John's Story


I did my undergraduate work at Providence College in the early to mid 80's. I majored in psychology, roomed with talented musicians, and had too much fun, at least early on. Then, psychology was defined as "a science of behavior." It didn't sit well with me, and it look me several more years to fully appreciate the subtleties of this definition -- its precision and scope -- and its enormous potential to understand, prevent, and alleviate human suffering. Upon graduation, I took time off in the White Mountains of NH. There I worked with the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) as a croo member. The experience, much of which was down to earth, open, honest, crunchy, and a bit reminiscent of the 60's, helped me find my path and reconnect with my passion for psychology. My road back into psychology wasn't easy. Few programs would give me a look. I ended up getting into the MA program in experimental psychology at the College of William & Mary on a hope and a prayer that it would buy me admission to a PhD program. After a year of that, I made a choice -- to step out and back, and to rethink where I wanted to go. I returned to the White Mtns. and the AMC croo gig. I looked for research jobs. I was a winter caretaker at Zealand Falls Hut. In that long cold silence of winter something clicked in me. I returned to Boston and searched teaching and research hospitals. In many cases, I simply showed up unannounced. The approach paid off, and I landed a 2 year RA position at the National Center for PTSD. This experience made all the difference. When I reapplied again, I was savvier, focused, determined. I knew the research literature, the playing field, the players, and what I wanted to do. I wanted to get at the core of human suffering. I decided on West Virginia University as the place to do my doctoral training. The summer before graduate school I had Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity and contacted Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) before it was ACT (i.e., comprehensive distancing.) I was fired up and eager to start. At WVU, I worked with some fabulous people, and spent most of my time in the lab writing and collecting data. When I wasn't doing that, I was thinking, reading, networking with like-minded folks who were interested in the big questions, the big picture. I began a research program evaluating the nature of what turns fear and anxiety into a clinical problem. I immersed myself in clinical behavior analysis and the philosophical and conceptual work that was (and is) the blue print of promising third generation psychological interventions such as ACT. I looked to my professors as models of success. I published, followed my bliss, and behaved as a new assistant professor. I did my pre-doctoral internship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, where I served as Chief Psychology Resident. I landed an academic job at the University at Albany right out of internship and have been there ever since.