Super supervision

We know that supervision is a vital aspect of becoming a good practitioner. As a trainee, I rely on supervision for several reasons. First, it ensures that my clients are receiving quality therapy. By reviewing my client interactions with my supervisor, we reflect on different approaches and tailor a treatment plan to help my client manage his or her experiences effectively in an effort to meet his or her therapeutic goals. Second, supervision is a space for learning; it allows me to ask questions that pop up at my practicum, and because I have good supervision, I feel comfortable doing so without shame or embarrassment. Supervision also provides a space for me to talk about my experiences as a clinician and as a graduate school student studying psychology.

I have three supervisors: an on-site supervisor at my practicum, an off-site supervisor from MSPP (because my on-site supervisor is not a doctorate-level practitioner), and supervision with a fourth-year Clinical PsyD student at MSPP. Yes, this is a lot of supervision, and it takes a considerable amount of time. However, each one offers a slightly different lens on my experience.

My on-site supervisor and I spend the majority of our meeting time discussing case management. Because most of my clients are at a crisis level, this is practical and necessary. With fairly consistent exposure to my clients in the milieu environment, my supervisor is able to make observations that enrich my understanding of my clients. Additionally, because my site produces comprehensive assessments of our clients, my supervisor and I spend time crafting these assessments.

My off-site supervisor and I meet with another MSPP student who also happens to be at my site. This provides a different experience in that there are more perspectives in the room. My off-site supervisor often reflects on what seem to be systemic observations about my site, which is helpful to hear. She also specializes in a particular field (assessments) that informs my understanding of my clients.  

Finally, my fourth year supervisor and I discuss two major areas: My cases and my experience at my site and managing MSPP (classes, expectations, etc.). Our time together is very helpful, and I am greatly appreciative of her investment in making this as fulfilling as possible. She has been an outstanding support and has offered gentle guidance while allowing me to explore on my own and to ask questions.

Yes, it’s quite a bit of time (about four hours of supervision a week), but it’s well worth it. As my cases become more complex, I am increasingly thankful for the diversity of supervision I have through MSPP.

Do you have questions about supervision, or comments you’d like to share about your supervision experience? Please share!

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A Small Helpful Tool

Organization is a key ingredient to a graduate student’s success. At MSPP, students typically have a lot going on: practicum/internship, school work, part-time work, and something that ever so slightly resemblances a social life. I previously wrote about how difficult it is to juggle all these aspects, but I wanted to introduce you to another lifesaving tool: diagnostic tabs.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, also known as the DSM-5 is the most recent update to the APA’s diagnostic tool. It was published last May, and insurances are now beginning to require codes and diagnoses from this edition. This book is everything to MSPP students, and because we rely on it so often, I strongly recommend investing in diagnostic tabs.

The manual itself is quite large, and unless you memorize each diagnoses respective page, it can be quite time consuming to continuously search for a specific disorder. Often times, you are facing a time crunch and need to find a specific disorder immediately, which the tabs make possible. The tabs are color-coded by diagnosis with the names clearly visible. There are 69 labels in total and they are simple to install. Similar to the index system found in dictionaries, the diagnostic tabs break down the DSM-5 into an easy to use manner that is quite efficient.

I’ve relied upon the tabs in my Adult Psychopathology class and they’ve been really helpful in introducing me to the organization system within the DSM-5; I am able to better understand the various sections. The diagnostic tabs were designed by graduate students and the best part is that they are permanent. As clinicians, the DSM-5 is an important to have for the future, and the tabs’ reliability is a great reason to invest in them.

Personally, I was drawn to their color-coded aspect, because I am a visual learner. By associating colors with the various categories, I have been able to quickly learn about the disorders. This has helped immensely because my Adult Psychopathology class has been my first introduction to the manual.

The DSM-5 is a required textbook for incoming students, and I highly suggest you buy a set of diagnostic tabs as well. You can buy them at

Good luck! 

