Wednesday, May 20, 2015


DR. TRACI accepting her Award for Excellence in Research

 She earned a Bachelor’s Degree at Yale University and became a successful writer, a published author, and an excellent professional editor. Our daughter Traci made us PROUD!

She earned three Masters Degrees: two from Columbia University and one from Rutgers University. Traci made us even PROUDER!

On May 17, 2015, she earned a Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology at Rutgers University, the No. 1 public university in the New York – New Jersey Region. But most importantly, to our surprise, Tina and I witnessed her receive the highest award for excellence in research – having written the most outstanding dissertation among those of 46 doctoral graduates. The recognition (including a Cash Award) and her well-written, scholarly and inspiring speech are forever remembered. DR. TRACI made us PROUDEST!

The truth is, our daughter fulfilled what Tina wished and had planned to achieve earlier – a Doctorate in Psychology. Motherhood duties – raising good and responsible children took the opportunity away. DR. TINA would have sounded nice too but DR. T should suffice. After all, she already has a Masters Degree from George Washington University under her belt and an Honorary Doctorate in Motherhood par excellence from the University of Life.

Dr. Traci’s Commencement speech briefly described her award-winning dissertation. I am publishing it here:

“Good morning, Dean Messer, GSAPP faculty, family, friends, and fellow graduates. I am honored and privileged to be receiving the Cyril Franks Award today. I would first like to thank Shalonda Kelly for shaping me into the clinical psychologist I am today, and Karen Riggs Skean for her guidance in the conceptualization of this dissertation. I would also like to thank my parents for their endless support, and my husband, Jason, who deserves an honorary doctorate for walking alongside me these past five years.

As my fellow graduates can attest, starting a dissertation is not easy, and choosing a topic is often the hardest part. So, I looked to my own life, and decided to conduct an unofficial, makeshift pilot study--of my marriage. Unbeknownst to my husband, I began to gather data on our arguments, which intrigued me the most. And I noticed that we would get stuck in the same argument over and over again. No matter what we were fighting about, how we fought stayed the same. (I am sure no one in the audience can relate to this.) It seemed like we were speaking two different languages--two different languages of emotional connection. Whereas Jason needed to verbally express his emotions in the moment, I needed to process my emotions inside first. Whereas Jason felt comforted by my words, I felt comforted by his touch. My data were further corroborated when I compared our family gatherings. For my tempered, Filipino-American family, gatherings involved sitting around a table focused on a competitive game of Texas Hold’em, or taking turns performing eighties pop on a karaoke machine. My family connected through engaging in an activity together, content in simply being in one another’s presence. For Jason’s energetic, Italian-American family, gatherings involved storytelling. Everyone told stories--sometimes the same story over and over again. His family connected verbally, by reminiscing together. Our different ways of connecting originated from the two distinct cultures that shaped us. So when we tried to connect, we used our own respective languages, without realizing we had each stepped foot into foreign territory.

I began to wonder whether there existed a universal language of connection, and ultimately found my way to emotionally focused couples therapy, or EFT. With its foundations in attachment theory, EFT is based in the universal idea that as human beings, in order to feel secure enough to explore the world, we are all hard-wired to seek safety and emotional connection with another human being, be it our caregivers when we are babies, or our partners in our intimate relationships. EFT is an evidence-based treatment supported by RCTs on predominantly White couples in the U.S. and Canada. Yet while EFT is utilized by couple therapists worldwide, there exists no research on its cross-cultural application. When it comes to finding that universal language of connection, I wondered whether EFT might be on to something. So I decided to find out.

For my dissertation study, I interviewed nine EFT therapists across the world about their experiences using EFT with intercultural couples. I asked them how their own cultures impacted their experiences of connection and emotion, and how and when cultural differences arise in treatment. I also asked whether they found EFT to be helpful with intercultural couples or whether they needed to modify the treatment in order to make room for cultural differences. What I found was this: First, EFT is helpful with intercultural couples because of its grounding in the universal attachment framework, as well as its emphasis on openness, curiosity, and vulnerability. Second, even these therapists who work regularly with intercultural couples do not explore how their own cultures shape their understanding of emotional connection, and how in turn this understanding impacts the therapy, and they were pleased that the interviews allowed them to consider these influences. Third, therapists find it necessary to explicitly address cultural differences, as often these differences are similarly outside of client awareness, yet have an undeniable impact on emotional connection. Finally, they find that helping intercultural couples to address their differences helps the couples to understand, celebrate, and integrate their respective cultures, further deepening their connection. Overall, I found that at its core, EFT, with its attachment focus, shows promise as an effective treatment for intercultural couples, provided that it is enhanced by multicultural models that explicitly address cultural differences.

What I’ve learned from the results of my study is something that I hope we can all keep in mind as we begin our careers as psychologists helping at-risk, underserved populations: That whether we are sitting across from a playful child, a battling married couple, or a tormented adult, what we all have in common is a hard-wired longing to feel safe and connected to another person. How we and our clients each express this longing is shaped by our cultural maps, and it is through giving voice to all of these overlapping maps that we can all learn to speak a universal language of connection.  THANK YOU! “

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