Benefits of Early Childhood Assessment

early-childhood-2If you are concerned that your young child is not developing in an age-appropriate way, you should know that research demonstrates that early diagnosis and intervention are crucial.  When a diagnosis is made earlier, as the child’s brain is still developing, there are a number of outcomes.

  • Treatment can begin sooner and can be more effective.
  • There is also evidence that children who receive timely support in acquiring early literacy skills have better outcomes in areas of reading and mathematics.
  • Additionally, providing a child with appropriate behavioral supports at daycare or in the classroom leads to increased self-esteem, successful peer relationships, and sets the stage for the child’s positive attitude towards school in general.

The Brenner Assessment and Consultation Center at MSPP has a long history of providing comprehensive neuropsychological and psychological assessments to children and adolescents.  At our specialty service for testing young children (generally ages 2-6), we recognize that it is a special challenge for parents, teachers and others involved in the child’s care to have a clear understanding of what is interfering with age-appropriate development.  When it comes to very young children, not all skills develop at the same pace.  For example, young children whose language skills don’t emerge as expected may eventually catch up to their peers with little or no intervention.  Alternatively, delayed speech acquisition could be a sign of a potential Language Disorder or an Autism Spectrum disorder.  Comprehensive and specialized testing is the best way to address each unique child.

At the Brenner Center Neurodevelopmental Assessment Service for Young Children “NYC”, we use a developmental lens to understand each child’s unique presentation.   Over the course of the evaluation, we take time to get to know the child and the family.  As part of our comprehensive neurodevelopmental assessment, we observe the child in his/her natural environment (such as home, daycare, preschool or an Early Intervention playgroup).  This observation enables us to understand how the child copes with the demands of a group setting.  Additionally, we collaborate with the child’s teachers and other service providers, in order to understand their perspective on the child’s strengths and areas of concern.  We work hard to maximize the child’s comfort in the testing environment and typically see children over the course of several testing sessions.

Our evaluations result in comprehensive, jargon-free reports that include specific recommendations for parents, teachers, and others working with the child and the family.  In writing the recommendations, we collaborate with professionals from other disciplines (such as speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists and child psychiatrists) to ensure that our recommendations embrace all aspects of the child’s development.  We have a thorough knowledge of the IEP process and are available to attend IEP or other school meetings on request.  For more information about the Neurodevelopmental Assessment Service for Young Children (NYC) at MSPP’s Brenner Center, please visit

Can You Spare Some Change?

Change. It happens to every single one of us every single day.Shift Happens

It’s oftentimes something that we simply allow to happen to us.  And at times we have no choice but to accept it.

Consider the following series of change events:

You wake up.  The temperature outside is 20 degrees colder than it was yesterday.  Now you have to re-think the light-weight outfit you had picked out for today.

In the shower, you tried out your new shampoo only to realize during styling that it’s affecting your hair differently than your last shampoo.  Now getting your cowlick to behave is proving a challenge.  You need to get creative with hair gel, and better make it work quickly because you’re running late for your new job.

Already, before even stepping out of the house, you have encountered change and found ways to overcome it.

At other times we realize a need for significant change in order to improve our status quo. At such times, we make a choice to seek it out.  Changes could include making the decision to apply for graduate school or to add an additional member to the family.

What about change within your organization? Have you ever lost a member of your team at work, and had to rise to the occasion to make up for their usual tasks? Have you been part of a workforce undergoing an organizational merger, and been forced to face the unknown of your future at work?

Dr. John Kotter, who is a leadership scientist of sorts, put 30 years of research into an 8-step model for leading change in a holistic way that can usher success for the individual and the team.  His overarching message throughout all of his work is that change is essential. And it is.  How else are we to grow as people and as a species if we do not seek out and readily embrace change?Threat to Opportunity

The principles of Dr. Kotter’s model, as borrowed from the Kotter International website, include:
1. Establishing a sense of urgency.
2. Creating the guiding coalition.
3. Developing a change vision.
4. Communicating the vision for buy-in.
5. Empowering broad-based action.
6. Generating short-term wins.
7. Never letting up.
8. Incorporating changing into the culture.

Some of the principles probably look pretty self-explanatory and make a lot of sense without knowing anything further about them.  They are all, however, worth taking a look at for eliciting positive change within your personal life as well as learning how to acclimate to and use change to your advantage at work.  Each principle is well-explained at  I suggest you take a moment to explore them.

Time for ChangeUsing these principles, we can all spare some change…

Posted in Change of Career, Executive Coaching, Organizational Psychology & Leadership, Personal Growth | Tagged ,

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