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MSPP Rapport

A Newsletter from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology

MSPP Unites with Wheelock College to Help Students Earn Both a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Five Years

“If a student is certain of his or her interest in a career in psychology, Wheelock College and MSPP are providing a very exciting opportunity,” says Jackie Jenkins-Scott, president of Wheelock College. She, along with MSPP President Nicholas Covino and the faculties of boths schools, have designed a unique partnership that will allow Wheelock students to earn both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in mental-health counseling within five years.

Wheelock and MSPPUnder the landmark agreement, students wishing to enter the growing field of mental-health counseling can complete their undergraduate education at Wheelock in as little as three years and then earn a two-year master’s degree from MSPP. Both programs qualify the graduates to pursue licensure in Massachusetts as Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC).

According to Jenkins-Scott, MSPP and Wheelock started talking in 2008 about ways to work together after discovering their shared educational philosophy: “There was great chemistry between the two administrations and faculties, and the conversations leading to the joint program took only a few months.”

Wheelock students majoring in any non-licensure undergraduate curricula can enroll in the program, which has its own set of required courses. They may then choose to enter one of two graduate degree programs at MSPP: Counseling Psychology or Forensic & Counseling Psychology.

“This program says to our students that they can plan on a career and move directly into a well-respected graduate program without having to go through the usual career search following their undergraduate studies. They will be able to go to the front of the line even before they graduate from Wheelock,” says Jenkins-Scott.

According to Dr.Covino, MSPP is also pleased with the arrangement. “Wheelock’s rich history of experiential education, cultural diversity and its curricular emphasis on human development are an excellent preparation for graduate work at MSPP,” he says, adding that the new affiliation will not only streamline the process for students already committed to mental-health careers, it will also ensure the continued quality of graduate candidates for MSPP.

The new program has already stimulated significant interest among Wheelock students, exemplified by the turnout at the first introductory event that described curriculum, held earlier this fall. Fifteen students attended. The program will initially accommodate 17.

Dr. Jenkins-Scott notes a general increase in students thinking about and majoring in social work and human development—Wheelock’s equivalent areas of study. And, both Wheelock and MSPP administrations and faculties acknowledge an escalating need for skilled mental-health professionals in a range of settings .

“Today’s professionals have the chance to share their talents in schools, hospitals, the community, courts and business, to name a few,” says Covino. “This dual-degree program will position students for a job market that is constantly growing and changing.”

According to Jenkins-Scott, more undergraduate institutions are looking at the possibility of five-year bachelor's/master’s programs not only to enhance the attractiveness of their students as professionals, but also to relieve the financial burden on the student.

Students who receive early admission to MSPP will have to successfully complete their Wheelock requirements and maintain a 3.3 grade-point average to be considered in good standing at MSPP, according to Jenkins-Scott. Additionally, these students will complete the full MSPP application process, including an interview, before gaining acceptance to the program.

Students may also take the traditional four-year period to gain their undergraduate degree from Wheelock, or they may opt to enroll in the accelerated track. With attendance during two summer semesters, they will be able to complete their bachelor degree requirements in three years, which will allow them to begin graduate study during what would have otherwise been their senior undergraduate year.

The first dual-degree students are expected to apply this semester as sophomores, complete their senior year early and arrive at MSPP in 2011.

“We are looking forward to meeting with these candidates and to working with them over the next several years,” says Covino.

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MSPP’s Warmlines Receives Praise as Life Saver From Boston Parents’ Paper

“Expect stress, accept help, forgive yourself and enjoy your baby." These are a few of the messages heard by thousands of new parents over the past 30 years from the staff of WarmLines, this special family social service agency in Newton. This year Boston Parents' Paper, honored the unique resource, now a program of the Freedman Center for Child & Family Development at MSPP, with its 2009 Family Advocacy Award, praising it as "a lifeline for new moms."

Boston Parents PaperSince 1989, Boston Parents’ Paper has honored "the people and organizations who work quietly, steadfastly and often behind the scenes to help Massachusetts’ children and families in need." says the magazine.

