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The ABCT Spotlight on a Mentor program recognizes some of our organization’s most talented and well-regarded research mentors. Our goal is to highlight excellent mentors across all levels of academic rank, area of specialization, and type of institution. We are pleased to present an interview with our current spotlighted mentor, Dr. Lizabeth Roemer.
Dr. Lizabeth Roemer is Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she has been a faculty member since 1996. She received her Ph.D. from The Pennsylvania State University in 1995, under the supervision of Dr. T. D. Borkovec, and completed an internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the National Center for PTSD – Behavioral Sciences Division at the Boston VA. At UMass Boston, Dr. Roemer mentors clinical psychology doctoral students, provides clinical supervision to doctoral students in their first clinical practicum, and teaches.
Dr. Roemer has an active, productive research career, including publishing over 100 journal articles and book chapters and co-editing two books on the role of emotion regulation, mindfulness, and experiential avoidance in anxiety and other disorders, and the use of acceptance-based behavioral therapies. In collaboration with Dr. Susan Orsillo, Dr. Roemer has developed an acceptance-based behavioral therapy for generalized anxiety and comorbid disorders and, in collaboration with Dr. Sarah Hayes-Skelton, has examined its efficacy and mediators and moderators of change in a series of studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Drs. Roemer and Orsillo are co-authors of Mindfulness- and Acceptance-Based Behavioral Therapies in Practice and The Mindful Way Through Anxiety, both published by Guilford Press, as well as a new forthcoming self-help book tentatively titled Worry Less, Live More: The Mindful Way Through Anxiety Workbook.
Ms. Natalie Arbid, one of Dr. Roemer’s current clinical psychology doctoral students, nominated Dr. Roemer for the Spotlight on a Mentor award. Ms. Arbid described Dr. Roemer’s mentorship style in this way:
From the first [individual mentorship] meeting, Liz is clear that she wants to help us clarify our own research interests and to support us in the process. She wants us to develop our own personal values and discover how those values fit into our professional and research goals as clinical psychologists. She takes an acceptance-based behavioral therapy approach to mentoring that involves being mindful during interactions with students and highlights her own commitment and values related to mentoring. This transparent process is central in her ability to help us explore and navigate our own professional and personal values.
Ms. Arbid also discussed the way in which Dr. Roemer’s commitment to social justice informs her work as a mentor:
Liz helps us explore students’ experiences with oppression and privilege, and how to negotiate various aspects of our identities as they interface with coursework, program material, research questions, and clinical experiences. Liz’s commitment to social justice in her mentoring helps us explore various ways to respond to systemic inequities in our society. She does so by engaging in research exploring racism and discrimination across various identities, organizing community activism, and working to acknowledge areas of privilege and oppression, which all lead to policy changes at various levels within communities and organizations. Liz also openly discusses her process of working towards social justice, and does so in a way that normalizes and demonstrates compassion around the challenges that are inherent in this process. Liz has taught me that mentoring can be one of the most rewarding parts of a career. She has also modeled the ways in which compassion, commitment, and high expectations provide a context for students to thrive and develop personally and professionally.
Dr. Roemer responded to questions from ABCT’s Academic Training and Education Standards Committee about her experience and goals as a mentor, as well as her mentorship philosophy and mentorship practices.
For how long have you engaged in the type of mentoring that you engage in now?
My mentoring is always evolving, but I have been mentoring doctoral students and undergraduate students, and teaching, since 1996.
What type of mentor do you aspire to be? Do you have a mentorship philosophy?
I aspire to provide students with the support, resources, guidance, and education they need to be successful in whatever way they want to be successful. This includes helping them to achieve competence across all the roles of clinical psychologists, while delving more deeply into the areas that are most important to them. I encourage my students to try on all possible roles because often a student who thinks she doesn’t want to teach, for instance, finds she loves it. Once they’ve tried things, I’m respectful of what they value most, as long as they develop broad competencies. I also see my role as helping them to develop personally and professionally, including clarifying what is important to them and finding ways to engage in their work that are meaningful and rewarding, while also attending to other areas of their lives. I mentor the whole person and help each student find themselves in their work so that they are developing a lifelong relationship with their work that involves learning, growing, and stretching themselves.
