Name: Bekka Mayle
Type of Project: Undergraduate Research
For my STEP Signature Project, I chose to work under Dr. Dan Strunk in his Depression Research Lab. The goal of our research is to understand how different types of socratic questioning in therapy can help clients depressive symptoms. The main activities that I were involved in included coding recorded therapy session between therapists and their clients, attending lab meetings, and working with other coders to understand how we could work on our interrater reliability. While I had individual responsibilities, the group aspect of the project was very important as well.
I was able to learn so much about myself and the world from this project. As previously mentioned, I watched recorded therapy sessions from clients who suffer from depression. One of the first things that I noticed myself thinking during this time was how brave these clients were, allowing their extremely private therapy sessions be viewed for the greater understanding of psychology. I had assumed previously, especially from personal experience, that people diagnosed with depression tended to be weaker than others. However, this experience has made me really appreciate and understand the courage that people with depression can have, as therapy is a very intimate setting. I do not know if I would have the courage to do the same as these clients, which is very moving. These clients often come to my mind now, and truly have a large impact on my own life.
I also held previous beliefs that therapy was all the same, no matter where you looked. However, being able to experience therapy that was different than what I had experienced in the past not only taught me a lot about the process of rehabilitation of depression patients, it taught me that I may need to put more research into my own beliefs before I consider my beliefs as truth.
While I typically do not have face-to-face interaction with the subjects that I am studying, I do feel that we have an interaction that has contributed to the above changes that I have made. I am very privileged to be able to be a part of the extremely intimate process of therapy as I said previously, and the ‘interactions’ that I have with these clients stick with me in a very meaningful way. There are some clients that I observe that I can relate to because of their stories, or understand where they are coming from due to a family member or friend going through something similar. I think this really gave me a lot of perspective on situations that I may not have ever dealt with personally, but I am able to now empathize with due to truly understanding the emotions, thoughts, and feelings that are involved with their unique experiences.
Another way that my perspective was greatly impacted was in my observations of the therapists behavior. A large part of the research is understanding how the therapist’s interactions with the clients can have an effect on the depressive symptoms experienced by the client. As a psychology student that is interested in graduate school, and with the potential interest in becoming a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, I learned a lot about what the job entails. I learned that empathy, active listening, and questioning with intention are some of the most important characteristics to what I deemed to be a successful session. I hope to be able to take some of these qualities forward in my own work in the future.
While there were a lot of things that I learned in my lab from the clients and the therapists, there were also some lessons that I learned just from participating in research at all. For instance, I learned a lot about time management. When I have the responsibility of being in the lab for six hours a week, along with coordinating meeting times, along with classes and other extracurriculars, it can be quite difficult to manage all of these things. I learned a lot of discipline and prioritizing. One example of this is that the lab is only open during regular business hours, so while I may have wanted to spend the time from 8am-5pm in the library or in classes, I had to work with my schedule to be able to allot the proper amount of time to each activity that I needed to complete. I also learned that there are a lot of different roles in the research process. Every lab that I had worked in previously was a wet-lab; everyone would be wearing goggles and lab coats using chemicals and pipettes to complete their work. However, my job was very different than this considering it was psychology research. I was coding behaviors, which is possibly more difficult due to the amount of detail that had to be conveyed in my coding reports. Overall, this taught me to really appreciate the process of research and understand how much work has gone into everything that I have ever learned not only in a psychology class, but all sciences.
One of the greatest significances of this project to me is the empathy that it taught me. While I considered myself to be a pretty empathetic person previously, I think that I learned a lot about what it means to be there for someone when you can’t possibly understand what they are going through. I used to struggle with what to say when a friend came to me with an experience that I had not been through personally. I used to think that I needed to have the perfect advice or say the perfect thing that would fix the problem for them. I know now that many people just need a friend to listen, try their best to understand what they are going through, and be there for them. Whether I decide to attend graduate school for psychology, or enter the medical field, I believe that empathy is something that I can apply universally.
This experience also taught me a lot of personal responsibility which will be extremely valuable in my future. Confidentiality is possibly one of the most important responsibilities that I have, as I have previously mentioned that observing an individual’s private therapy sessions is extremely intrusive and I have to protect this information. Since I will be working with patients in the future, understanding HIPAA and valuing the importance of confidentiality is crucial in keeping their trust.
Overall, I think I have learned so many things from this experience and I wouldn’t be the same person without it. I think this experience was invaluable and after my project ended, I decided to continue research in my lab due to the overwhelming benefits of being a part of it.