Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD

Nadine J. Kaslow, PhDNadine J. Kaslow, PhD, is an influential leader, dedicated mentor and compassionate clinician who is recognized for her contributions to the field of clinical psychology by organizations, mental health professionals and patients and their families alike. She is dedicated to providing the highest quality of care to individuals suffering from severe mental illness, particularly underserved and underprivileged populations, using culturally competent and evidence-based treatments. She is also passionate about mentoring the next generation of mental and behavioral health professionals and helping them along a fulfilling career path.

Kaslow received her doctorate degree in clinical psychology at the University of Houston and completed an internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Afterward she became an assistant professor in the Departments of Psychiatry, Child Study Center, and Pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine. In 1990, she joined the Emory University School of Medicine faculty and began working at Grady Memorial Hospital, where she still works today. She currently serves as professor and vice chair for faculty development in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine. She is also the chief psychologist at Grady Memorial Hospital, director of the Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship Program in Professional Psychology and chair of the Emory Medical Care Foundation Research Committee.

However, her work extends far beyond these positions. She also serves as the first resident psychologist for the Atlanta Ballet, is the editor of the Journal of Family Psychology, participates actively in numerous organizations including APA and serves as a mentor and role model for students and other health professionals. Her research and clinical work focus on the culturally informed assessment and treatment of family violence and suicidal behavior. Currently and historically, she has been the recipient of several grants focusing on treating intimate partner violence and suicidal behavior in African-American women, helping families cope with the loss of a loved one to suicide, preventing suicide on college campuses, offering compassion meditation for low-income suicidal African-Americans and evaluating the efficacy of STAIR-NT for reducing PTSD in community settings.

Kaslow has a long-term commitment to the public sector and in treating individuals with SMI. She has worked on inpatient units virtually nonstop since she was in college and finds it to be a very important part of her work as a psychologist. As an undergraduate, she was a mental health worker on an inpatient unit. In graduate school, she completed her initial practicum placement in an inner city level I trauma hospital with individuals with SMI. During her first faculty appointment at Yale, she worked at a community mental health center and on an inpatient unit. Currently, she works at Grady Hospital, an inner city hospital that treats low-income individuals, where she performs inpatient services and crisis stabilization services. She has shown a longstanding commitment to providing quality services to underprivileged individuals and is committed to training the next generation of psychologists to do the same. She states, “I always have and will continue to work on inpatient units at least part of the time.” One of her favorite activities is to conduct weekly walk rounds on Grady’s adult inpatient unit to teach psychology and psychiatry trainees about effectively engaging and assessing adults with SMI in acute crisis and to offer a meaningful interpersonal connection and effective approaches to coping to these patients.

In addition, Kaslow is dedicated to providing hope to individuals with serious mental illness (SMI). When she became APA president, she highlighted the successes of individuals living with SMI, such as Jane Pauley, the world class news anchor and media star, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and Elyn Saks, a mental health attorney and advocate whose book about living with schizophrenia has been on the New York Times bestsellers list. She strongly believes in the capacity of individuals with SMI to lead meaningful lives as long as they are actively engaged in appropriate treatment.

“Leaders are interested in other people.”

The Grady Health Foundation awarded you with the Inspiring Mentor Award for your dedication to training the next generation of health care professionals. What are some of the most important lessons you hope to instill in your trainees? Is there anything particularly noteworthy about your style of mentoring?

One of the most important lessons that I try to impart to my mentees is that it is essential that they find their way both personally and professionally. It’s sort of like a being good parent in a lot of ways. I really want them to discover their passions, follow their dreams and figure out how they want to make choices about their personal life and professional life. I want them to explore a diversity of opportunities so they can determine what it is that they really like doing, be successful in their career paths and make the best decisions for themselves.

A big part of mentoring for me is offering people opportunities and opening doors for others. I certainly try to be encouraging, but also nurturing and available. I don’t think in any way I actively try to be inspiring, but I’m glad mentees find me to be inspiring. Also, I’m very dedicated to mentoring and consider it a top priority of mine. I think it’s truly invaluable for both parties. I do take pleasure in my mentees accomplishments. I don’t take credit, but I do have a sense of pride in seeing them succeed.

