Psychologists' children see firsthand both the trials and triumphs of the profession — whether it's 4 a.m. emergency calls, department politics or the satisfaction of helping people overcome traumas or harmful habits.
And sometimes those experiences make an impact: Many psychologists' offspring follow in their parents' footsteps. Informal outreach yielded dozens of these relationships (see Family Ties), and there are many more.
Here, the Monitor highlights five. While each of these relationships is unique, they also have many commonalities. For one, these psychologist parents unanimously said they never pushed their children to become psychologists, and their children agreed. For another, these relationships are marked by strong mutual respect. Parents were quick to say how much they learned from their psychologist children, professionally and personally, and their children said they felt the same way.
Having a common profession also appeared to deepen their parent-child bonds as well as help the young people handle the stresses of graduate school.
"To have a parent who understood exactly what I was going through and who could talk with me at an academic level was really wonderful," says Kristen Kirkland, PhD, daughter of Montgomery, Ala., practitioner Karl Kirkland, PhD. Her brother Kale is also a psychologist.
Scant research has explored the relationships between parent and child psychologists. But in her 2010 dissertation from Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia practitioner Elisabeth Zal Roland, PsyD, assessed 34 such pairs using interviews and questionnaires. She found that most psychologist children chose their career paths in part because they admire their parents. They described their relationships as positive, close and warm. This group was also less likely than the general population of psychologists to report personal problems, she found.
Karl Kirkland adds that for him, at least, it is gratifying to have his children not only choose a similar field but trump his accomplishments — something he sees in both Kristen and Kale, who attended top-tier graduate schools and are launched on successful careers in industrial-organizational and forensic psychology, respectively.
"All parents want their children to have a better batting average than they have chalked up," he says. "Mine hit home runs without breaking a sweat."
While seeing their psychologist parents in action likely plays a role in youngsters' career decisions, Karl Kirkland adds it's important to acknowledge the allure of the field itself. "That Kristen and Kale chose psychology says a lot about the field—that it is rich in terms of diversity and opportunity, that it is still alive and well," he says.
A tradition of caring
Antonio E. Puente, PhD — Tony to his friends — is perhaps best known for his policy work involving neuropsychological testing, which has led to improved coding and reimbursement for psychologists in the area. However, he's most proud of his work helping poor clients.
"I was a political immigrant from Cuba, and my family and I received a great deal of support during our first years here," says the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, professor and neuropsychologist. "It seemed appropriate that we pay it forward." One way he's done that is to found and co-direct a free bilingual mental health clinic for poor, uninsured and immigrant families in Wilmington, part of a free medical center called the Cape Fear Clinic.
Puente's children Krista Puente Trefz, PsyD, and Antonio Nicolas Puente, or Nick, have each been inspired by their father's interests. Krista spent spring breaks in college working at soup kitchens in New Orleans and summers caring for Alzheimer's patients. After earning her doctorate from the Florida Institute of Technology, she took a job as a psychologist at Circles of Care, a psychiatric clinic in Melbourne, Fla., where she works with ethnic-minority Medicare and Medicaid patients.
"My father really helped me with the therapy aspect of the field — that's where my strong points are," says Trefz, who enjoys applying her bicultural background to working with clients of Hispanic descent. "I do my best work when there are five or six people in the room, they're all talking, but I'm able to make sense of it and problem-solve."
Meanwhile, Nick, a fourth-year psychology doctoral student at the University of Georgia, is a budding neuropsychologist with a special interest in neuroimaging research. In this realm, his father's influence was indirect but powerful, he says. "While in some ways he may have influenced my interest in neuropsychology, I think it was more about him helping me ask myself, ‘How can I achieve my potential?'" says Nick.
The three have often worked together at Tony's mental health clinic, which serves about 500 patients a year. Since the clinic's founding in 2002, Krista, Nick and their brother Lucas Puente, a political economics graduate student at Stanford University, have all volunteered at the clinic, doing everything from translating to taking out the trash.
"When you are fortunate to have so much, you have to give back at least that much," says Tony. "It's so special to see your children incorporate those values into their lives and to participate in those activities with them."
Returning to home base
When Brandon Ally, PhD, was a boy, he told his mother he never wanted to work as a neuropsychologist like his father, Glenn Ally, PhD, of Lafayette, La.
"I didn't like the fact that he had to wear a suit and tie to work, plus he worked long hours," Brandon says with a laugh. "I remember that after coaching me in Little League, he had to go back to the hospital."
But Brandon's inquisitive nature, coupled with undergraduate courses in cognitive assessment and a summer job at his father's rehab clinic, gradually pulled him in his father's direction. Not only did he earn his doctorate from the same school as his father — the University of Southern Mississippi — but he ended up with the same adviser, Gary Jones, PhD. Glenn was one of Jones's first students, while Brandon was his last. In some ways, though, Brandon did take a different tack from his father. While they both work with people with brain-related problems such as dementia, Glenn's talents lie in clinical work and Brandon's in research. "I don't identify myself as a true clinical psychologist in the sense of doing therapy all day — I don't have the attention span for that," says Brandon.
His father frames it more glowingly, pointing out that at age 38, Brandon is already one of the country's leading researchers in memory and Alzheimer's disease, heading the Memory Disorders Research Laboratory at Vanderbilt University. "To watch his transition into this amazing professional and recognized researcher is a wonderful thing for a dad to see," Glenn says.
In fact, he uses Brandon's research in his work with his own patients with Alzheimer's disease, in particular his son's findings that those with the disease retain memory for visual material longer than other forms of short-term memory.
While Glenn never pushed Brandon to become a psychologist, he taught other lessons that Brandon ended up applying to his life, Brandon says. Among them: Do something you love and be your own boss, so you can enjoy a good balance between work and home.
