Mentoring Spotlight

Editor’s note: The Mentoring Spotlight is a recurring feature that highlights the Society for Health Psychology’s Health Psych Connections program with experiences from mentor-mentee pairs and occasional articles on effective mentoring. The Health Psych Connections program is open to all SfHP members at any career stage post-doctorate; for more information visit

Denise Gretchen-Doorly, PhD
Denise Gretchen-Doorly, PhD

Denise Gretchen-Doorly, PhD

“I didn’t know you paired me up with Division 38 royalty!” I exclaimed to Zeeshan Butt, PhD, coordinator of the Health Psych Connections program. Health Psych Connections matches division members who have completed a doctoral-level degree with another member who volunteers to make available his or her expertise and advice. The program is specifically NOT geared towards students seeking academic mentoring. Instead, it fills an often-overlooked gap in professional development: professional mentoring among working psychologists who already have their degrees.

I needed help with an upcoming presentation I was invited to give at the Cedars-Sinai Interdisciplinary Conference on Diabetes and Metabolism Grand Rounds in Los Angeles. The physician who invited me was also the Director of their Diabetes Outpatient Teaching Education Center. When I asked her what topic I should present on, all she said was, “We need to learn how to work with mental health issues that present in our patients.”

This was the first time I was invited to give a Grand Rounds. In my previous position as a Research Psychologist at UCLA, I presented many posters at national research conferences but never participated in an oral presentation or symposium. After my daughter was born two and a half years ago, I left academia and started a private practice focusing on health psychology. When faced with the Cedars project, I realized I was a bit “rusty” on my presentation skills. I also wasn’t sure exactly how to effectively get my message across to medical personnel about mental health issues in primary care.

I was lucky enough to be paired with Nancy Ruddy, PhD, 2013 winner of the Society for Health Psychology’s Timothy B. Jeffrey Memorial Award for Outstanding Contributions to Clinical Health Psychology. Dr. Ruddy is nothing short of amazing, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to ask for her help. She has been at the forefront of education and training as well as policy advocacy for the inclusion of psychologists in primary care. She has implemented a broad-based psychosocial curriculum and a primary care-based integrated behavioral health service. She also developed and implemented a program to train psychologists to work in a primary care setting. That’s just a short list of her accomplishments! I can’t tell you the feeling of hitting the “jackpot” that came over me when Zeeshan told me I was matched with her!

Dr. Ruddy and I scheduled two phone calls and a PowerPoint slide review for this project. I came away with four pages of notes after our first phone call alone. She provided me with clear, straightforward suggestions based on her intimate knowledge of life in the medical field. I especially appreciated the way she stopped me from making a common “rookie” mistake – thinking that medical personnel are clueless about mental health issues and that I’m the “expert.” She cautioned me to take a more collaborative approach if I wanted the audience to be able to hear my message. Her slide review was invaluable and helped me to tighten up my message and make the slides more visually appealing to the audience.

I presented my talk titled “Early Identification and Treatment of Comorbid Mental Disorders in Patients with Metabolic Syndrome or Diabetes Mellitus” on a bright, sunny day in Los Angeles to an audience filled with physicians, residents, nurses, social workers, and diabetes educators. The talk was warmly received. Several staff members stayed to congratulate me and thank me for providing them with helpful information. As an added bonus, the presentation has generated psychotherapy referrals to my private practice. Talk about a “win-win” situation!

I cannot express my gratitude enough to Zeeshan Butt, Nancy Ruddy, and SfHP for the opportunity to participate in the Connections program. As a mid-career professional who has mentored many students, it was so nice to be a “mentee” for a change! I encourage you to get involved in this wonderful program, either as a mentor or mentee.

As the great American orator Robert Ingersoll said, “We rise by lifting others.” We are all fortunate that SfHP enthusiastically embraces this principle.

Nancy Ruddy, PhD
Nancy Ruddy, PhD

Nancy Ruddy, PhD

I was so happy to add my name to the list when Zee Butt asked if I would be willing to mentor people via the Health Psych Connections program. Anyone who knows me knows that I am just a little passionate about integrated primary care. I feel so lucky that I had the opportunity to start my career in primary care a long time ago, and that I’ve had such great mentorship over the years. I realize that most psychologists have never had the opportunity to work in a primary care setting. It is challenging to go outside one’s comfort zone – and I believe this barrier prevents many psychologists from exploring this area. I really looked forward to the opportunity to help other psychologists who were considering either dipping their toe or taking the plunge into primary care waters.

Zee asked me to reach out to Dr. Doorly as she prepared to give a presentation to a group of medical providers in a diabetes center. As I suspected, she knew so much more than she gave herself credit for. She had a lot of great ideas for the presentation, and was already tuned into the need to be very pragmatic in her focus and approach. We discussed her desired “take away points,” ensuring that those points were clearly delineated and highlighted. We also discussed how important it is to respect the wisdom in the room. It can be so tempting to seek the comfort of the “expert role” when we go outside of our comfort zone. But, as we talked, Dr. Doorly acknowledged that one of her primary goals was to achieve a more collaborative and connected relationship with the audience. Again, she had a lot of great ideas how to achieve this, and we worked together to integrate this approach into her talk.

Part of our conversation centered on how challenging it can be to figure out how to take all of the wonderful skills from our training and experience and apply them in a way that is truly accessible to the community we serve. While we commiserated on this, we shared both our challenges and successes in this regard. As usual, I left our calls enriched by Dr. Doorly’s knowledge and experience and invigorated by our discussion. Mentorship is almost always a two way street – two professionals collaborating to improve an outcome or solve a particularly thorny problem. Hmmm – kind of parallel to how we are stronger and more effective when we collaborate with our medical colleagues!

My sincere thanks to SfHP, Zee and his commitment to the mentoring program, and of course to Dr. Doorly. It was energizing, fun, and informative to share our relevant expertise with one another. Now, I’m just waiting for the next e-mail from Zee!