As the 2014 president of APA and past president of several APA divisions, what attracted you to becoming very involved with APA? What advice do you have for students, trainees and ECPs who want to get more involved in APA? 

I probably got involved because a lot of people who were special to me in my life were involved in APA like my mother, my undergraduate advisor and my graduate school mentor. They helped me get involved in little ways and opened some doors at the beginning. I also got engaged because I genuinely love psychology. I enjoyed interacting with people with similar interests as mine, so I got involved in particular divisions. My APA presidential involvement stemmed in part from my appreciating the chance to engage in discourse with people who have different interests from mine. I value psychology and I want to give back to psychology and help the field advance.

The first tip I have for others considering getting involved in APA service is to first figure out where you might want to get involved and find somebody who might be willing to help you. Sometimes you don’t get involved in the place that’s your first choice, but someone can help you get involved somewhere. Once you start to build a service track record, it enables you to be more selective about where you do participate. Let people help you, open doors for you and mentor you.

My second tip is to volunteer to do things, and do them! At the beginning, I got involved in little ways. I would perform small tasks, such as serve as continuing education chair or write newsletter columns. When people do a good job at those things, they’re asked to do more. It’s better to volunteer for less and do it well and in a timely fashion than to volunteer for a lot and not get it done. If you do your tasks responsibly and well and you have good interpersonal skills, you can move up pretty quickly in most divisions of APA or state psychological association organizations. You don’t start at the top. You have to work your way up. If you look at my CV, you’ll see that I did a lot to work my way up. I didn’t just become APA president without starting small.

You developed the Grady Nia Project, a counseling program for abused and suicidal African American women. How did you start this? Do you have any advice or tips for healthcare professionals who are interested in developing and implementing programs like this into a larger healthcare settings?

This project started in response to a research grant that I received in the early 90s. I was very interested in suicide and in severe mental illness. I had two patients die by suicide. One patient’s death in particular affected me personally and professionally in very profound ways. So, I became very interested in doing research in this area. A call came out from the CDC to investigate the linkages between various forms of violence. Given my interest in family issues as well as suicide, the linkage between intimate partner violence and suicidal behavior seemed interesting to me. So, the Grady Nia Project started as a research program to determine whether or not intimate partner violence increased African-American women’s risk for attempting suicide. In addition to our discovering that indeed there was a link, the women conveyed to us that they needed culturally relevant therapy that targeted both forms of violence. In response to their requests, my team and I started a small weekly support group and it’s grown tremendously from there. Now we have culturally relevant, empowerment focused, evidence-based group treatments that we have developed and tested. We offer 14 groups, two of which were just recently added. These are different types of support groups and coping skills groups (e.g., suicide support group, domestic violence support group, DBT, ACT, Seeking Safety, spirituality, trauma, interpersonal groups). We also offer individual, couples and family therapy. The cultural relevance of all interventions is a top priority for us. The program has evolved immensely since the beginning and we have now served approximately 2,000 women.

My advice for starting a program like this is to start small and build relationships. Over time, we built relationships with the ER, medical clinics, shelters in the community, the local police departments and African-American churches. And now we have a Community Advisory Board. So, start small and build alliances both within the hospital and outside the hospital in the community.

Another part of what has made the Grady Nia Project so successful is student involvement. We have graduate and practicum students, interns, postdoctoral fellows and early career professionals help out. Each intern and postdoctoral on the team is expected to bring forth and direct the implementation of a new initiative of their choosing and this enables us to expand in exciting ways. They also all are encouraged to become actively involved in the research components of the work.  This affords them opportunities to publish, give local talks and present at conferences (we are presenting at APA this year). That’s part of mentoring…offering people those opportunities.

The Grady Nia Project is based on a group therapy model and extends beyond one-to-one counseling so that individuals can develop a large support system. How important is family and sense of community to treatment and recovery?

