Interview with Dr. Julie Kinn
Here on the Is This Adulting? Blog, we’ve had the privilege of sharing the stories of many people who have spoken about how mental illness and mental health have played a role in their lives, as well as their thoughts about how to approach self-care and mental health. A number of those people, including myself, have sought out the help of mental health professionals over the years. I was, therefore, very excited to have the opportunity to interview Dr. Julie Kinn, a clinical psychologist and member of the Best Friends’ group, to learn a little bit more about what it is like working in a field that so many of us have looked to for help.
Q: First of all, how is your mental health currently? How are you doing?
J: Thanks for asking! I’m doing as well as can be expected, I suppose. I’m trying to limit myself to reading the news twice a day (and never before bed). My biggest concern is my kids, of course. However, I think they are doing better (mentally) than my husband and I are. Overall, I think we are coping in healthy ways, and just each taking it in turns to have tantrums.
Q: You have over 15 years of experience as a clinical psychologist. Can you talk a little bit about what, broadly, clinical psychologists do? I think a lot of people get psychologists and psychiatrists confused.
J: Thanks for the promotion, but I’ve only been a psychologist for about 11 years (although I was a therapist and researcher for about 5 years before that). Clinical psychologists are trained to be both researchers and clinicians. We can do behavioral health treatment, but we only have “prescription privileges” in a few states. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, have medical training along with training in behavioral health therapy. For the most part, psychiatrists are responsible for medication management within a treatment team, but some do provide therapy as well. You can tell who is who by our degrees. Psychologists are always Ph.D.s or Psy.Ds, whereas psychiatrists are M.D.s.
These days, most behavioral health therapists have masters degrees in counseling or social work. When I look for a therapist, I usually defer toward someone with a MA degree, because their training programs are truly geared toward therapy and they tend to be very well trained.
That said, I always recommend giving a clinician a call and chatting with them by phone before scheduling your first appointment to make sure you click. We tend to do better in therapy with someone we actually like!
Q: I’d like to delve a little bit more directly into your background and the kind of work you specifically do and have done. How did you come to be a clinical psychologist? What inspired you to pursue that career path?
J: I love research and statistics, so I chose to study clinical psychology to learn ways to help people on a population level. I enjoy working on things like mobile apps, podcasts, and other technology that can help thousands of people (instead of doing therapy one at a time).
Q: In the past you were the owner of a company that provided psychological services to individuals, couples, and families. What would you say is the best part of working so directly with people on their mental health?
J: I started a private practice to keep myself fresh as a therapist. My current position doesn’t include any direct clinical work, so I wanted to still help a few people one-on-one. It’s always incredible to see people motivated to face fears and change behaviors. Everyone I’ve worked with has an inner spark and strength. The key is helping them find it!
Q: Was it challenging, when you were engaging directly with people and learning about their personal struggles, to distance yourself enough from them to protect your own mental health? If so, what strategies did you use to do that?
J: It’s funny – for some reason, that side of my brain just kind of turns off when I’m with someone in distress. I’ve certainly cried with patients and clients before (because I’m pretty empathic), but I don’t find myself dwelling on it afterwards. I really like the mobile app “Provider Resilience,” which I strongly recommend to anyone in a helping profession (not just therapists). I also have a rich and fulfilling life outside of my work…that is probably the most important aspect.
Q: What signs would lead you to recommend therapy for someone?
J: Heck, if you’ve got good healthcare, go for it! Therapy is super fun! I think everyone should try it at least once. That said, I especially recommend it if thoughts or behaviors are getting in the way of your work, your schooling, or your personal relationships.
Q: How would you recommend a person care for a family member or friend who perhaps would benefit from therapy but instead turns to them for help?
J: Remember that you can’t force anyone to change or to make a good decision. Let them know how their behaviors affect you, and give them a recommendation for therapy once. After that, lay off unless you think they might be a danger to themselves or others. Just keep in mind that *you* are not responsible for them and take good care of yourself. It’s way too easy to get stuck as someone who feels responsible for someone else’s happiness and that’s a no-win situation.
Q: Remote therapy has become an important way for people to continue therapeutic treatment in recent months. Do you have a preference between face to face therapy and remote therapy?
J: Remote therapy is fantastic! It’s just as effective as face-to-face, and I recommend trying it. The only tricky thing is making sure your therapist is actually trained in behavioral health at a reliable university. Some of the online programs will hire anyone, so make sure you know their background and specialty.
Q: Currently you work as a research psychologist for the U.S. Department of Defense. Can you talk a little bit about what doing research in your field entails?
J: Nope. Sorry, but we’d have to go through my public affairs officer! However, you can hear our podcasts at https://health.mil/podcasts
Q: What are some of the most notable advances in research and in research techniques that your field has seen since you’ve been working as a psychologist?
J: The biggest thing is advances in telehealth (i.e., remote therapy) and also the advent of mobile apps. You can learn about the mobile apps my team made at https://health.mil/mHealth
Q: Talking more broadly again, there are a number of popular misconceptions that float around about mental health and the professions that deal with it. What do you most want people to understand about your career and/or mental health professions as a whole?
J: There are many different kinds of behavioral health therapists, and each therapist or psychologist has their own personality. So, Shop Around! It’s okay to dump your therapist if you don’t feel a connection.
Q: Are there any mental disorders that you feel are especially misunderstood?
J: Depression is the biggie for me. I hate hearing people say, “get over it.” Depression can kiss my butt.
Q: As of the time we’re having this interview, we are dealing with a collective worldwide crisis in the form of COVID-19. What advice do you have regarding ways people can be aware of the state of their mental health and practice self-care during this time?
J: I’m a big fan of tracking moods so you can learn more about yourself. Try the T2 Mood Tracker mobile app or another app to get a better sense of what works or doesn’t work for you.
Q: Are there any particular ways you’d recommend for helping our neighbors, friends, and family members who are experiencing heightened stress/anxiety during this time or perhaps dealing with a higher amount of isolation?
J: Find at least one way to help others. Maybe it’s sewing masks, pulling weeds, or painting rocks. Just do at least one good thing for others every week.
Q: Tell me a little about your current projects, outside of your day job, and where anyone interested in them can find them.
J: Best Friends can listen to my brother Marc and I on The Station Wagon Podcast, a silly podcast where we experiment with different ways to improve our lives. I also post my crafts and work on Twitter and Instagram @JulieKinn. To learn more about my day job, follow me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/juliekinn).
A few words about me
Katie is a gentle soul with a snarky side who loves curries, traveling, and cats, is deeply afraid of losing all her friends and/or being lost at sea, and thinks cake is dreadfully overrated as a food item. She aspires to be as good a human being as she can be and to leave the world a little better than how she found it.