My philosophy of mentoring is that my role is to facilitate growth through my presence, my genuine sharing of my own experiences, knowledge, and feedback, and by creating a context in which students feel comfortable trying new things, making mistakes, and then coming back and doing better. I encourage a collaborative environment in which students generally enjoy each other’s successes, allowing them to each help the other reach higher and do more, rather than feeling competitive or lessened by others’ successes.
What practices do you engage in that foster your mentorship style?
I communicate to mentees that their work and learning is important to me by meeting with them regularly, being present and attentive in meetings, and responding as quickly as possible to their questions and their work between meetings.
I consult with colleagues regularly to make sure that I am being attentive to specific needs of my mentees and doing everything I can to facilitate their growth and development. I also connect my students with secondary mentors who can provide role models and guidance in areas that I can’t (e.g., who have expertise I don’t, or share aspects of identity with my mentees that I don’t).
I provide regular opportunities for leadership and scholarship to each of my students so they can practice taking on these roles and find their strengths and abilities in the context of my lab.
I practice mindfulness to help me be emotionally present and open so that I can have genuine, engaged relationships with mentees and be intentional in my interactions with them.
I am authentic and genuine so that I can provide an honest model of being a human being and a professional at the same time.
What are your strengths as a mentor?
My compassion and acceptance of my students, coupled with belief in their ability to excel and a willingness to challenge them to do so.
My ability to tolerate mentees’ anxiety and distress and help them turn toward their experiences instead of avoiding, so that they can do what matters to them.
My genuine enthusiasm for clinical psychological research, including both the methods we use and the aims and implications of our studies. My genuine belief in the scientist-practitioner model and my ability to model this synthesis.
My commitment to social justice and to recognizing areas of marginalization and privilege and helping students to see these systemic factors in their own and others’ lives.
My love of mentoring.
My ability to create an encouraging, supportive lab in which students genuinely care for one another and wish each other well, allowing everyone to be successful. In clinical supervision, my ability to create a context in which trainees feel comfortable being vulnerable and sharing their fears and reactions so that we can work together to address them to meet the needs of their clients and provide effective, ethical care.
My appreciation for the varied contributions that each student can make – letting them be the best clinical psychologist they can be, rather than fitting them into some set mold in which everyone needs to be the same.
Whom do you perceive to be your most influential mentors? Describe the main lessons that you have learned from your mentors.
Tom Borkovec was my doctoral mentor and he is the person who taught me to love science, clinical psychology, and mentoring. He taught me to be passionate about the pursuit of truth, while maintaining humility about our ability to truly do so. He also modeled that one could be successful and productive while also truly caring about other people and having meaningful relationships. When I graduated, he told me that I had learned skills that would be valuable no matter what I did, including owning a bird store (he loved birds). The freedom to choose my career path and to know he would be proud of me no matter what is what allowed me to clearly choose the academic path and know that I was doing it because I loved it, not because I was expected to. I try to convey the same message to my own students and I do truly enjoy and feel proud of every path they choose. Sue Mineka was my undergraduate mentor and my first role model. She taught me the beauty and elegance of experimental psychopathology and I share that with my students all the time. She was also the first person to treat me like an independent researcher and to support me developing my own ideas, which had a powerful effect that I try to pass along to my students. Brett Litz was my post-doc mentor. He helped me recognize what mattered to me as a professional, including my love of teaching and mentoring, which gave me the courage to leave the comfort of the VA and pursue an academic job. Sue Orsillo was a post-doc when I was an intern and has been a peer mentor to me throughout my career. There isn’t room to say what I’ve learned from her, but it’s in pretty much everything I’ve written and everything I do. Mostly she taught me how to connect to what’s important to me and to choose my actions, so that mentoring is a chosen, valued action, rather than a responsibility or a burden. The time I spend on mentoring is extremely rewarding and nourishing to me and is closely tied to me being the person I want to be.
What advice would you give to other professionals in your field who are starting out as mentors?
My advice is to be intentional about the kind of mentor you want to be. Reflect on your own experiences and the experiences of people you know and also on what you find rewarding about mentoring. Find ways to bring your full self to your mentoring relationships and be transparent and authentic with mentees. Be clear and transparent about expectancies with your mentees and learn how to provide honest feedback – it can feel challenging or unkind, but it is the way that we are able to best help our students learn and grow.