Absolutely, a sense of community is essential for everyone involved. I personally am very community focused and I have a very strong community orientation. I firmly believe that family, peers, friends, colleagues and the broader community are essential to people’s health and well-being. Our research consistently has found that the most significant protective and healing factor in the women’s lives in their social support network. Consistently with this, we on the Grady Nia Project are very connected with the community. This engagement has led to some amazing opportunities for the women in the program. For example, we received a donation to help our patients get more education, for example, the funds can support people getting their GED or learning a trade or becoming a certified peer specialist.  As another example, our partnerships with local arts and cultural organizations has led us to secure tickets for our participants to attend the symphony or go to the local botanical gardens, which are firsts for most of them.

You became Atlanta Ballet’s first resident psychologist where you work with dancers dealing with psychological issues. How did this position come about? Would you encourage other mental health professionals to extend psychological services out of the typical therapy room or hospital into nontraditional settings like this? How can they go about doing that?

My whole life I wanted to figure out how to integrate ballet and psychology. The truth is, until relatively recently, I kept my ballet life very separate from my psychology life because I really didn’t feel like it would be respected or valued. But, I continued to dance a lot throughout my whole life. I never gave it up. No matter how busy I was with my dissertation or work, I always did ballet.

About five or six years ago, I was at a dance performance and was introduced to the artistic director of the Atlanta Ballet. I mentioned that The NYC ballet had a psychologist and asked if the Atlanta ballet would be open to that. Over time, I met with him and the director of the school and began to form a relationship with them. Now, I do psychological wellness programming for them and see professional dancers and more advanced dancers in the school for therapy. I’m quoted now in various major dance magazines, so people from around the country have started to call me for consultations. So, I definitely think that for psychologists, there are a lot of opportunities within the arts and with sports teams. There is so much that we have to offer. If you’ve been involved in an art or other activity and have the personal experience with that, then you can be even more valuable in certain ways because you really understand. I don’t think that is essential—you can provide good help without the personal experience—but I do think that if you had the personal experience, it can strengthen you in your work and others feel more understood and validated. It’s like anything else…you need to network and find ways to make connections happen so that you can pursue your dreams inside and outside of psychology.

A great deal of your work focuses on the culturally competent assessment of suicide and treatment of suicidal behavior in different populations. In your opinion, how important is it for mental health professionals to have good training in dealing with suicidality? How important is culture in treating suicidality? For people who are interested in treating suicidality, what factors in treatment seem to be most important?

I believe all psychologists should have training working with people who are suicidal. Suicidality occurs on a continuum from thoughts about suicide to dying by suicide. Anybody in training, especially people working in the public sector with SMI populations, will work with people who will feel suicidal, attempt suicide or die by suicide. I think it’s really important to get training in conducting risk assessments and associated decision making taking into account risk and protective factors and crafting and using commitments to living with clients. There are a growing number of evidence based treatments for suicidality and people need to learn these.

An important factor in the treatment of suicidality is forming a meaningful connection with people. While I certainly support evidenced-based treatments, the formation of a meaningful relationship and really caring about someone and capitalizing on the person unique strengths is extremely powerful. And absolutely culture is important. There are numerous books written on this. Suicide has different meanings in different cultures. There are gender differences, ethnic/racial differences and differences for adolescents and young adults in the coming-out process. But it’s not just differences in prevalence between these groups. There are differences in triggers for suicide, reasons for attempting suicide and the meaning of it. Therefore, in my mind, culture is very relevant. It’s essential that treatments be developed and implemented in a fashion that is culturally sensitive and humble.

If you are going to work with people who are suicidal, it is optimal to do so in the context of a good team that includes supportive colleagues and peer support. It is challenging work and can be very difficult work. But I think we can help people go from feeling hopeless to having hope, finding reasons for living and discovering meaning in their lives. I think most of the time we can help them overcome what is making them want to die and help them find hope and meaning. And in doing so, it gives our lives more purpose and meaning.