Mentoring Spotlight

by Samara Serotkin, PsyD & Meredith Dreyer Gillette, PhD

Editor’s note: The Mentoring Spotlight is a new recurring feature that will highlight Division 38’s Health Psych Connections program with experiences from mentor-mentee pairs and occasional articles on effective mentoring. Samara Serotkin, PsyD and Meredith Dreyer Gillette, PhD were kind enough to agree to share their experiences for this first installment of the Mentoring Spotlight.

Samara Serotkin, PsyD
Samara Serotkin, PsyD

Dr. Serotkin: When I contacted the Connections program, I was hoping to get some questions answered about collaborating with healthcare professionals in my private practice. What I gained from my mentor went well beyond my expectations, however. Not only did I get my questions answered, but I also received some valuable guidance with regard to practice development. Most importantly, my conversation helped build the confidence I needed to take the next steps in my career.

When I graduated in 2010, I was offered what felt like my dream job: an opportunity to help hundreds of thousands of people each year make positive changes to their health. I found myself in a position of subject matter expert in the area of psychology and behavior change at a company delivering telephone-based interventions around the world. The goals of the programs varied, from tobacco cessation to weight loss and diabetes management, but we took pride in the fact that all of our programs were evidence-based. My work at that company taught me that the need for helping people make better choices around their health has never been more urgent.

It’s my belief that mindfulness can be a powerful tool to help people make sustainable behavior changes. In my 10+ years of experience working with people in therapeutic settings, I have been consistently impressed and humbled by the changes I witness in people who are making mindfulness a part of their lives. Therefore, when I left my corporate job to launch my private practice, Focus and Thrive, I wanted to continue my work in helping people use mindfulness as a tool for making health-related behavior change.

Back out on my own, I had so many questions about how to continue my work. Could I lead a mindfulness-based behavior change program of my own, for example? Would I need to co-facilitate with another health care provider, or could I just consult with them? I wanted to make sure I ran my plans past an expert whom I could trust to let me know if I was heading towards any ethical pitfalls, and who might help me detect ethical blind spots along the way.

One of my first steps was to seek out mentorship from the Division 38 mentorship program. The mentor I was connected with was Dr. Meredith Dreyer. We scheduled a phone meeting quickly, and she was enormously helpful. She helped me clarify what I am qualified to do, and where I might want to seek additional support or consultation. She also gave me some recommendations around practice development, which is a real challenge for me because all of the insurance panels in my area have been closed to psychologists for some time. It can be difficult to develop a sustainable caseload without the benefit of insurance referrals. I knew that if I wanted to build my practice, I needed to be creative and persistent with my efforts to get my practice off the ground. Meredith helped me come up with several ideas to grow my practice in the direction I wanted to follow, without marketing in a way that felt unprofessional. She also shared the names of others whose work I could look into for more information.

While my discussion with Meredith was enormously informative and answered my questions, the impact on me was something much deeper: Meredith helped me gain a sense of empowerment and confidence in my professional voice. I felt more trusting in my ability to make ethical decisions in the uncharted territory I have stepped into, and believed more deeply in my right to have something important to say on the issue. This self-confidence allowed me to submit three poster proposals about my work to the International Symposium of Contemplative Studies, all of which were accepted! I have also successfully launched my online coaching and classes for health care professionals, helping them learn how mindfulness skills can help them become better practitioners. I have so much to learn from so many people. Now, thanks to the mentorship I received from Meredith, I feel more confident to be a part of the conversation.

Meredith Dreyer Gillette, PhD
Meredith Dreyer Gillette, PhD

Dr. Dreyer Gillette: I was asked to serve as a mentor by one of my new colleagues at my hospital, Dr. Kathy Goggin. When I first received the request my initial thought was, “Am I really qualified to serve as a mentor?” After all, I like to still consider myself an early(ish) career individual. However, once I got on the phone with Samara, it became apparent that I had many ideas to share with her. We were able to cover topics such as setting up interdisciplinary treatment programs, how to network in the community, how to establish a practice, and how to find collaborating providers.

While my program development experience has been with children, it was easier than I thought to help Samara with translating this to adults. Hearing her ideas about how to integrate mindfulness with behavioral changes for adults was very stimulating. We are always looking for new ways to work with individuals who have obesity, and I think her approach is very innovative and building steam in the healthcare industry.

I was impressed by the steps that Samara had already gone through to get her practice set up and was able to review her website and materials. This process was a very brief one, but a rewarding experience for both Samara and me. She was so appreciative of my ideas and thoughts (and even had a few ideas on how I could sleep train my son, having done so with her children). I would encourage others to consider this process, as it does not take too much time, but clearly has many benefits to both the mentor and mentee.

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