Rachel Orr, Psy.D. Clinical Psychology, '15
In each and every interview that I’ve completed for various professional positions—internships, post-doc fellowships, job opportunities—the one comment I consistently made about Loyola’s Psy.D. program is that it allowed me to shape and individualize my experience. I was able to develop a specialty from a solid generalist foundation. Our program itself was a general program in clinical psychology, but each and every classmate in my cohort had a different focus, a different passion, a different goal. Some of my classmates focused their efforts in college counseling centers, while others served in prisons or psychiatric hospitals. As for me, I was able to interview for and acquire positions in the specialty of neuropsychology, and these positions were often occupied by individuals from neuropsychology-specific or tracked programs. Thus, I cannot emphasize enough—Loyola’s PsyD program is what you make it to be for you and your interests.
I came into Loyola’s Psy.D. program after completing a Bachelor’s degree with a major in psychology and a minor in sociology. Within these foci, I had taken a wide variety of courses, including in counseling, family systems, neuropsychology, and even forensics. I thought that I wanted to be a family therapist at first, but I admittedly fell in love with psychological assessment during the first semester—and I never looked back.
Assessment was built into every clinical experience at Loyola, starting during the first week at the Loyola Clinical Centers. I learned how to gather relevant information in an efficient way through an intake session, and I learned how to establish clinical impressions with support from my academic course materials, diagnostic manuals, research, supervisors, and peer consults. In my coursework, I learned about the development of psychological tests and measurements, about the process of assessing cognitive and emotional functioning, and about how tests are used to make inferences about cognitive functioning, emotional states, and behavior. I loved the investigative nature of the information gathering, and I had an affinity for the standardized nature of test administration and calculation of test data; it played to my organized nature.
After learning clinical interviewing, fundamentals of test administration, and basics of clinical interpretation in my first two years at Loyola, I decided that I wanted neuropsychology to be my clinical specialty area. In neuropsychology, I could merge my intrigue with testing with my fascination with the brain. As a result, I invested all possible opportunities I had into this specialty; that is, I completed all of the basic requirements of the program, and I always chose neuropsychology whenever I had a choice in my experiences. I took on an extra testing case during my second year at the Clinical Centers, and I advocated for incorporating more neuropsychological tests into the battery than was typical so I could learn them. I joined professional organizations focused on neuropsychology, and I began a student chapter at Loyola composed of other graduate and undergraduate students with the shared interest in neuropsychology. I selected neuropsychology practica for all my outside clinical experiences, volunteered at a local hospital to analyze neuropsychological test data, and focused my dissertation on neuropsychological investigations, exploring how neuropsychological factors may relate to the presence of emotional and behavioral disorders.
My journey wasn’t necessarily smooth, however, as the specialty area of neuropsychology is highly competitive, and I was vying for (already competitive) internship positions with individuals who had come from neuropsychology-specific and tracked programs. I acquired interviews at a few prestigious hospitals (e.g., Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston), but due to personal decisions associated with my desired geographic location, I ranked only two sites in New England and did not “match.” I elected to spend the next year living in New England and strengthening my neuropsychology experience even further, completing another practica in neuropsychology, working as a testing technician for a private practice, and publishing my dissertation in the medical journal Neuropsychology. The following application round, I actually turned down multiple interviews and acquired my second choice for internship, at the Boston VA Consortium. I eventually went on to accept a postdoctoral fellowship in clinical neuropsychology at Harvard Partners Consortium, and I now work in private practice in New Hampshire doing what I love—neuropsychological assessments across the lifespan.
I’ve been asked many times before whether I liked Loyola and whether I was glad that I went there, particularly given my interests in neuropsychology. I always respond “yes,” and I often explain how tailored my training was to my interests. I was able to develop a solid foundation in generalist psychology, meaning that I acquired comprehensive understanding of a wide variety of psychiatric disorders and their characteristics, learned how to become an empathic and effective counselor, and developed a specialty in neuropsychology which allows me to assess individuals’ cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning through testing, form clinical impressions about appropriate diagnoses, and make helpful recommendations for them and their treating providers. Further, I believe my extensive experiences learning about counseling techniques in my program (including listening to my peers’ experiences) have made me much better equipped to establish positive therapeutic relationships with my testing patients and handle difficult cases; these skills are essential to make an impact for individuals and families, even when I meet with them for only a few sessions. I remain grateful to the program and all the faculty and staff who helped structure it that way, and I am also glad that I advocated for my own interests throughout my experience there; it is what you make it to be.