I want students to be able to think critically, learn how to question their own assumptions and approach complicated issues in a compassionate way.
It was a discussion at a conference in Sweden between the Dalai Lama and psychiatrist Aaron Beck, the father of cognitive therapy, that set Professor Anna May Baker on a path toward clinical psychology.
"Understanding why people act the way they do was always fascinating to me," she says. "In Sweden, I became interested in the similarities between techniques cognitive therapists use and Buddhist ideas. We have power over our own minds. We have choice. We can step back and not be as reactionary."
In her research, Baker analyzes ways psychology can improve patient outcomes in health-care settings. For example, patients may know medication will make them healthy but still fail to take it. Baker studies that breakdown and ways to change it.
"People's behaviors; their stressors in everyday life, such as housing or transportation; how doctors and patients communicate — all these things get in the way of people taking care of their health," she says. "Mental health really impacts how people behave in a health-care setting. If we identify and intervene when these problems occur, we can hopefully improve health outcomes."
In Baker's classroom, students learn to critically analyze research by first recognizing that most issues are not black and white in nature, and then studying the complexities and nuances.
"We're presented with research all the time. People need a good understanding of research methods to evaluate what that research is telling us," Baker says. "I want students to be able to think critically, learn how to question their own assumptions and approach complicated issues in a compassionate way."
She also mentors students planning careers in psychology, a vast field with many applications. "It needs to be clearer for students," Baker says. "I'd like to develop materials to demystify the process and help them make decisions about what direction they want their careers to take."
Posted Oct. 7, 2016