FSU clinical psychology doctoral program wins prestigious award

Florida State University’s doctoral program in clinical psychology has won a prestigious award from one of the nation’s largest professional organizations for clinical psychologists.

The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) has chosen the FSU Clinical Psychology Program for its biannual 2019 Outstanding Training Program Award in recognition of the group’s significant contributions in training behavioral therapists and promoting behavioral therapy.

Jesse Cougle, associate professor of psychology and director of clinical training, is slated to accept the award on behalf of the program Nov. 22, during ABCT’s 53rd annual convention in Atlanta.

“I see this as the highest honor our program can receive,” Cougle said. “It is the leading organization in North America devoted to the promotion of evidence-based therapy and the scientific understanding of mental illness and its treatment.”

Presentation of this award demonstrates the Department of Psychology is moving in the same upward direction as Florida State, signaling to top potential students that it offers education and research training rivaling the best institutions in the world, said Frank Johnson, the department’s chair.

Cougle said the program’s success is directly related to the thoughtful input and design provided by FSU psychology faculty, as well as the outstanding quality of students it has had over the years. Students in the first year of a doctoral program start in a classroom and receive foundational instruction in the nature, assessment and treatment of mental illness. They also receive training in research methodology and statistics, which prepares them to be productive researchers. While continuing to do coursework over the next year, they begin a two-year practicum at the FSU Psychology Clinic, which provides outpatient mental health services to the greater Tallahassee community.

Service in the clinic exposes students to patients from diverse backgrounds and with various conditions, therefore, encouraging application of a variety of therapeutic and assessment techniques, Cougle said. Advanced graduate students may also find themselves working with the clinic’s director, Thomas Joiner, to treat complex cases and those at high risk for suicide. Joiner, FSU’s Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Psychology, is a preeminent scientist and one of the world’s leading suicide researchers.

“Being exposed to a wide range of psychopathology and severity while training in the clinic was such an invaluable experience, and one unmatched by any other outpatient training programs with which I am familiar,” said Jennifer Hames, a 2015 graduate of the program who is now an assistant clinical professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Having recognized scholars such as Joiner and expansive opportunities to practice are indicators of the Florida State program’s high quality; its seamless integration of the training in both clinical practice and conducting research makes it truly rare, she said.

“This practicum is unique in that many supervisors are faculty members with active research programs,” Cougle said. “Supervisors challenge students to think scientifically about clinical work and take a hypothesis-testing approach to assessment and treatment.  Students have the opportunity to merge science and practice through the use of clinic data for research, and dozens of student-led publications have come out of the clinic.”

Some students learn more than clinical training and research. Each year, one graduate student is selected to serve as the assistant director of the clinic, where they gain experience running a facility.

“In serving as the student assistant director of the clinic, I learned the administrative pieces of running a clinic (e.g. managing a waitlist) while also increasing my exposure to research in a clinical setting,” said K. Jean Forney, now an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio University.

Most students complete additional training outside of the FSU Psychology Clinic and in a variety of specializations. Many opt for clinical and research training through clinics operated by two other FSU faculty members: Associate Professor Michael Kofler is the founder and director of the Children’s Learning Clinic, which serves children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Distinguished Research Professor Brad Schmidt directs the Anxiety and Behavioral Health Clinic.

While providing a strong clinical and research foundation, the program also has a supportive and collegial atmosphere, according to Julia Sheffler, now on the research faculty at the FSU College of Medicine.

“I felt I was most often viewed as a future colleague, which I believe helped me grow into that expectation,” she said.

Cougle said recent surveys showed most graduates are still involved in clinical research and evidence-based practice and supervision, furthering the aligned missions of the association and the university.