Global Mental Health Film Series: War Don Don

Several weeks ago, the Global Mental Health program hosted its first film screening of War Don Don.  The movie explores a post-war Sierra Leone in the throws of a court battle to determine who is most responsible for war crimes.  I was amazed at the level of balance and thoughtfulness the filmmaker, Rebecca Richman Cohen, displayed through riveting and painful images.  I felt an immense tension in understanding the chaos of war and its aftermath: survivors seeking healing and justice, attorneys building cases for and against war criminals, and messiness of determining who is a perpetrator and a victim.  After the screening, we had an excellent discussion about the film and some of these aforementioned tensions.  We understand that mental health situates itself within the context of political, social and economic forces – and in this film, we could clearly see those forces impacting the interviewees.  

More broadly, I am thankful that artists help us understand and empathically connect to major atrocities around the world.  This in and of itself is a tremendous feat.  An artist must toe the line between representing a painful experience while also avoiding completely emotionally overwhelming the viewer.  I am grateful for artists who can do this well – I am particularly thinking of the ensemble of artists who developed 12 Years a Slave and allowed viewers to face a painful American past.  In my career, I hope to use art as a tool to break barriers and connect us to painful human suffering in such a way that we feel empathy and have the capacity to take action.

Conversation with Dr. Covino


Take a look at this interesting discussion with Dr. Covino about MSPP, the mental health field, and MSPPs innovative academic approaches.


I guess that’s why they call it the blues

Sometimes I feel grateful to work in schools- I notice friends and family around me catching various forms of sniffles and colds while I generally remain healthy. I am sure this could be contributed to a myriad of things, but I always believe that the constant exposure to the stickiness that is an elementary school has built up my immune system to the point where it must get bored.

Unfortunately, this week my little white cells must have been on a (probably well earned) vacation. I felt the “pre cold” symptoms immediately. My mouth was dry, my throat scratchy, and I had a headache that throbbed steadily right behind my eyes. I am not one for the drink mix remedies- I go straight for the heavy hitters, popping a cold pill immediately and try to work through the symptoms.

This time, however, whatever got me knocked me out cold. I ended up missing multiple days at my site as I struggled to retain a sense of humanity amid the coughing, sneezing, achy mess that I had become. When I finally was able to return I had multiple items to catch up on, students to see, and parents to contact. On top of this accumulation of tasks, my head was still a bit fuzzy and my energy level was somewhere between a tortoise and snail. Which only made the amount of work I had more overwhelming.

I have been fortunate enough to be a happy, positive person who genuinely enjoys a sense of accomplishment for doing good works. Those first few days back, though, reminded me of what it might be like to suffer from a form of depression: body aches, low energy, lack of focus, and a feeling that there is no relief from the work. I, at least, could console myself with the thought that my cold would pass. But I as the symptoms leave I find myself left with a renewed sense of sympathy and understanding for those suffering with depression.

Posted in Personal Growth, School Psychology

Where, oh where, is Spring?

When I got into my car this morning, the temperature read 10°. That’s right, 10° on March 6. What is going on? I mean, shouldn’t it be warming up by now? Where is Spring!?

Now don’t get me wrong, I may one of the few people out there that love Winter. Autumn is my absolute favorite season, and Boston is beautiful in the fall. But Winter is a close second in my books. However, at this point, I am sick of it. I don’t know about you, but I need some sun in my life.

Boston in the Spring

Boston in the Spring

The forecast says it should be in the 50s this weekend, but you really can’t ever trust New England weather. The official start of Spring is March 20th.  So as we count down the days until then, there a few things we can do to try to beat the Winter blues.

I’m a big believer in wearing bright clothes. I personally am drawn to “loud” colors, such as yellow, orange and red. Simply put, the colors make me happy and add a little sunshine to my day. I associate these colors with cheerful, sunny days. Our days for the past few months have been cold, bleak and dark, so I think you cannot go wrong with some color. You don’t have to change your entire wardrobe, but I suggest adding a little color into your outfit because it can drastically change your outlook.

Music also has the power of setting the tone. You may find your mood becomes positive when jamming out to fun music while driving into work or school. A good rhythm can be infectious. When I was in undergraduate school, sometimes, I would listen to “All I do Is Win” before exams by DJ Khaled to psyche myself up. It would work wonders to ease my anxiety and I would go into the exam feeling confident. My favorite song right now is “Happy” by Pharrell Williams; you can’t help but smile when you hear it, I promise you.

