, and by too many applicants who make decisions based on factors ultimately far less important, in my opinion.

Last, you will find that the relationships you create with your own trainees will give you the greatest joy in your career. You will learn from them, you will care for them, and you will find their successes far more sweet than anything that happens to you.  This is what makes you happy at work.

Can I mention just a few more things you should keep a look out for while in graduate school and beyond?

  1. Don’t work too hard. You only get to be in your twenties once in your life, and it’s important you learn to balance your personal and professional demands. You’ll hear this a lot from people along the way, but it will seem harder to execute than you realize. Here’s the key – just commit to yourself. You won’t find it hard to commit four years of your life to graduate school just to fuel your career – let yourself commit a few hours each week for just for you too. Just block it off on your calendar and stick to it. Check out a few improv and acting classes while you are in South Florida – you will like those. Hit the gym a little too while you are at it. You could stand to gain a little weight.
  2. Learn how long it takes to accomplish a task well, and schedule only that amount of time to do it.
  3. You will learn way more about clinical work in one full-time internship year than you will in little bits and pieces throughout grad school, so don’t expect yourself to be so competent until then.
  4. As you finish grad school, the internship application process will stress the hell out of you. But it will give you a chance to reflect on your career and your unique identity as a psychologist like you never had before, and for that you will be grateful.
  5. You are a bit perfectionistic and pretty determined. That’s what helped you keep a perfect attendance record from kindergarten until high school graduation, and it will serve you well in other ways over the next thirty years too. But be warned: you will be surrounded by people who are amazingly productive, accomplished, impactful, and even “famous.” It will be intimidating at times, and inspiring at others. Let me let you off the hook now: you will never be one of them. And that’s OK. It’s not about you. And it’s not about the number of your pubs, or citations, or how many people know your name. It’s about the whole field working together, helping each other, and using science to learn the truth based on each other’s discoveries.
  6. In about 25 years, there will be something called Twitter. Resist it. It is the devil.
  7. There is no one way to be successful in this career. And even for every outcome you may hope for, there is no single way to get there. Don’t get too fixated on any dream. Drift with the tide a little and you may find options that you didn’t even know existed. Not only is this a good way to stay open-minded, but it also takes the pressure off big time.
  8. You will love clinical work, research, teaching, and service. Each takes time and dedication to do well. Pick two you want to focus on. Add a third 10 years later.
  9. Every day during your pre-tenure years, you will repeat the following mantra: Have learning goals, not performance goals. In other words, expect imperfections, and take every failure as an opportunity to learn something new. The pre-tenure years are your faculty-in-training years. You’re not supposed to know how to do it yet. So expect that you will stumble more often than not, and by the time you get to tenure, you may be starting to figure it out.
  10. Related, much of what it takes to succeed as a faculty member is based on skills that are not taught in grad school. Start reading books on management, accounting, mentoring, small business skills, and negotiation now!
  11. Last but not least, you will find that our field kind of stinks at sharing what it knows with the world. This is a shame because there is no scientific discipline that has greater potential to change the lives of humanity as many times a day as does psychology. Think about whether you can help make a difference by helping encourage folks towards public education.

I hope this is helpful advice for you, Mitch! Good luck with the next thirty years, and make sure you take mental snapshots along the way!  Meanwhile, I’m going to go check email (you’ll learn what that is in about five years) and see if there’s a letter from me when I am 76!  I sure would love to learn how the second half turns out!

Editor’s Note: Dear Me, Future Psychologist is inspired by the Dear Me book series by Joseph Galliano. Special thanks to David A. Meyerson, Ph.D. for creating this series for the gradPSYCH Blog. Please check out other letters in this series from Dr. Howard Gardner and Dr. Robert Sternberg.

An Account of Invisible Disability in Graduate Psychology Training

“But you look so healthy, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

You would never know that I have a disability from just looking at me. To most people, I appear to be healthy and well-adjusted for my age. Enrolled in a doctoral clinical program, doing well in my coursework, taking on extra curricular activities – from an objective viewpoint, it is easy to assume that I lead a similar life to most people my age in my situation. Yet the very fact that things seem normal is one of the most challenging aspects to an invisible disability. Unless I go out of my way to explain it, you would likely never know that I suffer from severe tinnitus and hyperacusis, or constant ringing in the ears and extreme sensitivity to sound.

“Oh I get tinnitus sometimes, too. You should just ignore it like I do.”

Although increasingly common, issues of tinnitus and hyperacusis are not widely understood, nor is there a clear way of measuring what makes someone’s condition severe (Blasing, Goebel, Flotzinger, Berthold, & Kroner-Herwig, 2010). Unlike hearing impairment, in which the limitations of hearing are objectively measured by a hearing test, the methods for measuring tinnitus are far more subjective. Therefore, people tend to measure tinnitus severity by the amount of stress that people who encounter it experience – tinnitus generally falls into the basic categories of bothersome and non-bothersome. For the bothersome type, there are several remedies with an evidence basis, including various audiological interventions that incorporate psychoeducational counseling (Chan, 2009).

