By PAULINE E. REIF, alumna of Writing and Consciousness MFA program
Bryant Welch, JD, PhD, chair of the Clinical Psychology (PsyD) program, comes to CIIS with more than 30 years of experience as a nationally prominent psychologist. A Harvard College and Harvard Law School graduate, he received his PhD in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1976. He’s held faculty appointments at the University of University of North Carolina and George Washington University. He is a research associate graduate of the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute. From 1986 to 1993, Welch initiated and ran the American Psychological Association Practice Directorate, leading organized psychology through one of its most successful advocacy eras.
Much can be said of Dr. Welch’s broad experience and leadership in law, psychology, and politics. As a clinician, researcher, teacher, advocate, activist, and author he brings to the CIIS community a wealth of knowledge, skill, and passion.
I recently spoke to Welch about what brought him to CIIS and why he views it as a “wonderful home” in which to continue his work.
Pauline: Let’s begin with how you came to CIIS. Why CIIS for you?
Bryant: I came to CIIS because this is a uniquely exciting time in psychology. For the first time in my career as a psychologist we have this very exciting convergence of neuroscience and spirituality and what was at one time dismissed as “West Coast Woo-Woo” is now, lo and behold, being substantiated by Western neuroscience. That is a huge intellectual development with all kinds of implications. I think for CIIS it represents an astonishing validation for the vision of its founding fathers, namely that Eastern thought had a lot to inform Western psychology and Western culture. This leads to a variety of implications for the practice of psychology. We’ve now got a critical mass of integrated information that we’ve just not had in the past. And we’ve got new treatments that are flowering as a result of this convergence. So, I was looking for a place where I could work and integrate this new information and disseminate it into the mental health field and also into the larger world community.
I’ve also always been interested in social justice and politics and been particularly intrigued by the psychological consequences of injustice and oppression. In my book written a few years ago called, "State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind" (Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martins Press, June, 2008), I explore how people are being manipulated and trying to show psychologically how that kind of manipulation exploits psychological vulnerabilities but also makes people sicker in the process of doing it. So I’m very interested in the psychology of what oppression does to people whatever form it’s in and hope to build a strong social justice component focusing on answering the psychological questions surrounding these issues. I see CIIS as an incredible place to address these goals.
Also, when I first came here for interviews, I loved the faculty and thought that the administration seemed to be very, very trustworthy and so, it felt like a potentially wonderful home and I feel that it is.
Pauline: So CIIS is the kind of place one comes home to, a community of like minds, but it’s also a place where one is stretched as well.
Bryant: Yes. I’ve been to some really good schools and I’ve been with some really good institutions and I’ve never been in a place as stimulating as this…never. You know, I was on the Harvard campus in the 60s and the early 70s and that was pretty exciting but I’m telling you it’s nothing compared to this.
And then you’ve got the people here, an extremely bright faculty who actually practice what they teach. It’s just a remarkable place, an extraordinary culture, that’s very different from others I’ve been a part of.
Pauline: Can you address in a little more detail what makes the PsyD program at CIIS unique? Why come here?
Bryant: Yes. There are a lot of things I can say about why it’s unique. I think the most unique thing about the culture here is that thing that’s hardest to put into words that I don’t think a person can understand by reading a course catalog.
(Visit CIIS' YouTube channel to watch Bryant Welch talk more about the PsyD program)
Second, issues like cultural diversity, social justice and subjective human experience are revered here and people here—actually—live their respect for those aspects of human experience.
In terms of our program compared to other programs, our students have tremendous academic flexibility. The range of things our students can study here wouldn’t be allowed in other more conventional programs. This is evident in their dissertations, written on subjects that include spiritual issues and subjective human experience.
It’s also important to note that we’re one of three Clinical Psychology Doctoral program facilities in the State of California that’s been approved for Mental Health Stipends to support graduate students who are working in underserved populations. These internships meet the APA standards even though serving this population is not an APA requirement. These programs tend not to have as much money nor provide as big a stipend as the APA programs offer, but our students want to work in these programs and we support them in these situations. As I’ve said, this is a very, very humanistic and spiritual place with just tremendous emphasis on subjective human experience.