"This is a well-deserved recognition for an organization that has made an enormous difference in the lives of Greater Boston families. We hope that this public acknowledgement will remind families of the programs available to help them as they face the joys and challenges of parenthood,” says Margaret Hannah, the executive director of MSPP’s Freedman Center, which now directs and supports the work of WarmLines. MSPP acquired the agency last year and provides additional psychological expertise for the agency’s programs.

Rif and Joan Freedman"WarmLines is a shining example of the kind of caring services for parents and children that my wife, Joan, and I have dedicated ourselves and our resources to, and we are thrilled that the Boston Parents' Paper has chosen to recognize WarmLines' special contribution,” states Richard Freedman, co-founder of MSPP’s Freedman Center for Child and Family Development.

According to Julie McLaughlin, a parent who attended the WarmLines class, Parenting across the Spectrum, "I was so happy to find a local organization offering support groups and to have the opportunity to share my experiences of parenting with other parents and a trained facilitator. Through this group I have made new friends that my husband and I will count on for additional support as we navigate the challenges of parenting."

Some of WarmLines programs mentioned specifically by the Boston Parents’ Paper are New Babies/New Moms groups, where new moms can ask questions, share experiences and find support and friendship. WarmLines also provides parenting seminars, child- and elder-care referrals, and consulting to local companies on balancing work and family life, and lectures on child-development and childrearing topics to professionals who work with parents and kids. Some of the most popular classes include the Music Stay-and-Play series, and special topic discussion and support groups, such as Support Along the Spectrum, for parents of young children diagnosed with autism, and Navigating the Rocky Road of Adolescence, for parents of teenagers.

One of “20 Enduring Heroes for Families" recognized by the Boston Parents’ Paper this year, WarmLines at MSPP’s Freedman Center joins such honorees as Robert Brooks, Edward Hallowell, the Massachusetts Children’s Trust Fund, Project Bread and the Federation for Special Needs.

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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage

Hispanic Heritage Month is a time set aside each year to recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans and to celebrate Hispanic heritage and culture. Begun as a one-week observance in 1968 by President Lyndon Johnson, it was expanded to 30 days (September 15 to October 15) under President Ronald Reagan in 1988.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and MSPP's commitment to Latino mental health, this issue of Rapport will share some perspectives from students in the Latino Mental Health Program which is designed to train Spanish speaking and culturally sensitive psychologists to work with Latinos, the fastest growing population in the US.

In the first article below, six students who have completed three summer immersion programs in Latin America, will share their experiences; the second article will profile Michelle Contreras, a Guatemalan psychologist who is in her third year of training for her Clinical Psychology PsyD at MSPP, and who, through the Boston-based Project REACH, is assisting victims of human trafficking across the United States.

The Latino Mental Health Program (LMHP) is part of the Dr. Cynthia Lucero Center, which commemorates and continues the legacy of Cynthia Lucero, an MSPP graduate from Ecuador who died during the 2002 Boston Marathon. The program is one of the first in the country with such an intensive focus on developing advanced competency in Spanish language and culture, and to require summer immersion programs in various Latin American countries.

Since its inception in 2006, LMHP, which will present each newly minted psychologist with a certification for “Specialty Studies and Training in Latino Mental Health,” has grown from six to 43.

Students in Latino Mental Health Program
Share Summer of Immersion

The original six students admitted to the Latino Mental Health Program have now completed their two summer immersion programs in Costa Rica and Ecuador, and four of them have completed a third immersion in Guatemala. In June, 2010, Aimee Asgarian, Jeanine Baillie, Zachary Blumkin, Christina Massari, Juan Rodriguez and George Soto are expected to graduate with their PsyD degrees and begin their careers.

“It is both satisfying and a little sad for me to see the students graduate and go out into the world to carry out the mission of serving the Latino community,” reflects Dr. Amaro Laria, director of the LMHP, “ but I can say proudly that a common theme expressed by these upcoming graduates to our new LMHP students is, 'no matter how prepared you think you are, this will be an incredible, life-changing experience, not only professionally, but personally as well.’”


