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Charles Melville

Featured Therapist Interview

Brief Bio

Born, Cleveland, OH, 1943
BS, Denison University, Granville, OH, 1965
Ph.D., Purdue University, 1971
Georgia Mental Health Institute, 1971-1980
Adjunct faculty, Emory University, Dept of Psychiatry, 1972-1980
Full-time private practice, 1980 – present
Consultant, Georgia Department of Corrections, 1980-2000

When did you begin your practice?

I went into full-time practice in 1980 after a decade of work at Georgia Mental Health Institute, then a training and research institute run jointly by the state and Emory University.

Do you have a specialty?

Yes, I was one of the first mental health professionals in Atlanta to specialize in treating anxiety disorders. I did my doctoral dissertation comparing two forms of systematic desensitization for specific phobias. It was one of the then-popular snake phobia studies. I had a pet boa constrictor to compare fear levels pre- and post-therapy. I got quite attached to him (or was it her?). In my practice, I have seen many hundreds of people with panic disorder and OCD in particular.

What are your personal strengths as a practitioner?

I like to think that my personal interest is quite apparent to my clients. While I emphasize that I use evidence-based treatments, especially CBT, my work certainly is quite individualized and is informed by multiple perspectives.

What is one method you use to promote your practice?

I haven’t actively marketed my practice for at least 15 years, but I find that being active in professional organizations (OC Foundation, Anxiety Disorders Association of America) and speaking locally are reminders that I am still out there doing my thing.

How important are board certifications?

Not very.

What tips can you offer to colleagues just opening a practice?

I like the principle of giving psychology away. Specifically, I think that getting clear about what part of psychology you really care about, learning everything you can about it, starting a free support group, then really publicizing the group, is a great way to get started. I led a free support group for panic disorder for 10 years then led another for OCD for 7 years. It quickly gives you lots of experience with the disorder, associates your name with it, makes it easy to get media attention, and then fills up a private practice.

What sort of literature do you make available in your waiting room to describe evidence-based therapy?

Because I share office space with therapists of various theoretical orientations, I have to be careful about that, but I do use some of the ABCT pamphlets and even the drug company brochures make reference to CBT.

What self-help books do you suggest?

David Burns, Feeling Good
Williams et al., The Mindful Way Through Depression
Hayes, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life
Grayson, Freedom From OCD
Barlow, Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic

Are you involved in other types of professional activities in addition to your private practice?

I was a one-day-a-week consultant to a succession of state prison mental health/substance abuse programs and saw prison staff through its employee assistance programs for 20 years. Knowing inmates, their crimes, their personalities, and their lifestyles greatly increased my understanding of this group of people I would otherwise have known only by reading the newspaper. The working class staff and their problems in living would never have come to my private practice. And finally, I got a much-needed sense of collegiality with mental health staff that doesn’t occur very much in private practice.

How do you stay current with new research or advances in the field as applied to your practice?

The usual ways: professional associations, journals, books, group supervision.

Where do you earn CEUs?

I just follow my interests, and that results in more credits than I need.

Who was your mentor?

It’s hard to limit it to one mentor. I was fortunate to have had a very strong undergraduate psychology major at a small liberal arts college, Denison University, that sent a large number of its graduates to psychology grad schools. Early experience in behavioral analysis came as one of Dick Mallott’s first students. Irvin Wolf, my most influential Denison teacher, was one of several students of J.R. Kantor, the lesser-known but very influential contemporary of Skinner and founder of “interbehaviorism.” To keep things lively in the Psych. Department, Don Tritt, a student of Carl Rogers, added a needed balance. While in grad school, and for years thereafter, I spent a lot of time in New York, and always attended Albert Ellis’ Video Tape famous Friday night workshops. The month I lived in Philadelphia and attended Joe Wolpe’ Video Tape Summer Institute just before I went off to internship influenced me a lot too.

What is the last book you read?

Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father

How do you avoid burnout?

Throughout my career, my work has always had a strong directionality to it. That is, early on, I was working my way through the anxiety disorders, trying to learn about one for a few years, then the next. Professionally and personally my larger intellectual struggle, even as an undergraduate, has been to pull together what seemed true about behaviorism with phenomenology and humanistic psychology, not to mention my experiences with meditation for the past 35 years. With the groundswell of interest in the “third wave” of cognitive and behavioral psychology, especially Steve Hayes’ work with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) “Clinical Grand Rounds” Book, Video Tape I have found a reasonably coherent world view and community where the pieces fit together more than ever before and make burnout seem like somebody else’s problem.

When not practicing CBT, what do you do for fun?

As parents of a 13 year old, my wife and I do lots of stuff. My times of solitude are often spent digging in the garden.

Do you have other “talents?”

I have spent a lot of time in my life with music, playing instruments and singing. My last two gigs were playing with a band called the “Marching Abominables” and performing at an annual event known as “Tuba Christmas” with some 300 other tuba and euphonium players. Not all would describe this as a “talent.”

What do you think is the single most important thing CBT can do for your clients?

View their “problems” and the “solutions” differently.

Where do you see the field of the behavioral therapies going over the next 5 years?

I would expect current “third wave” trends to continue, incorporating acceptance and mindfulness practices into mainstream CBT.

How do you use the local media to educate your community on the benefits of CBT?

When I was first in private practice and seeking more clients, I spent a fair amount of time taking note of particular journalists, TV news people, types of articles published, seasons when certain topics were appropriate, then contacting the media, which always seemed hungry for stories related to anxiety disorders, especially if I had clients who were willing to go public.

How long have you been a member of ABCT?

Since about 1970

How has ABCT helped you professionally?

Wow! How can I count the ways? In my early years in Atlanta there were only a very few of us. Our ways of thinking about clinical problems and their treatment were considered superficial. Having a professional organization, a journal, and annual meetings all helped me to feel more legitimate.

What services do you consider the most valuable from ABCT?

The ABCT member list serve has turned out to be a great resource and way to keep up, but I also get mad at it because checking my e mail takes so long!

What services are missing from ABCT in your role as a practitioner?

I can’t think of any.

How do you see the future of ABCT?

I predict another great debate regarding the name of the organization as we increasingly embrace a broader array of evidence-based therapies.