Brandon took his dad's advice. In addition to a thriving career, he enjoys an excellent relationship with his wife, Hollee, an artist, and their three children — including one he coaches in Little League.
Pas de deux
Many psychologists are familiar with the professional accomplishments of Florence Kaslow, PhD, and her daughter Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD. Florence, a trail-blazing academician, clinician, consultant and coach, initiated one of the country's first PsyD/JD programs at Hahnemann Medical University in Philadelphia. Nadine, a professor at Emory University who was just elected as APA's 2014 president, is well-known for her work with underserved populations at Grady Health System, an internationally recognized public teaching hospital.
People may be less familiar, though, with the women's mutual love of dance. "When Nadine was 3, I took her for [ballet] dancing lessons because dance was one of the great loves of my life," says Florence, who helped pioneer the use of dance and movement with mentally ill clients and children with learning disabilities and still does Zumba, salsa and Pilates. "In many ways, I was a stage mom while going for my PhD."
Nadine didn't complain, and developed a love of ballet that continues to this day. Not only does she participate in dance classes almost daily, but she is also the psychologist for the Atlanta Ballet, where she coaches professional dancers and students on injury prevention and helps them grapple with issues such as planning for the future when they can no longer practice their art.
Dance is an apt metaphor for the way the Kaslows navigate their relationship, as well. As leaders in the field, the two have shared many similar roles, including editing premier journals in family and couple therapy and serving in a range of APA leadership capacities (both were presidents of APA's Society for Family Psychology, for example). Overlapping at these high levels necessitated learning some new steps. Early on, Nadine had to forge her own identity in the wake of her mother's renown, while more recently, Florence is adjusting to hearing, "Oh, you're Nadine's mother!" In addition, serving on the same board or council has made clear the importance of communicating thoughtfully in those contexts. Strategies that work well for them include talking about tough issues, while maintaining mutual respect and focusing on the task at hand. As with any good dance pair, they also enjoy supporting each other when one or the other takes center stage — a common occurrence for two psychologists who have received more than 45 professional awards between them.
Growing up in a lively household with three other siblings, Kristen Kirkland, PhD, and Kale Kirkland, PhD, were never starved for attention from their father, Karl Kirkland, PhD, a clinical and forensic psychologist in Montgomery, Ala.
Karl attended all his children's high school basketball games and cheered their academic successes, while his wife, Lauren, coached their cross-country team. Karl also shared his work with them, chatting with them about cases, taking them with him to court and bringing them to his office to help file paperwork.
That support only intensified when Kristen and Kale decided on psychology careers. To help her get into graduate school, Karl encouraged Kristen to publish as an undergraduate, and the two co-wrote an article on child-custody complaints that landed in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. When it came time for Kale to do his dissertation, Karl helped him gather the data, resulting in a groundbreaking article in the journal Headache on headaches in HIV-positive and AIDS patients that was widely covered in the media.
"He has always been incredibly supportive of anything any of us have ever pursued," says Kristen. "He was so helpful about anything we did in school, almost to the point where if we let him, he would have written our papers for us."
Karl's guidance paid off handsomely. After earning her doctorate from the City University of New York Graduate Center's industrial-organizational psychology program, Kristen spent several years training and developing leaders, teams and employees at Wall Street firms. That work gave her the skills to take on challenges closer to her heart, consulting with nonprofit agencies like the Southern Poverty Law Center and Every Mother Counts, a campaign to end maternal mortality worldwide.
Meanwhile, Kale joined his father's clinical and forensic psychology firm, Kirkland & King, PC, after graduating from the University of Mississippi in 2011. There, he tackles forensic cases, treats troubled teens and enjoys a high level of camaraderie with his coworkers, his father most of all.
"Some people have said, ‘Oh, I don't know if I'd ever be able to work with my dad,'" says Kale. "That's not the case with me at all."
Coming full circle
Having a father like Jon Carlson, EdD, PsyD, could be intimidating for any aspiring psychologist. As developer and host of more than 250 therapy-training videos, Carlson's face and voice are familiar to psychology graduate students nationwide. The longtime private practitioner and Governors State University professor has also written 55 books, won the 2011 APA Award for Distinguished Career Contributions to Education and Training in Psychology and was named a "Living Legend" by the American Counseling Association.
But Carlson never pushed his son, Matt Englar-Carlson, PhD, into becoming a carbon copy of him. Instead, Matt says, his father influenced him by deploying good parenting skills. "He was always very clear that I could do whatever I wanted to do," says Matt, a professor at California State University-Fullerton who specializes in the psychological study of men and masculinity.
As Matt has blossomed in his career as an academician and clinician, he and his father have joined forces on a number of projects. Among them are co-authoring books and journal articles and editing a monograph series that is tied to Jon's training videos, in which experts lay out theories that they then demonstrate. The two also give workshops together, including some on helping fathers and sons strengthen their relationships. There, they briefly share their own stories to help men feel comfortable telling their own.
"We've had a lot of experiences like that, where what is work is also personal," says Matt. "We travel together, give workshops together, go to conferences together, and blend our work and families. That's a real bonus."
These days, Matt is able to return some of the nurturing his father has provided him. As Jon battles health problems, Matt has stepped in, temporarily helping him to manage his practice and organize his extensive library, which includes first editions of Carl Rogers's books and textbooks signed by other luminaries in the field. "It's nice that I know what these things mean so that we can talk about them — we both get kind of excited about that," says Matt.
"In some ways Matt keeps me in line as we get older," adds Jon. "You parent your children, and sometimes your children have to move up and parent you."
Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.
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