Lorraine Williams Greene, PhD, ABPP

In 2014 the APA's Div.18 (Psychologists in Public Policy) embarked on several projects that would not only increase awareness of the division but would also give current students interested in careers in public service an opportunity to take a more active role within the division. From that the “Members in Action” project started. Psychologists who have taken an active role in the areas of Community and State Hospitals, Psychologists in Indian Country, Criminal Justice, Police and Public Safety, Veteran's Affairs and Serious Mental Illness/Severe Emotional Disturbance were asked to submit to interviews with students participating in the project. One of the individuals chosen was Dr. Lorraine Williams Greene of Hermatige, Tenn. This interview was conducted with Dr. Greene on June 27, 2014 by phone.

The first question I asked Dr. Lorraine Greene was a question many individuals are asked at some point in their lives.

Who influenced you into becoming the person you became today?

Instead of a simple list of names Dr. Greene told her story from childhood to where she is today and who helped her get there.

Dr. Greene reports that she was influenced by several people in her life. The primary influence was her grandmother. Dr. Greene described her grandmother as a woman that provided guidance to people in her community. She told the story of how she would sit in the kitchen next to the radiator in her grandmother's home listening as her grandmother in the other room helped the people in her community work through their problems. Her grandmother's home was described as a positive place, always full of people from the family and community. From these early childhood experiences Dr. Greene grew into a young woman whose high school and undergraduate years took place during the civil rights movement. She attended the March on Washington at the age of 13 and these experiences influenced her career choices. Dr. Greene completed her bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in social work at the University of Detroit in 1972 and a master's degree in educational psychology at Atlanta University in 1975. Along the way she met her husband and married.

During her education she encountered the concept that "Who you are as a psychologist cannot be defined by where you provide services”. This was a part of her training in transactional ecological psychology. The concept looks at the individual, the environment and the transaction between the two. She found this fascinating and decided to enter a program with an emphasis in clinical and community psychology.

Dr. Greene discussed her decision with her husband and it was decided that if she didn't get into school they would buy a house. She applied to two schools to get her doctorate, one of which was Emory University because it was in Atlanta and the school she had heard about who taught transactional ecological psychology. While they were picking out the features on their new home Dr. Greene was accepted to Vanderbilt University and made the move to Tennessee alone. She humorously referred to the first year of marriage as a commuting marriage. After about six months her husband was able join her in Nashville. When she entered the program her goal was to get her degree and go on to be the director of a community health center and set it up so it was user-friendly, to serve those who were not served.

Following her predoctoral internship at Emory University School of Medicine she spoke with Dr. Jules Seeman (a professor who has written many books on Rogerian psychology) and informed him that she had collected her data for her dissertation and planned to return to Atlanta to work. Jules, who was typically non-directive, was very direct and informed her that she would not leave school; resources were available and she could not return to Atlanta. She then became a Vanderbilt Danforth Compton Dissertation Fellow and finished her degree within that year and took a faculty position at the university.

When she graduated she was the first student in her entry class to finish. She describes herself as having been on a mission. When she was walking across campus one day she was offered a faculty position by the chair of the school. The dean at the time wanted her to be offered a tenure track position due to a pending race discrimination lawsuit but she didn't want this position. Dr. Greene wanted a research associate position so she could continue to do research on socialization with black girls. She also knew there were some problems within that university.

She chose to leave her position at Vanderbilt University to become Deputy Director of the "I Have a Future" Comprehensive Health Promotion Program for adolescents, specifically designed to prevent teenage pregnancy. Her immediate boss was Dr. Henry Foster who held multiple positions at Meharry Medical College who taught her the skill of grant writing. The program had millions of dollars from both private and public agencies. It received national recognition due to its culturally appropriate curriculums designed for both males and females and community involvement in public housing. It was one of President George Bush's Points of Light and was a State of Tennessee model program. Dr. Foster became President Clinton's nomination for Surgeon General. There was considerable political fighting among both parties and difficult to move President's Clinton's appointments forward. Dr. Greene, the staff and young people in the community went to Washington D.C. for the congressional hearings. During that year she would spend time at the White House in preparation of the hearings and stayed during the hearing. She learned from White House staff how to talk with the media and the political process. Dr. Foster did not become the Surgeon General but another one of his colleagues, the president of Meharry Medical College, Dr. David Satcher, was appointed as the Surgeon General. She states that she found this work most rewarding and continues to have contact with her mentor, Dr. Henry Foster. Dr. Greene enthused that she doesn't think she has ever loved a job more than that one.

While in training at Emory she met Dr. Guy Seymour, the Chief Psychologist of Police, Fire and Corrections at the time for the city of Atlanta. She completed a rotation and extended it and received training from Dr. Boxley. She later received a contract to provide services for Nashville Davidson County Police and did so for 9 years. In 1996 she took a full time position and became the first director of the Nashville Police Behavioral Health Services Division that oversaw the psychological screenings for police candidates, fitness for duty evaluations for police personnel, counseling and critical incident management response for police personnel and crime victims. The division was also responsible for conducting all death notifications within the county. Dr. Greene remained in this position until July 2012 at which time she retired and now maintains a part-time private practice.

Throughout Dr. Greene's narrative the themes of race, social action and her passion for this field were apparent.

How can psychologists get more involved in public policy?

Dr. Greene's recommendation was that if she was a young psychologist she would go to the APA's Internship Program and jump at any chance to get involved in public policy in Washington D.C. The second thing for her is also looking for opportunities outside of psychology. For example she works with civil rights groups for ethnic minorities, women's issues and voting rights to name a few. The best way to get involved is to be involved in your local community and to get to know your legislators, collaborating with other organizations that have the same goals as you. She encourages partnerships between entities to reach a common goal. She pointed out that psychologists are valuable as they are trained in research so well that they can help evaluate programs, logic models and processing data.

What advice would you give not only young psychologists but students as well who want to go out and do good things with their career, to be a positive influence in their community and the within the APA?

“To be open to all experiences and understand it's okay to make mistakes.”

She further elaborated that she has told all her students that this is the time to try everything and it's okay to say “I don't know,” because you're a student.

Date created: August 2014