The Importance of Investing in Mindfulness and Redbulls!

Using case studies, problem-based learning, and mindfulness minutes for success in the classroom!

Interview with Dr. Vanessa Holtgrave, PsyD, MS

Dr. Holtgrave is a professor of clinical and forensic psychology and a licensed clinical psychologist in the State of California. She has extensive experience in psychological assessment and diagnosis. She works closely with psychiatric medical professionals as part of a forensic team, provides consultations, and coordinates patient care with medical professionals in a psychiatric setting. Over the years she’s has worked within the prison system, juvenile detention facilities, and within community mental health.



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Full episode transcript:

L: Welcome everyone to Two Pills Podcast. I am so excited about our guest today, Dr. Vanessa Holtgrave. Dr. Holtgrave is a Professor of Clinical and Forensic psychology and a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of California. She has extensive experience in psychological assessment and diagnosis. She is so cool that she works closely with psychiatric medical professionals as part of a forensic team, provides consultations, and coordinates patient care with medical professionals in a psychiatric setting. Over the years she’s has worked within the prison system, juvenile detention facilities, and within community mental health. For those of you who don't know, I am a huge true crime fan and so is she apparently. I am so excited to talk to her because I actually connected to Dr. Holtgrave through LinkedIn after hearing her on another podcast. Thank you so much for being up for an interview!

V: I am a huge fan of podcasts and so excited to be here.

L: Just to get started, can you tell us a little about yourself and your teaching style?

V: I am a clinical and forensic psychologist. My specialty is more so in forensics, but in the teaching realm, I mostly teach clinical courses. These are mostly non-therapeutic courses and I think my students would vouch for the fact that I prefer not to teach therapeutic courses. Students can really tell when you are not excited about it. I prefer biopsychology and neuropsychology. I really like psychopathology and diagnosis.

L: Can you explain the difference between forensic and clinical psychology?

V: Forensic psychology is the intersection of mental health and the legal system. There are many branches. It could be police psychology, correctional psychology, and expert witness testimony; there are so many different areas. Clinical psychology is working more in the community where you might be working with individuals with severe and persistent mental illness. They cross over where you may be working with similar individuals in the correctional setting. It's not really it like CSI like everyone thinks.

L: What is your favorite or one of your favorite parts about your job?

V: I really love working with other professionals. On the forensic team, we work with psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, public defenders, judges, case managers, all kinds of different professionals. It's nice to be able to bounce ideas off of each other in a respectful way. It's a focus on how do we get this person help so that they stay out of the justice system?

L: Is there a focus on interprofessional education in psychology curricula?

V: We are focused on interprofessional teaching. For example, Doctor of Psychology students can teach nursing students. We focus on the psychology aspect, rather than the wealth of knowledge that nurses have, because many of our patients will end up in emergency departments. Having an interdisciplinary approach is probably the best means of patient care. We can talk about suicide and risk assessment in the emergency department. What does it look like when a patient is experiencing one diagnosis versus another? What does it look like when a medical diagnosis is actually the cause of a pathology?

L: How do most of your students get interested in this field? How did you get interested in this field?

V: I was pretty directionless and I wasn't very good at chemistry, so I was looking for a science that didn't involve a ton of chemistry but that I could still be passionate about. I became focused on neuropsychology and then ended up doing forensic psychology after working in the prison system. My students may have reasons like they want to work with kids in the foster care system, male students who want to work with Hispanic male patients and utilize that bilingual component, there always seems to be a unique story that brought them to our field.

L: When did you know that you wanted to teach?

V: I really wanted to challenge myself after getting my Ph.D. and one of my friends started teaching and said that she needed someone to teach clinical assessment. I thought everyone would be fighting for that class because it's so exciting. I just loved it so much.

L: What is an effective teaching strategy that you implemented and maybe one that wasn't as effective?

V: For psychology, and something that I hear a lot of feedback about from students, is the need to work through real life cases. These are deidentified clinical cases that students can relate to as real or what they would really see in the field. It helps transfer what they're learning into real life practice. Students are always looking for more case studies. It helps to show what diagnoses such as schizophrenia actually look like and not what is portrayed in the media. It gives them a lot of clinical practice and problem solving, while being in the classroom and not in the field. They're using analytical skills and I love hearing the discussion when they're in small breakout groups. I think the least effective method of teaching is just to use one method. I don't like to just do presentations or just talk the whole time. I like to have group breakout discussions, visual content, and generally doing a multimodal approach.