Four of the original six LMHP students, who spoke beginner to intermediate Spanish, underwent intensive training focused on language for six hours a day over five weeks. The students lived with working-class Costa Rican families, in a rural area where cows were led by farmers along the roadside. They walked to classes held in palm-thatch huts on a hacienda, which nevertheless offered internet access and cable television. Friday afternoons were for field trips, such as to a Spanish colonial town, as well as a state psychiatric hospital.

As native Spanish-speaking students, George (already a licensed, practicing social worker) and Juan were exceptions to the language training. Sharing living quarters, they became involved in an intensive volunteer program, offering their services at six sites, three of which were shelters for adolescent women, all victims of abuse. They also offered counseling services in an improvised clinic at the language school, using the language classroom palm-thatch huts as therapy rooms.

The six students were unanimous in their praise of the warmth and friendliness of the Costa Rican people. “My Costa Rican family insisted that I take part in a pilgrimage that occurs every year in the late summer. I ended up walking 26 miles to a church in Cartago, which took eleven hours. The whole experience was moving and made a lasting impression on me of how important religion is to many Costa Ricans,” says Zachary.

“Flexibility is key in our ability to adjust to the difference in U.S. and Costa Rican cultural norms to provide effective mental health services. These bring up important ethical issues,” says Amaro. “For example, mothers who live in a shelter and who were receiving volunteer services were invited with their infants to the language school for one afternoon. The mothers swam and played in the pool, while the students watched the children. Afterwards, the mothers were immensely grateful for the experience, especially to see that someone showed interest in them. You could never do anything like that in the US with all the ethical red tape and bureaucracy.”

Summer Immersion


Divided into two teams at the main psychiatric hospital in the large, bustling city of Guayaquil, the MSPP students shadowed the mental health professionals and learned how the psychiatric hospital worked within the Ecuadorian health care system.

According to Jeanine, this was considered a very tough site even for local psychologists-in-training, because of the severity of psychopathology that the patients presented. “The patients seemed over-medicated, and some were even strapped to beds. What we were witnessing was the type of mental health care predominant in the US in the 50s and 60s," she says, adding that the hospital administration and clinicians are doing an admirable job considering their lack of resources.

Other sites also became available for training, and Aimee took advantage of this option in order to receive a broader sense of the mental health field in Ecuador. “As a result, my work included two to three days offering psychological services in a health clinic in some of Guayaquil’s poorest quarters with only dirt roads and tin shacks. The health providers went door-to-door in the village to tend to patients. I also worked in a girls' home and a leprosy hospital started by an American nun who spends most of her time fund-raising for the hospital in the US. It was also my hope that by facilitating connections with these institutions, future MSPP students could possibly volunteer at these sites.”

For George, Ecuador was as interesting as Costa Rica. “Catholicism was very prevalent; images of the Virgin Mary and of other religious figures were everywhere--on buses, in hospitals and in stores. It’s eye-opening to see the impact of religion on the people; it seems to represent an unspoken struggle, especially of some Latinas, who seem fortified by their religion to stay in their marriages as a duty and responsibility, while facing sexual abuse, machismo attitudes, alcoholism and oppression.”

“While these problems exist in Latino cultures, we in the United States often stereotype Latinos and over-represent them as having these problems. I’m sure US mainstream rates of sexual abuse, sexism, alcoholism and oppression would far surpass the Ecuadorian rates,” comments Amaro.

Summer Immersion 2009


“In Guatemala we lived with, and were hosted by six Guatemalan psychologists, but our stay was more a cultural immersion than a direct clinical one. This allowed me to observe more closely the richness of the country and its people, and especially the way mental health is practiced,” says Juan.

The Guatemala program was planned and executed by Guatemalan psychology student at MSPP, Michelle Contreras (see her profile). While working as volunteers at two orphanages in Guatemala and attending professional and community education workshops, the students focused on sharing observations on cross-cultural differences and experiences in the practice of psychology in Guatemala and the US. They also discussed how Latin American and American psychologists can learn from each other by exchanging local knowledge and research across cultures. Current plans are underway for Guatemalan psychologists to visit and live with MSPP hosts in 2010, while observing the mental health care delivery system in the US.