Additionally, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) protocols have all been shown to alleviate tinnitus-related distress to varying degrees (Gans, Cole, & Greenberg, 2015; Hesser, Westin, Hayes, & Andersson, 2009). Yet once all of these have been attempted, and the person experiencing the tinnitus and hyperacusis is still not well, current available interventions have little else to offer. Having founded a support group in Palo Alto that is part of a national network and witnessing the pain and despair tinnitus can cause firsthand, I can personally attest to the widespread need for more effective treatments and interventions.

 “Sorry, but I can’t lower the music volume because the other customers want it turned up loud.”

The challenges I face with tinnitus and hyperacusis have impacted every area of my life. While providing me with a sense of mission to contribute to research and advocacy for individuals with my condition and other invisible disabilities, the path to get there has been thoroughly demanding and challenging. Simple things like riding on public transportation, food shopping, and being in noisy restaurants are all potentially painful situations for me. Urban environments are also dangerous, considering the regularity of emergency vehicle sirens, construction, car horns, loud motorcycles, and other frequent noise. At a more personal level, I have even had to tell people that their voice or laugh is too loud, and ask if they can speak more quietly when I am nearby. Frequently, my conditions become exacerbated if I do not have an opportunity to advocate for myself and explain to people the unusual nature of my sound sensitivity so that it may be accommodated.

“If the class gets too loud for you, you can just leave.”

While I am grateful to be engaged in a course of study that I am passionate about, it is a constant challenge to maintain an effective balance between self-care and productivity. Graduate level training in psychology is thoroughly demanding of a person’s physical and emotional resources, particularly considering clinical placements that may require long commutes on top of endless hours of coursework and research requirements. My condition results in frequent exhaustion and difficulty sleeping, with the symptoms often intensified resulting from stress and demands of graduate school. Excessive fatigue is common when someone experiences a disability (Olkin, 1999); by sheer requirement of rest alone, it takes more time to get the same amount of things done. In my case, many aspects of my training are limited and guided by my condition, starting from choosing a school that has parking access and adequate disability resources. Other aspects of the process are restrictive for me too, as clinical training placements involving families with small children and milieu settings with youth are frequently quite loud and therefore not compatible with my illness. Even socializing can be a challenge, as my condition is worsened from time spent in large groups of people in which many conversations are happening. I must rely on my professors, supervisors, and peers to understand and help when I need accommodations for my disability, and even when I must leave a potentially harmful situation for me.

“Oh come on, this can’t be too loud, we’re just having fun.”

Explaining this is frequently difficult. When it’s people’s lifetime experience that being in social situations is a good thing, and they display the best of intentions by wanting me to be there. It can be very hard to articulate how challenged I am by being in the places where people gather such as restaurants, parties, and bars. As such, I am left out of much social activity that I used to partake in and that used to be a resource for me – having a disability requires constant re-adaptation to life, and often in isolation from others.

Diversity factors among graduate students include all the varied forms in which disability manifests. While mobility issues obviously must be accounted for, greater awareness of other types of disabilities, including less visible, chronic disabilities such as endometriosis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, brain injury, fibromyalgia, and other common conditions such as tinnitus and hyperacusis still require greater awareness among the general public. In this time when diversity is becoming an ever more present dimension of clinical proficiency, it is essential that training programs incorporate greater awareness of the potential impact of disability on people’s lives.

“Well, at least you don’t have a real disability.”

Despite the challenges my disability has put me through, it has been my experience that people truly want to help – even when they aren’t sure how. Yet sadly, often it is the case that when things become too challenging to attend to, it is a culturally consistent reaction to tend to look away. Many of the needs of people who experience limitations due to their disability may be solved by a very simple method – don’t be afraid to ask what it’s like for them, and how you may be able to help. Even just being recognized for dealing with the challenge of an invisible disability can be a huge relief.

About the Author:

Ben Greenberg is a fourth-year doctoral clinical psychology student at the American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University, San Francisco. A former professional symphony French horn player, he played in the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Jerusalem Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic, and Cairo Opera Orchestra before leaving his career due to debilitating tinnitus and hyperacusis. He is currently a grant recipient of the American Tinnitus Association for his research in the impact of sound sensitivity in tinnitus, and lives in Oakland, CA.



Blasing, L., Goebel, G., Flotzinger, U., Berthold, A., & Kroner-Herwig, B. (2010). Hypersensitivity to sound in tinnitus patients: An analysis of a construct based on questionnaire and audiological data. International Journal of Audiology, 49(7), 518-526. doi: 10.3109/14992021003724996

Chan, Y. (2009). Tinnitus: Etiology, classification, characteristics, and treatment. Discovery Medicine, 8(42), 133-136. Retrieved from: http://www.discoverymedicine.com/Yvonne-Chan

Gans, J., Cole, M., & Greenberg, B. (2015). Sustained Benefit of Mindfulness-Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction (MBTSR) in Adults with Chronic Tinnitus: a Pilot Study. Mindfulness. doi: 10.1007/s12671-015-0403-x

Hesser, H., Westin, V., Hayes, S. C., & Andersson, G. (2009). Clients’ in-session acceptance and cognitive defusion behaviors in acceptance-based treatment of tinnitus distress. Behavior Research and Therapy, 47(6), 523-528. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2009.02.002

Olkin, R. (1999). What psychotherapists should know about disability. New York: Guilford Press.