I find that, typically, around this time, people, especially graduate students, tend to become highly irritable, easily agitated, overly stressed, and just ready for a new adventure. I was becoming bored with the everyday routine and needed a new outlet, so I did something crazy the other day. I decided to take Aerial Silk classes for 2 months. Mind you, I’ve never taken a dance course of any kind, so this is completely new to me, but I wanted to try something out of the ordinary. As a biologist, I find the human body to beautiful, and I’ve always been drawn to Contemporary movement pieces. When I found this studio in Somerville that offers beginners classes, I just knew I owed it to myself to give it a shot. I am very anxious about the ordeal, but I am excited because I know that as much as I will struggle trying to learn how to become comfortable hanging upside down on just a piece of fabric, it will be fun no matter what.

Michael Scott and his wisdom

Michael Scott and his wisdom

As Wayne Gretzy once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Maybe aerial arts may not be your thing, but I suggest you take the steps needed to cross one thing off your bucket list. It will be rejuvenating and it can provide that last rush of adrenaline you need to get through the next few weeks.

I hope adding some color, dancing to music, and signing up for an adventure help get rid of the Winter blues! Here’s to sunnier days, that I promise you are just around the corner.

Posted in Around Boston, Personal Growth | Tagged ,

Veterans conference, April 18, 2014


Please note that Dr. Robert Dingman is hosting a training event around mental health needs of veterans and their families at MSPP on April 18th. Please see details in the attached video, or


My Journey to America, and to MSPP


I am proud to be a first-year student in Counseling Psychology-Global Mental Health (GMH). My journey to the MSPP-GMH program is tied to my journey to America.

I am originally from The Gambia (In western Africa) where I practiced journalism. My writings brought me a lot of trouble as I was arrested and tortured by state security agents on several occasions. One day, my name was listed as a target for killing by the regime and I had to immediately embark on an escape journey. I have recently published a book, Africa’s Hell on Earth, chronicling my escape journey.

When I came to Rhode Island in May 2007, I felt reborn. It was a new world for me in many ways: I had just arrived in the United States; I never heard the name Rhode Island until a day before my arrival; I was brought in by the United States government as a refugee which means I did not prepare for my coming. It happened abruptly.

I also did not have family or friends. It was not easy. I had to start everything about my life from scratch. I therefore found a lot of meaning in altruism and education. I enrolled in school, and started an advocacy group of fellow refugees creating awareness about better resettlement methods and housing placements.

My advocacy brought me into contact with Dr. Richard Mollica of Harvard University, the pioneer of the Global Mental Health movement. I was given a scholarship to undergo a six-month program in GMH-Trauma and Recovery at the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma. Then I was given a scholarship opportunity to enroll at MSPP as a means of continuing my studies in the GMH field. I find myself lucky to be availed with all these opportunities. Despite all the things I have gone through, I envision light at the end of the tunnel. I love the GMH program and the MSPP campus and learning environment – the faculty, students, and staff are all excellent resources. I therefore thank everyone who is supporting me through this journey.

Kind Regards,
Omar Bah

Posted in Global Mental Health

A Spotlight on Professor Gagliardi, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Couples and Family Therapy Interview

Couples and Family Therapy Interview

A few months ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Jackie Gagliardi, who is a part of the core faculty here at MSPP and the coordinator of the Couples and Family Therapy program. I am currently taking Collaborative Therapy with Multistressed Families and Professor Gagliardi is a wonderful teacher on this subject. She holds many years in this field under her belt, and with that comes a multitude of experiences and stories.  Professor Gagliardi is a licensed marriage and family therapist, clinical supervisor, consultant and co-author of Study-Guide for the Marriage and Family Therapy National Licensing Examination. She holds a Master’s in Education in Counseling and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Family Systems from Northeastern University.

For many years, Professor Gagliardi worked as a play therapist for children, and overtime she noticed that, although the children would initially improve, they would eventually come back, because the family was not working together as a unit. She realized that the work she was doing with an individual could only go so far, unless the family was brought in and everyone made an agreement to cooperate. This motivated her to pursue a CAGS in Family Systems. She also had the unique opportunity of training at the Family Institute in Cambridge, MA.