While the overall consensus of the immersion experiences was one of enormous impact, there were also some tough challenges along the way. Some students underwent deep stressful events. All proved to be remarkable learning experiences, however, all students showed remarkable resilience.

Perhaps Christina states it most succinctly, “Our group is so close, any challenges seem less daunting.” And, from Zachary, “no matter how traumatic a situation, the one common thing that helped me and others was that we had each other; we will be life-long friends.”

The six students summed up their experiences as follows:

Aimee: “What impacted me the most was to be able to stand up and make meaning from my experiences. In the future, I want to combine my three interests--Latino mental health, health psychology and neuropsychology.”

Jeanine: “While I represent many cultures and have eight races within me, I have come to learn who I am. In the future, there is no way I cannot integrate social justice and advocacy in my psychology work, including raising awareness about immigration.”

Zachary: “One major issue I have had when working with Spanish-speaking patients is my name. Zachary is not a name that is very common in the Spanish language. However, Zacharias is more common and by changing my name it allowed me to fit in better, especially in the first moments of an introduction with patients who are Spanish-speaking. Zacharias has now become part of my identity, which had been shifted due to my participation in the LMHP. Ultimately, I will work in a location with Spanish-speaking patients, but my broader sphere is to serve underserved populations.”

Christina: “I loved the experience and found the people in these countries to be very warm, friendly and affectionate. It helped me step outside of my own way of life and be more empathetic. I intend to work with diverse populations in a community mental health environment.”

Juan: “Coming from a Mexican background and spending my teenage years in California, the summer immersions helped me to more fully integrate my experiences as an immigrant and better understand where I came from. I think this will help me in my work with individuals from diverse populations, hopefully in a community mental health center. I’ve been inspired tremendously by my teachers and mentors, and my hope is that I will one day be able to play that role for a beginning clinician.”

George: “I realized the importance of maintaining balance in my life. I am an idealist who wants to fix the world, but have learned that teamwork and collaboration among mental health professionals is essential in order to initiate change. In the near future, I would like to travel outside of the Western world to learn how psychology and spirituality come together. In the US, we are dealing with a Western mind-set when we practice clinically, and I would like to continue to explore diverse cultures and practices that will augment my clinical competency.”

Amaro: “Thus far, I am very satisfied with the rich immersion experiences our students have had, which have surpassed our expectations. I would now like to see the realization of a similar program to meet the needs of the second largest non-English linguistic group in Massachusetts, that of Portuguese speakers. I hope that we can soon be sending our students to Brazil or Portugal to gain an understanding of these cultures and their language and to bring the knowledge back to help Portuguese-speaking individuals living in the United States.”

Latina psychologist to work in human trafficking

Michelle Contreras is a third-year doctorate student at MSPP and a licensed Guatemalan psychologist. She was responsible for developing the recent summer immersion program in Guatemala for the MSPP students’ final year in the Latino Mental Health Program. Her work included recruiting Guatemalan psychologists to serve as host families, as well as planning students' volunteer mental health services to orphanages for abandoned and exploited children and HIV infected children.

Michelle Contreras

Committed to the cross-cultural exchange of professional psychologists in Guatemala and the United States, two years ago, Michelle—along with five other Guatemalan professionals—set up a mental health counseling and consulting clinic in Guatemala, named Boston Clinical Consulting. It not only treats patients, but offers a consultative exchange between Guatemalan and US mental health professionals to share information and research.

When she first came to the US she worked at the Latin American Health Institute in Boston (the Institute at the time had a strong focus on providing mental health services to HIV infected Latinos). It is this experience that triggered in her a passionate zeal and professional commitment to working with immigrant populations and human trafficking. She began by working indirectly with pro-bono immigration attorneys. Then she worked directly with patients by providing them with information about the immigration process they were facing, and instructing them in relaxation techniques to use during interviews for pending asylum applications processed by the United States Citizen Immigration Services.

