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Maureen Whittal

Spotlighting ABCT Fellows

This is the first of a series of articles meant to spotlight current Fellows of ABCT. We plan to publish such spotlights at least twice a year in tBT, and we plan to spotlight Fellows of diverse background: professional degree, area(s) of outstanding and sustained accomplishment, and personal diversity.

Fellow status is the highest level of membership in ABCT, and we hope that many members aspire to demonstrate their outstanding and sustained accomplishments in at least one of the areas of eligibility: Clinical Practice; Education and Training; Advocacy/Policy/Public Education; Dissemination and Implementation; Research; and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

For this first article, we spotlight Maureen Whittal, who is a Fellow and also a Member of the ABCT Fellows Committee. The interview below offers an overview of her accomplishments and what being an ABCT Fellow means to her.

Becoming a Fellow means that you have distinguished yourself in a variety of areas that can include dissemination, clinical service, research, training, program development, policy/advocacy and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Could you please identify three professional accomplishments of which you are most proud?

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss my work. I am typically not someone who likes to stand in the spotlight. I’m much more comfortable doing what I do in the background. That said, I would say that co-founding Anxiety Canada in 1999 stands out as the accomplishment of which I am most proud. I co-founded the nonprofit with a close colleague, Dr. Peter McLean. The mandate of the organization is to provide evidence-based behavioral health information and resources to allow for the self-management of problematic anxiety. It’s been a labor of love throughout the years. Anxiety Canada now has an operating budget of over a million dollars per year, and the website receives over 2 million visits each year. MindShift CBT, the mobile application, is a well-regarded free app that has won numerous awards with many thousand active monthly users. With our international scientific advisory committee, which I co-lead with Dr. Lynn Miller, we provided timely resources to help people manage during the pandemic. More recently we created resources to help those traumatized by war, which were translated into Ukrainian.

In the beginning of my career, cognitive approaches to OCD were in their infancy. I was lucky enough to have a postdoc at the University of British Columbia to develop and test these cognitive treatments. It allowed me to reconnect with Jack Rachman. It is difficult to read in the area of OCD without being aware of the importance of Jack’s work. I will always be grateful to Jack for his guidance and influence in my professional life (not to mention the wine tasting knowledge he imparted along the way). The research work I did in the development of these treatments for OCD has been incredibly fulfilling and has given me many opportunities to train others in the same at national and international conferences. This work allowed me to connect with the broader CBT community worldwide and has been a highlight of my career.

I was an associate editor for Cognitive and Behavioral Practice for 4 years and Editor for subsequent 5 years. There were challenges trying to make time for everything and maintain balance with the other aspects of my life, but it was worth it! During my editorship, I instituted video manuscripts. I’ve had numerous people say they were helpful in learning or teaching protocols. The opportunity to shape what was disseminated to colleagues and knowing that articles were being used to help others learn was very gratifying.

What advice would you have for someone considering applying for Fellowship status at ABCT?

I suspect my tendency to not want to be in the spotlight is a common one. I struggled with the notion of putting myself forward for Fellowship. It felt a bit like bragging and saying, “look at me.” I had to put that aside and remind myself that I’ve worked hard for many years and that it is okay to be acknowledged for it. I think it’s also natural to be concerned about rejection and having a committee of my peers say that I was not good enough. The latter crossed my mind. Fortunately, I have the CBT skills to treat my own doubting thoughts about my competence! So, if you are thinking about applying for Fellowship with ABCT, do that cognitive restructuring if you need to and check in with yourself from a values perspective and maybe in the beginning a bit of motivational work with yourself (hitting a plethora of CBT skills to help get the process going).

Assuming you are at the stage of action – picking the letter writers is an important part of the process. The letters need to reflect your sustained and exceptional contributions and how they go above and beyond the day-to-day responsibilities of your job. The Fellows Committee has gone to great lengths to concretize what is needed for letter writers. Lay out your accomplishments to your letter writers in a separate document, even if they know you well. Simply handing over your CV is not a good idea. Although it illustrates your work, the richness of it is not apparent. See my earlier comments on not bragging and don’t hold back! – whether that is in the summary for your letter writers or answering the application questions for yourself. Regarding the letter writers, if possible, seek letter writers who can each talk about different aspects of your career; that would be good but not a requirement. In summary, if you believe that you have made an enduring, sustained, and exceptional contribution, please consider putting in an application to be recognized by your peers for your hard work and dedication.

What Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of treatment that is based firmly on research findings.  It places emphasis on changing your cognitions (thoughts) or behaviors (actions) in order to effect change in how you feel. These approaches help people in achieving specific changes or goals.

Changes or goals might involve:

A way of acting: like smoking less or being more outgoing;
A way of feeling: like helping a person to be less scared, less depressed, or less anxious;
A way of thinking: like learning to problem-solve or get rid of self-defeating thoughts;
A way of dealing with physical or medical problems: like reducing back pain or helping a person stick to a doctor’s suggestions.

Cognitive behavioral therapists usually focus more on the current situation and its solution, rather than the past. They concentrate on a person’s views and beliefs about their life. CBT is an effective treatment for individuals, parents, children, couples, and families. The goal of CBT is to help people improve and gain more control over their lives by changing behaviors that don’t work well to ones that do.

How to Get Help

If you are looking for help, either for yourself or someone else, you may be tempted to call someone who advertises in a local publication or who comes up from a search of the Internet. You may, or may not, find a competent therapist in this manner. It is wise to check on the credentials of a psychotherapist. It is expected that competent therapists hold advanced academic degrees. They should be listed as members of professional organizations, such as the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies or the American Psychological Association. Of course, they should be licensed to practice in your state. You can find competent specialists who are affiliated with local universities or mental health facilities or who are listed on the websites of professional organizations. You may, of course, visit our website ( and click on “Find a CBT Therapist”

The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) is an interdisciplinary organization committed to the advancement of a scientific approach to the understanding and amelioration of problems of the human condition. These aims are achieved through the investigation and application of behavioral, cognitive, and other evidence-based principles to assessment, prevention, and treatment.

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