Professor Gagliardi has had a private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts for 33 years specializing in individual, couple and family therapy. She also has had a consulting business, in which she had the opportunity to connect with schools, family owned business and clinics, including community agencies. While juggling all of this, she has run numerous parent groups and teacher workshops and been a critical part of Kantor Family Institute in Cambridge. Professor Gagliardi was involved in the founding of The Family Solutions Institute, which grew out of Kantor Family Institute.

Her experiences as a therapist helped drive her to teach future clinicians. She was the co-director of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at Cambridge College and an adjunct faculty member of the Andover Newton Theological School and at Wheelock College. She became a part of the MSPP community five years ago and is actively involved in every part of the CFT program here.  In fact, she serves as an advisor to many of the CFT students, including myself.

When designing the CFT concentration at MSPP, Professor Gagliardi and the other team members decided to name the program “Couples and Family Therapy” instead of the traditional “Marriage and Family Therapy.” Professor Gagliardi advocated for this unique title because she wanted to acknowledge that the definition of relationships is changing and that there all many types of couples. “You do not need to be married to seek therapy,” she commented and specifying marriage in the title would not honor other relationships and this societal change.

Professor Gagliardi is driven by her desire to help people, thus she also finds the time to be a member of the Massachusetts Board of Allied Mental Health. As a part of this team, she is advocating for consumers and their protection and serves as the representatives of Marriage and Family Therapists on the board. She has the distinct chance to review applications for licensure in different disciplines.

She suggests that prospective and current students in family therapy programs should definitely go for all the way and apply for licensure as an LMFT, especially now that Massachusetts has given vendorship to LMFT’s. This means that LMFT’s can now bill insurances for the work they do, which is crucial to our progress. “Now that we have vendorship, the field will be growing and there will be an increase in jobs, especially due to Children’s Initiative, and in wraparound services and home based work,” she says.

Professor Gagliardi also recommends that therapists work to continue their education, even after they graduate. She advises that attending workshops and conferences are not only great networking tools, but also excellent ways to introduce balance into your life.

When asked about her many projects and what they mean to her, Professor Gagliardi remarks, “I am really excited because my passion is to train couples and family therapists to serve the underserved and to become competent and culturally sensitive therapists.”

Professor Gagliardi previously served as a board member of the Massachusetts Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and back in November, MSPP hosted the MAMFT board members, who spoke with CFT students regarding career opportunities. MSPP also hosted MFT program directors for their quarterly meeting.

“I love what I do and the thing I love the most is to be able to help people communicate and find a way to live their preferred lives. I think of all the times I have met with people and how in the end, we worked to find a way to improve the quality of their life. However small or large the change was, it was contributing to their quality of life, and I had a unique hand in that,” Professor Gagliardi remarks. Her passion is not only evident in her impressive criterion but also in the stories she shares with her students. She is knowledgeable, compassionate and encouraging, and I am honored to have the opportunity to train under her guidance.

Posted in Counseling Psychology, Couples and Family Therapy | Tagged , ,

Tips for Surving the GRE

For some of us, standardized tests are the last thing on our bucket lists. The truth is if you thought you were done with filling in bubbles with the SATs, I have some tough news for you: not only do you need to bubble-in like a champion for many national voting procedures, but equally bubble-riffic are exams like the GRE and the Examination of Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). However, depending on where you take it, it’s likely that your exam will be administered on computers, so you can put your #2 pencil away. As you may know, the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is required for entrance to MSPP’s Clinical PsyD graduate program; it is an optional application material for the Master’s programs, and the PsyD programs in both School Psychology (“strongly recommended” that you take the GRE for the School Psych PsyD program) and Leadership Psychology. This post will take a closer look at the GRE and offer some tips to employ when tackling that computer screen’s challenges.

As previously mentioned, for most test takers, this exam will be computer based. Please note that there was a significant overhaul of the GRE a few years back, so for those of us who may be rusty, let me offer some conventional wisdom: from what I understand, the “newer” (as of 2012, I believe) GRE is adaptive between sections, not within sections. Knowing this takes the pressure off those first five questions that had been touted as the most important in the previously adaptive GRE. Also, you can skip questions, flag questions, and scroll through questions. This is helpful for those moments when you’re stumped and feel the need to move on but not completely abandon ship. One overarching theme I might advise is to be sure that you understand what each question is really asking. This applies to both verbal and quantitative questions. If you’re not sure about a response, it’s okay to flag it and come back to it.