“Interacting with immigration services brought me into working with human trafficking through a program housed in the Trauma Center of Boston called Project REACH. There is labor trafficking and sex trafficking. At Project REACH, we tend to see mostly younger girls and women regarding sex trafficking, and in labor trafficking cases we see men, women and children,” explains Michelle.

According to Michelle, Latin American victims of trafficking seeking work in the United States are lured across the border by local traffickers, commonly from their own communities . There are large sophisticated trafficking rings that will promise a victim a job in the United States, and where they end up working up to sixteen-hour days with no pay. Once they begin working the job—arranged for them by the trafficker—they then use their wages to pay back the trafficker for transport to the United States, plus rent and food (usually also provided by the trafficker). The debt is never resolved, however, because the trafficker will always demand more money.

As coined by Dr. Elizabeth Harper, program director for Project Reach, the “psychological chains” of trafficking is a form of enslavement. She writes how difficult it is for victims to come out of a situation and not fall prey to a similar one.

As an example, Michelle speaks of a 14-year old girl, enticed into the United States and then forced to engage in prostitution until she was 28 years old. With no vocational skills and no ability to relate to others when she was then thrown out into the world, a girl will return to her trafficker because he is familiar and is the only person she has, and her only way of making a living.

“Someone like that will not only need vocational and medical assistance, but will need a great deal of specialized counseling,” says Michelle.

Born in Chicago of Guatemalan parents, until she was ten Michelle traveled frequently between the United States and her Guatemalan home, near Mexico, only 20 miles from the largest border crossing. “Everyone who is crossing by land to get into the United States from the south will go through this area,” comments Michelle, “I am very familiar with immigration and its issues.”

Once she receives her doctorate, Michelle not only intends to concentrate on psychological rehabilitation with trafficking survivors, but will also provide educational information about trafficking in Guatemala villages, where the servitude begins. “First, however, I plan to complete a doctoral project that will strive to improve victim identification in the area of human trafficking. I hope the information I gather will ultimately form the development of effective prevention programs,” states Michelle.

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Inside the Board—
Trustees Tell Their Stories, Encourage Students

Shani Dowd
Cultural connections and music are her passions

“I urge you to keep a balance in your own lives. Develop a passion that has nothing to do with psychology or your patients and cultivate it. Grow roses, play the violin, do volunteer work. You will need something that is yours and separate.” This is Shani Dowd’s mantra for new psychologists. And, it is a mantra she lives by. “I play guitar, and bass guitar, and I am in several bands. I believe that playing music was responsible for the longevity (35 years) of my career as a therapist,” she says. “I would come home from a long day, crank up the amplifier and blow out the walls.”

Shani Dowd

An MSPP trustee for six years, Shani is the director of Culture InSight at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation and an assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine. She is also on the faculty of BU’s Center for Multicultural Training in Psychology.

Although Shani—who describes herself as black, southern and an army brat—began in pre-med, she quickly identified a preference for learning about the human heart and mind rather than the body at the University of Maine, where she earned a BA in psychology and completed all but her dissertation in clinical psychology.

And, it wasn’t long before her interest in cultural competency in psychotherapy began to emerge. Her very first patient during her internship triggered what became a lifetime commitment.

“He was a young Jewish man who was depressed because he and his father had argued, and his father cut off his allowance. Why not just get a part-time job, I thought. I didn’t get the seriousness of the problem.” Her white Jewish supervisor helped her see that in her patient’s world it was a serious issue, and she as a therapist needed to respect and respond to it as such.

And the cultural issues went both ways. After leaving graduate school, she became certified as a social worker at a time when the psychology profession was speculating about the “suitability” of people of color for the field. “There was concern pretty openly expressed that the ‘primitive character’ of black people would prevent them from being good therapists,” she recalls. Add to that her decision to be openly gay.