Pauline: Can you speak to our student’s success in passing their clinical boards?
Bryant: Yes, it’s pretty remarkable. There are six APA approved programs in the Bay Area, PsyD programs, and of those six, our students over five-year periods had higher pass rates on the national psychology exam. That exam has seven subtests and we scored higher on all seven subtests for all of the schools except one where we scored higher on five and the other schools scored higher on two. This is a remarkable statistical outcome.
Pauline: And the Boards for these exams typically align with the traditional clinical and academic APA standards?
Bryant: Oh, absolutely. Our students compete against students who have been given traditional APA curriculums and we get higher scores.
Pauline: So the students coming through CIIS in the PsyD program are clinically well-prepared and succeeding.
Bryant: Yes. We have great students. We really do.
Pauline: Where do you see the PsyD program going in the next five years?
Bryant: There’s a consensus with the administration that I’m very appreciative of. We want a very good state of the art clinical psychology program that teaches people current neuroscience, current psychological science with the historical emphasis on Eastern thought and spirituality which now rests in very close proximity to the very neuroscience we’re talking about teaching. And then, we want a program that is not limited to cognitive behavioral therapy or traditional psychodynamic therapy but that uses those and integrates them with newer therapies such as somatics, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), contemplative practices, and trauma therapy. We’re also going to be adding a social justice component, which includes environmental justice.
We’ll teach a form of science unlike a lot of the traditional programs that uses mixed methods and lets people meet the scientific questions where they are. That is, if we need further theoretical development before we can have control of laboratory studies we’re going to let people do the theoretical, even literature search with theoretical theory development that is a precursor to then doing scientific studies through the traditional research paradigm. That this traditional research paradigm defines science alone is silly. The point of science is to answer the unknown, to explore the unknown not to confirm the obvious, which is what a lot of psychology science has become.
Pauline: To explore the unknown rather than to confirm the obvious. I like that.
Bryant: Right. So we’re developing the program that we’ve all wanted, committed to the idea of putting spirituality into the program in a very pronounced and new and cutting edge way, that will, I think put CIIS at the vanguard of the profession. I really do.
Pauline: And that spiritual focus when it’s integrated with neuroscience and psychology becomes less either/or and more both/and. Perhaps it’s in some ways even the same thing?
Bryant: That’s right. At most now its different sides of the same coin and they’re talking to each other and the irony of the ironies is that the group that’s now being cut out is the traditional research academic psychologists who don’t have a lot to say about what we’re talking about.
Pauline: Isn’t that interesting?
Bryant: Yes. Once you get pictures of neuroscience you don’t need a middleman anymore.
Pauline: Which would explain, perhaps the polarization with the more traditional institutions and the extreme push between the traditional and the new?
Pauline: So CIIS can provide a place where the convergence of the old and new can take place, a kind of crossroads where people from all different backgrounds who are looking for an authentic and rigorous academic experience can come, meet, and grow, a place where their whole person and their ways of learning are honored.
Bryant: Yes. The more of ourselves we experience, the better we feel.
Pauline: That’s beautiful.
Bryant: And that, I think, is the lesson of a lot of different spiritual traditions. It’s what we’re learning in Western medicine, with concepts like embodiment, and it’s now beginning to enter mainstream psychotherapy, at least in the Bay Area. One of Freud’s often overlooked statements is that the first ego is a body ego. And I can remember reading that and thinking I had a sense of what it meant, but I’d never seen it really developed. Now I think that’s what somatics is developing, neuropsychology is explaining and contemplative practices and somatics are treating.
Pauline: That’s very succinct and ties in to what you’ve mentioned in your video on CIIS' YouTube channel about CIIS offering an important different way of viewing reality through understanding the subjective human experience.
Bryant: Right, if you value that.
Pauline: And that’s what CIIS values and the above developing methods noted.
Pauline: Welcome to CIIS!
Bryant: Thank you! I appreciate that.