I think we have many micro failings as faculty. Failure to recognize that suboptimal performance by a student is due to solely lack of effort is a big one. One experience I had recently was assuming that students know how to do a PowerPoint. I had a student who recently told me that his presentation was his first PowerPoint ever! It was excellent, but what if it hadn't been? I think it's easy to fall into a trap of assuming that they know something that maybe they haven't learned yet or that is due to lack of effort. I think that is a narrow way to view students.

L: What insight do you have now that you wish you had on your first day of being faculty?

V: I think they should invest in Red Bulls. Being a professor does not have to be so dichotomous. You can have high standards for your students, but also be supportive. You also want to make the student experience fun. You don't have to have that be at the sake of standards. I see that that kind of dichotomous approach where you have to be strict with your grading and then can't be supportive or give them additional opportunities.

I wish someone had told me that lectures don't have to be perfect. I probably spent 20 to 30 hours on my lecture and then worried about if there would be extra time and I wanted to make sure to include the specific active learning strategies. You can let yourself get too lost in that rabbit hole. I wish someone had told me that they didn't have to be perfect because students will still have their questions about the content and what is most important is that they're learning.

L: Do you have any books, resources, or podcasts that you recommend?

V: There are a lot of podcasts that are broader and not specific to a certain area of psychology. There is one called Stuff You Should Know. I try to challenge myself to read books that are outside of the topics that I'm teaching as a faculty member. I also like to listen to podcasts that are in my field and in other fields as well. I am so excited about your podcast, because I don't feel like there are many podcast focused on Health Sciences. I think it is also great to form a community where you can talk about what is going well with your teaching and what is not going well. It's helpful to hear about things that have not gone well when other people have tried them.

L: I agree. All of our students are so similar in that they are competitive and high achievers.

V: Yes. I would love to lead a 10-minute mindfulness session in class just to destress. I like to send my students links for mindfulness. In psychology, students will ask their professors to leave them in mindfulness.

L: So, what have you learned from a student or a patient that you have worked with?

V: There are so many things, but one of them being to remember that every person is unique. Each person has their own coping skills or lack of coping skills. They have their own support system or lack of support system. What a person is going through is not something that you have gone through. Patience, clients, and students, humble me and remind me to be sensitive to the fact that they have their own experiences. Our students are a bunch of superheroes. They balance school with everything else going on in their lives. As faculty and Scholar practitioners, we need to remember that these students are coming from a different place and all need different types of support. It's not being needy or putting in less effort. They just may need a different type of support or level of support.

L: Who inspires you and where do you get your best ideas?

V: I talk to my mom a lot and she is an emergency department nurse. I have the utmost respect for nurses. It's a job I could never do. They truly are that first line of lifesavers. My friends and I who are psychologists have a respectful dialogue on how we would handle specific situations. That consultation in your field or in closely related fields is so important. I love those educational discussions. Having that support system is valuable. You have to be mature enough to approach these discussions as an ongoing learning experience. There are always multiple ways to approach the situation, especially in mental health or teaching. Being able to grow from those experiences is one of the most interesting parts of my job.

L: For those of us who teach in field outside of psychology, how could we insert a little bit of mindfulness into our students or our faculty?

V: I find that I can get away from myself. I start thinking about my deadlines and everything on my to-do list and thinking ahead creates a lot of anxiety. I'll stop and decide to go to the beach. I'll focus on how the air smells and the sounds that I'm hearing. It's about staying in the moment. Even during the most self-care activities, such as a massage, we can be guilty of thinking the whole time. It's focusing on what is going on in that moment And not what is going on in the future or what we need to be doing.

L: My last question for you is what would be your overall prescription for success and happiness in this job and in general.

V: For me, it's about making the time for people in your life. It may be deciding that I'm not going to open my laptop or I'm not going to work from home. It sounds like an anti resolution. I'm going to go hiking with my friends this weekend and I'm going to make the time for it. If I were to describe happiness on a certain day, it comes from those kinds of interactions.

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