Despite these challenges, she plunged in, working at Roxbury Comprehensive Community Health Center with a multiracial population and with adults, teens, children, individuals, and groups.

Her next stop was Harvard Community Health Plan, where she ran a clinical practice “that exposed me to an even greater range of people and cultures and taught me how to be a good manager,” she says.

Ready for a change after 20 years, Shani took on cultural competency consulting full-time at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, where she now directs the Culture Insight program, which provides consultation services and cultural competency training designed to help health care organizations and professionals do a better job providing care to populations impacted by health disparities.

As an MSPP trustee, she counsels the board and president on multicultural issues and makes connections for the school in the African American and other communities.

To students: “I would say three things. If you need something that you are not getting at your job, such as good supervision, go find it. Second, learn management skills. No matter what you do with your degree, you will undoubtedly need to manage something. Third, keep trying new things. It will help you know what you are good at and what you are not good at, which is just as important.”

Andrea Sodano, PhD
Organization transformation and lifelong learning are her passions

According to Dr. Andrea Sodano, “You don’t have to know everything about everything. You just need to be ready to keep learning.” A recent addition to the MSPP board of trustees, Dr. Sodano has had a life and a career that are illustrative of just the kind of openness she espouses.

“I feel blessed. I have had a wonderful international career and working now as a trustee with MSPP is a natural fit for me as I enter the next phase,” she says, adding that she hopes her global corporate experience will be helpful to MSPP as an evolving organization and to its new business psychology program.

Raised by a single mother who consistently held high-powered international jobs herself, Andrea feels she was well positioned for the path she eventually pursued.

Coming of age in the 1960s, she earned her bachelor’s at the University of Colorado and then a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and Organization Behavior at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Both her internship at a satellite clinic at Yale Medical School and a post-doctoral fellowship with renowned Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Lee Macht (who taught her policy and politics) convinced her of her preferences for working with systems and groups rather than individuals.

Even as she began a career in the clinical world, her attraction to organizations began to grow and evolve. For example, as head of consulting services at South Shore Mental Health Center in Quincy, she spearheaded employee assistance and leadership programs for local businesses.

Her first real foray into corporate America was at Circadian Technologies, where she consulted with plant managers and shift workers on how to improve the lives and performance of shift workers at global organizations like Mobil Oil.

Next came positions at Boston-based international companies like Hay/Mcber, where she did executive coaching, and Symmetrix, where she created business transformation initiatives and a model for assessing an organization’s agility and readiness for change that was featured in Fortune.

At IBM, where she spent 11 years, Andrea directed the Business Transformation Program Office for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In this role she managed a team of people throughout the world to ensure that IBM’s systems development efforts translated well in other countries and cultures.

After leaving IBM, she was first recruited to create the Institute for Informed Patient Choice by Dr. John Wennberg at Dartmouth Medical School and then by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. to head up its Health Information Technology program.

“Throughout my career I have traveled extensively and have learned about other cultures, languages and ways of life. And, I have had wonderful mentors who helped me move to the next level of understanding in the area of expertise I was tackling,” she says.

Although she has considered retirement several times over the years, Andrea keeps running into new challenges and opportunities. In addition to her role at MSPP, she now is a fellow at Boston University School of Management, developing the school's Global Health Management Fellowship Program, which will provide an opportunity for 12 Fellows from developing countries to come to Boston to study health care management.

At MSPP—“I see my role as giving advice and asking good questions, fundraising, representing MSPP in the community, and doing whatever is needed to help MSPP be the outstanding organization it is,” she says.

To students: “Keep your minds and your hearts open to new ideas, people and experiences as you go forward.”

“Continue to be excited about new things and learning. Follow your passion. Do the things that excite you even if it means making less money."

"Make sure you are always networking, maintain those networks, and be helpful to other people in the same way that they are helpful to you. It will always come back around to you in a good way."

"Finally, learn at least one more language so that you can truly understand another culture."

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Look for our next issue of the MSPPrapport in the Spring. If there are topics you would like to read about, please contact Katie O'Hare at

Updated 10/5/11

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