Division and Membership Highlights

Membership Corner: Dennis Debiak, PsyD, and Randy Hager

Highlighting Div. 44 members and their amazing work.
By Nick Grant, PhD

The Membership Corner is a new contribution to the Div. 44 Newsletter that aims at highlighting our members, their work and their relationship with the division. If you would like to volunteer to be highlighted in a future edition of the Membership Corner, please contact Editor Nick Grant for more information.

Dennis Debiak

Dennis Debiak, PsyD Dennis Debiak (affirming pronouns: he/him/his) is a licensed psychologist who earned his PsyD in Clinical Psychology from Widener University in 1995. For over 20 years, Dennis worked as faculty member teaching psychology before moving to fulltime independent practice in Swarthmore, Penn. He has a strong love of teaching, and a few years ago, in collaboration with three other colleagues, he established The Institute for Relational Psychoanalysis of Philadelphia, where he is currently teaching a course entitled Gender and Sexuality. In addition to his work, Dennis is highly engaged in professional service, especially with Div. 39 (Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychology), where he currently serves as chair of the Nominations and Elections Committee, and as a member of the Marsha D. McCary Fund for Psychoanalysis. In addition to these roles, Dennis is proud to have served as Div. 39’s first-ever out, gay president from 2017-18. He currently serves as the president of The Philadelphia Center for Psychoanalytic Education.

In his free time, Dennis enjoys spending time in The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College, the beautifully maintained grounds of a local college campus. Similar to teaching, he has a strong love of food and cherishes the opportunity to share a good meal with one of his many friends in the Philadelphia area, admitting that “meat and potatoes” are a favorite go-to, if given the option. A fun fact about Dennis is that he has attended far more breakdance battles than one might suspect upon meeting him. Dennis is the godparent to the teenaged son of two very close friends and has attended his fair share of battles in support of his godson. Looking forward, Dennis hopes to continue to support queer voices in psychoanalysis and continues to do his own part by providing pro bono supervision to trainees at The Attic Youth Center, Philadelphia’s only intendent LGBTQ youth center. “That is the kind of access that I want to keep providing to people,” says Dennis.

To learn more about Dennis and his involvement with Div. 44, please read his responses to our Membership Corner Questionnaire:

How did you first get involved with Div. 44?

I first joined Div. 44 as a graduate student in the early 1990’s.  I was encouraged that the faculty and other students in my graduate program (Widener University’s Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology in Chester, Penn.) embraced my outness. I wasn’t sure, when I entered graduate school, what the climate would be for a gay man in the field, and I was thrilled to learn that there was an LGBT division of APA. I looked forward to each newsletter, and I started attending Div. 44 programs at APA’s convention.

What is your favorite aspect of being a member of Div. 44?

Being a part of the Div. 44 community of queer psychologists means a great deal to me. In the 1990s, I met Judith Glassgold and found a kindred spirit — a queer psychologist interested in psychoanalysis.  Judith, Shara Sand, Scott Pytluk and others in Div. 44 have worked over the years to address the antipathy that many queer people feel toward psychoanalysis, and I have been fortunate to be involved in projects with them. For example, when Judith was president of Div. 44 and Jaine Darwin, PsyD, was president of Div. 39 (Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychology), we had the first program co-sponsored by Divs. 39 and 44 at an APA convention. This presentation lead to the development of LGBT-affirmative psychoanalytic curricula for undergraduates, graduate students and postgraduate continuing education.  

What type of LGBT-oriented work do you do currently or have you done in the past?

I am a psychologist/psychoanalyst in private practice in Philadelphia and Swarthmore, Penn., and I work with LGBT individuals, couples and families. I also have taught graduate courses in multicultural issues in clinical psychology and psychoanalysis. I was honored to be the first chair of Div. 39’s Sexualities and Gender Identities (SGI) Committee, which has evolved into an active and influential committee that mentors LGBT graduate students and early career professionals. SGI also provides programming at Div. 39’s Spring Meeting and at APA’s convention.

What do you consider some of the most important current research/education/policy/clinical topics in LGBT psychology?

I think that eliminating barriers to treatment for the LGBT community is paramount. This involves providing education and training so that professionals can provide LGBT-affirmative care as well as understanding and reducing institutional and governmental barriers to obtaining treatment. I am also very interested in the cutting-edge work of the Div. 44 Task Force on Consensual Non-Monogomies. I believe this effort and others like it will help psychologists examine their biases and develop theories and treatment models that embrace all relational and kinship configurations.

