Clinical Psychology Grad Student Profile

Read an interview with a clinical psychology student and learn from her experience.

Deborah Kerr
Second-year PhD student of clinical psychology
Madison, Wisconsin


As a second-year student of clinical psychology, Deborah Kerr works long hours meeting class requirements, conducting research and writing grants for her classes, but her excitement about the advances in her field is infectious.

“With neuroimaging technology we have insight into exactly what’s going on inside of brains. It’s amazing to see what’s happening in the brain of someone who’s snake-phobic when they’re viewing a video of a snake. We can compare that to the brain of someone who is not snake-phobic and examine the differences. When we help them to feel more in control of the situation, we can then observe that circuitry in their brains changing. It’s powerful: you can see how much you can do. It’s not just that they say ‘I feel better,’ but we can actually see the difference.”

Inspired Early on to Study Psychology

Kerr has been interested in psychology, especially the cognitive basis of mood and anxiety disorders, since high school. “I was the one that people came to when they wanted to talk, when they were really happy or really sad. And I was always interested in what was going on in their heads.” After completing her bachelor’s degree, she worked with medical school researchers and participated in neuroimaging studies. Now, her PhD research is focused on using these technologies to develop more effective therapeutic strategies.

Expectations for Study

Kerr selected a PhD program with excellent resources for research and an open communication policy between students and faculty members. During the first two years of her studies, Kerr took core courses in areas like statistics, depression, and psychopathology. At the end of the second year she learned clinical strategies for working directly with patients, and began seeing patients professionally in the third year.

The time investment doesn’t faze Kerr. “I’m almost three years into a 6-year program, and I haven’t even noticed the time passing. The payoff is that I’m going to be able to do what I want for the rest of my life—helping people.”

Clinical Psychology Today—and Tomorrow

“What makes us uniquely human is the brain. Depression and anxiety are probably the most common problems we have in the world today—combining them, looking at what happens in the brain and how we can change that, is so interesting.” Looking to the future, Kerr anticipates that clinicians will make good use of new medical solutions to psychological problems.

“People are moving away from using medication on its own, toward combining medicine with therapy and a variety of other treatments. People are paying more attention to what’s going on in the body and the brain, medically, not just self-reporting from the patients but looking at empirical evidence as well.”

Kerr highly recommends that all students interested in studying clinical psychology go into their programs with a love of psychology and the drive to work hard to become a clinical psychologist.

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