A clinical psychologist, educator, and mentor, Rebecca Ametrano ‘15PhD is involved in a diverse array of work as a Health Behavior Coordinator at VA Boston Healthcare System (VABHS) and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.
Within clinics across VABHS, Ametrano works collaboratively with medical center staff to increase use of patient-centered interventions to help facilitate health behavior change in patients and improve overall well-being. Ametrano acknowledges the pivotal role mentors have played in developing her career. Now a mentor herself, she directs a new generation of clinical psychologists toward reaching their professional goals.
One aspect of Ametrano’s position is the development, implementation, and evaluation of medical center programs like the VA’s Whole Health Initiative. She currently trains staff in this healthcare approach that emphasizes patient-centered relationships over time, bringing attention to individual health-related goals. Both physical and mental health, the environment in which we live, interpersonal relationships, diet, and nutrition are all considerations when addressing whole health.
“I really enjoy the variety of work you can do as a psychologist. With the position that I am in now, I’m using many of the diverse skills that I was taught in graduate school, which has allowed me to take part in clinical work, educate and mentor others, and conduct research and program development projects. I have my hand in a lot of things, every day is different,” says Ametrano.
Originally planning to apply to medical school after college, she found that pursuing a career in psychology was a better fit. After graduating from the University of Michigan, Ametrano worked as a Clinical Research Coordinator in the Bipolar Clinic and Research Program (BCRP) at Massachusetts General Hospital. She found that she enjoyed investigating questions like “What makes psychotherapy effective?” and “How does treatment effectiveness change for different individuals, conditions, or with different therapists?”
In the Clinical Psychology Graduate Program at UMass Amherst she was advised by Michael Constantino, Ph.D., who she describes as an excellent mentor who places a high value on his students’ well-being and success. Ametrano’s graduate research focused on how patient expectations about psychotherapy impact treatment outcomes. She gained clinical training in several settings during graduate school, including in the Psychological Services Center within Tobin Hall, an operating clinic run by faculty members and clinical psychology doctoral students.
With Constantino’s encouragement, Ametrano attended conferences several times per year, which increased her confidence as a researcher and speaker. She found that getting more involved in professional organizations, presenting, and networking with other psychologists was very fulfilling. She learned to accept new challenges like organizing and moderating conference panel presentations. Invigorating experiences like these led her to run, and ultimately be elected to, her current Executive Board position as Secretary of the Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy, Division 29 of the American Psychological Association.
During Ametrano’s clinical psychology pre-doctoral internship and postdoctoral fellowship at VABHS, her mentors helped with the transition from trainee to early career psychologist. In her current role, she supervises the clinical work of psychology trainees. They meet regularly to review clinical cases and Ametrano provides guidance as questions arise. She also frequently has discussions with trainees around professional development issues, and leads didactic sessions covering topics such as becoming a supervisor and the process of psychology licensure.
As an educator, Ametrano finds that staying flexible is a great skill to have. “It’s important to be able to read your audience, figure out what they are most interested in learning, and adjust your approach,” she says. Ametrano also tries to teach using a diverse array of content and include physical movement and interaction with colleagues.
Reflecting on her education, Ametrano recognizes the importance of finding mentors with whom you work well. She acknowledges that mentorship never ends; even today she values having mentors she reaches out to for consultation on a regular basis. For Ametrano, the process of helping others build a path towards a fulfilling career has been a truly rewarding experience.
She offers the following advice for students trying to find their area of focus in psychology, “Explore many different areas of research and roles you can play as a psychologist. I felt like I needed to find my niche really early on, or else I wouldn’t be able to do exactly what I wanted to do. I don’t think this is true. I have seen many people shift course throughout their careers as psychologists as they find new areas they are passionate about. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, be patient, and know that through exploration you will find what you love to do.”