Reflections on Career in Psychology
“I knew I was going to be a psychologist from the time I was five years old,” says Stephen Taylor ’88 (psychology). “I was always the guy everyone came to with a problem to sort out. There was no epiphany, it was simply my calling.”
Today Taylor, who earned his MA and PhD in clinical psychology from Hofstra, has a small private practice out of his home in Plainview, NY (on Long Island), dealing mostly with family issues, but also with athletes who are striving for peak performance. In addition, he is the school psychologist in the middle school in the Wantagh School District. A few nights a week he teaches graduate students at the local university, and in the summer he is the director of a program for 150 special needs students.
Life obviously is full for Taylor, but he says, “It takes many income sources these days to be a psychologist,” pointing in particular to HMOs as the “culprit.” Essentially, efforts to contain rising health-care costs have limited mental health services, resulting not only in flat or decreased earnings for practitioners, but also in reduced autonomy, increased case loads, and more paperwork detailing care, targeted outcomes, and requisite treatment plans. In many cases, payments for treatment are limited to treatments of shorter durations and only for certain diagnoses.
“That’s the bad news,” says Taylor. “The good news is that psychologists have much to offer the world—and thankfully the world is starting to notice that again. Psychologists are on the front lines of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder when our troops come home. We are in the forefront of school violence prevention. We are researching ways to establish peace and dealing with a multitude of traumatic events. It’s a long—and not always easy—academic road, but it’s most definitely a rewarding career. I like to tell students that it is the toughest job they will ever love.”
Reminiscing about his time at UMass Amherst, Taylor says he was able to push himself into diverse areas. He studied abroad, served as a resident assistant, and always volunteered in the community. “It was a good fit,” he says. “Besides accepting my AP credits from high school, it was a place that felt ‘fun,’ for lack of a better word—snowball fights at Southwest, lacrosse games, and even my lab rat B.F. still provides a good laugh whenever I tell stories about him. And it was a great place to become ‘unique’ by taking on challenges and pushing myself. I knew I had to roll up my sleeves and study hard to achieve good grades, but that’s how I achieved my goals. Reading How Can I Help: Stories and Reflections on Service by Ram Dass (with Paul Gorman) in the ‘famous’ biology of cancer class made a profound impact on me. ‘How can I help’ has been my personal motto every since.
Taylor ended up graduating a semester early. “Back then,” he notes, “there wasn’t much guidance related to becoming a fully trained clinical psychologist, but I managed to land a job at a psychiatric facility. “That sometimes scary experience definitely made me look into graduate schools—and I expect it helped me get into Hofstra."
Taylor, who is a the recipient of the New York State Association of School Psychologists Award for Leadership (2000), notes that clinical psychologists with the PhD are the only mental health professionals rigorously trained to apply scientific methods to the identification, understanding, and treatment of mental health problems. “The world desperately needs these professionals to advance the field by generating new findings and fostering the application of empirically based knowledge to psychological problems. The well-being of society most definitely can be improved by applying the tools of science, but only by gaining a true appreciation for the science of psychology can one provide informed and competent service.”
November 15, 2007