Reverse mentorship: An Opportunity for Early Career Professionals

Vaneeta Sandhu, PsyD

The practice of reverse mentorship – in other words, early career professionals (ECPs) mentoring their more senior-level colleagues – is likely occurring all the time, only we tend to not use the term “mentoring” when describing this interaction.

One responsibility of the mentor in reverse mentorship is relaying current knowledge and practices (for example, technological integration). Although we all take on an ethical responsibility to remain up to date on the literature, ECPs have the advantage of being recently engaged in extensive education and training in their fields. For instance, formal coursework and training in health psychology has not been in existence for long compared to other practices in the field of psychology.

More recent education and training includes more focus on cultural competency and diversity issues. Increasing globalization has provided most of us with valuable learning opportunities; it is also an opportunity for reverse mentorship. We have much to offer our senior-level colleagues in this realm, from researching language-appropriate outcome measures, knowledge of different cultural experiences of chronic pain, and how to describe the role of a psychologist to enhance accessibility, to how to effectively work with interpreters and translators.

Although reverse mentorship is framed as a positive opportunity, it does not come without its challenges. You are building this relationship as you would any relationship; connect on your commonalities, treat one another with respect, and be honest. When providing feedback in a constructive manner, be sure you are open to feedback yourself. Enter the relationship with confidence, humility, and flexibility. Being an effective source of support also means being comfortable owning what you do not know or what you cannot do. This ownership allows for trust to be built in the relationship.

As part of this mentoring relationship, you want to make sure you are offering something new to your colleague. Understanding the culture of your senior-level colleague, everything from understanding their role in the organization to what their training and experience has been, can help shape your role. This relationship is not meant to be a power struggle; it is not a power play for you nor does it indicate incompetence for the other party.

When reverse mentorship is a cultural norm for an organization, it fosters a sense of empowerment for the workplace and for the ECP. It validates the ECP and recognizes his/her strengths, which increases commitment to the workplace, and makes the ECP more receptive to feedback in the future. Clinics, hospitals, and other treatment settings can provide opportunities for these types of interactions, creating a cultural norm of the organization. This includes placing both early career and later career individuals in leadership positions, and creating structured opportunities for both groups to exchange knowledge and ideas. In the end, if you do provide mentoring to a senior-level colleague, be open in turn to the role of mentee, as this colleague likely has much to offer in return.

Reverse mentorship is just one of the issues that will be discussed in the upcoming Division 38 ECP presentation at this year’s APA Convention. More information on ECP-specific Convention programming will be included in this column in the next issue.