There are three major components to the GRE: 1. Verbal reasoning, 2. Quantitative Reasoning, and 3. Analytical Writing. We’ll dive into them below and even offer some tips.

Verbal Reasoning
Overall tip: being a good reader will help you with these sections. Magazines (a broad assortment), news articles, books – all of these will help. Additionally, the vocabulary is elevated from your banal SAT words; if this is a weakness for you, you may want to practice reading some literary reviews. 

  1. Reading Comprehension – You’ll read some passages and respond to some questions. These passages draw from a variety of subject matters, some of which may really interest you, others may make your eyelids very heavy. Either way, it would behoove you to pace yourself. For the reading comprehension section, you will be faced with the following:

A. Multiple-choice questions – These will be in the form of “select one or more correct answers” to each question. If it’s a “one or more” versus a “select one,” you will want to be sure that ALL of the responses you mark are accurate. You will not receive partial credit here.
B. Select-in-passage – There will be questions that ask you to highlight where in the passage you would find the answer (e.g. “Select the sentence that explains why a person may want to study for the GRE”).

2. Text Completion – There will be a sentence, or even a paragraph, with blanks and choices that make the most sense for the overall context. Tip: You want to read the ENTIRE passage before hitting “submit” on these; the response that may make sense in one blank may not include any word that makes sense in another blank.

Quantitative Reasoning
In general, you will want to refresh the following: algebra (including inequalities, foiling, and absolute values), number sense (integers, ratios, fractions, decimals, percentages), exponent rules, probability, mean/median/mode, and geometry (slopes, triangle and line properties may help you save some time). With word problems, be sure you’re deconstructing them to be sure you know what exactly it is that you’re supposed to be solving for.

A. Comparison Questions – Column A is greater, Column B is greater, the two quantities are equal, or the relationship cannot be determined. If you are able to remember that order, you will save a little bit of time.
B. Multiple-choice Questions – Similar to the Reading Comprehension, some of these may ask for multiple responses. If it is a question where multiple responses are possible, be sure that ALL of the selection you’ve made are correct; again, there is no partial credit here.
C. Numeric Entry Questions – It’s not all bubbles, folks. Here you enter an answer into a box provided. My advice on this one would be to embrace the flag and revisit option if you’re stuck. On the multiple-choice questions, you have a 1/5 chance of guessing the correct answer; here, you’ve got a blank box to fill in. As they say, do the math?

Analytical Writing
These are scored writing samples, and there are two of them. Overall, you should have two general goals in your writing here: 1. Structure: be sure you have a clear thesis, along with an organizational approach that flows. 2. Expression: mix up your sentence structure, throw in some of those bigger words you know (heyo, “pulchritude”), watch your grammar and punctuation, and please, stay away from colloquial language!

A. Analyze the Issue – Read the prompt. Take a side. Back it up. It’s not a bad idea to take a 5-paragraph format approach to this, with your introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and conclusion. In addition to clear organization (see above), you will also want to employ some quality examples to bolster your argument.
B. Analyze the Argument – Now you critique someone else’s argument. Look for the holes in logic; they’ll be there. Your writing should highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the argument provided. Again, organization and support of your position are some keys to your success.

Other tips: first of all, congratulations on making it this far in reading this post! Secondly, there are lots of resources out there, from Princeton Review (I am not endorsing any particular review, just offering an example) to GRE apps for your smart phone. Many of the books you buy to help you review also offer online versions or CDs with practice tests. Additionally, some colleges and universities offer GRE prep classes at a discounted rate. The benefit to these classes is that they’re scheduled, so if you have a trouble with internal motivation and sticking to your own review schedule, it could be worthwhile. I’d say to be sure you give yourself some time to familiarize yourself with some of the concepts and the layout of the test. Check out ETS’s website (listed below) because they have some free examples. And, if you do have documented accommodations, be sure to arrange for that well in advance.

Overall, try to get some good sleep, give yourself some practice, and pace yourself. You can do it!

ETS online:

Posted in Applying to MSPP, Change of Career, Clinical PsyD, Organizational Psychology & Leadership, School Psychology | Tagged