What areas of Div. 44 have you been involved in and what areas do you hope to see grow in the future?

In addition to the above-mentioned curricula, during the last two years, I served as president of Div. 39 and sought opportunities for collaboration between Divs. 39 and 44. These collaborations have involved advocacy within APA on issues of importance to both of our divisions. I am confident that these collaborations will continue, given the recent joint efforts of the Council Representatives from the two divisions.

If you were not in your current field, what would you want to do for a living?

My parents owned a diner for 39 years before retiring, and I worked there when I was younger.  I loved our diner and the many, regular customers we had over the years. Nowadays, I am an avid foodie. If I weren’t a psychologist, I would want to open a restaurant, despite how exhausting that work can be.

Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with the division?

I’m honored to be included in this Membership Corner interview, and I appreciate the advocacy, research, organizational and clinical work done by Div. 44 members.  

Randy Hager

Randy Hager Randy Hager (affirming pronouns: he/him/his) is currently in his last semester as a fulltime student in the Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. As a part of his training, he is currently completing an internship at CityCare Counseling, a local group practice where he specializes in both spiritual trauma and working with the LGBTQ community. In addition to his training, Randy has completed Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) certification and utilizes this treatment modality to help the clients he works with process trauma. He is also active with the Nebraska Counseling Association and served as chair of their LGBTIQ Division for two years. Randy’s long-term professional goals are to work in either private or group practice and to continue to provide multi-modal services, including teaching, consulting and public speaking.

One of Randy’s favorite pastimes and self-care activities is playing the piano, which he trained in for 15 years starting at the age of five. His parents were professional musicians, and music has been a part of his life in one way or another since childhood. Randy is the proud father of three young women and is excited to be graduating next fall, at the same time as his middle daughter, who will be completing her bachelor’s degree. Randy is in a mixed-orientation marriage, identifying as gay while his wife does not. This is a salient aspect of his family system, and together, he and his wife speak publicly in local classrooms and diversity-focused events on this topic.

To learn more about Randy and his involvement with Div. 44, please read his responses to our Membership Corner Questionnaire:

How did you first get involved with Div. 44?

I first got involved with Div. 44 while doing some research for a school paper related to the correlation between shame and sexual identity. I found the article through Google Scholar and traced back its origins to APA and Div. 44. It was like finding a vein of gold in a gold mine. I have been “striking it rich” in research ever since.

What is your favorite aspect of being a member of Div. 44?

I will be the first one to admit I underutilize networking with other members and focus most of my attention on the research presented through the division. The stream of information is helpful to me as I counsel clients and speak in public forums. Including current trends backed by research allows me to have greater impact and credibility.

What type of LGBT-oriented work do you do currently or have you done in the past?

I counsel, coach and consult with clients who:

  • Identify as a member of the LGBTIQ community.
  • Struggle with making sense of their identities and experiences.
  • Have friends or loved ones who struggle to make space for their sexual identity or gender expression.
  • Are organizations that want to increase their understanding and inclusion of LGBTIQ issues, such as religious/spiritual organizations, community groups and businesses.

My counseling practice utilizes EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and TF-CBT (Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) to help clients process the past wounds and areas of brokenness such that they can live authentic lives. My coaching practice comes alongside clients to clarify their experience, personality and skills to maximize their goals and impact. My consulting practice utilizes public speaking, training and resourcing to help other individuals and groups grow in their effectiveness by targeting specific topics.

What do you consider some of the most important current research/education/policy/clinical topics in LGBT psychology?

Rather than focusing in on any one area of research, I value the efforts of the division to provide a broad scope of research. To keep “drilling down” in various areas and gain clarity in a wide variety of issues facing the LGBT community is to increase overall understanding and better serve this population. Each quarter when the journal is released, I comb through it soaking in the latest on topics related to my life, my clients’ lives and the LGBT community as a whole. One of my bookmarks on my computer is APA’s PsycNet, where I can search through past journal articles.

What areas of Div. 44 have you been involved in, and what areas do you hope to see grow in the future?

I am particularly interested in the intersections of LGBTIQ identities and spiritual practices. Many in the LGBTIQ community have been told they must choose between their faith and spiritual practices and their sexual identity or gender expression. This creates a spiritual trauma in their lives that appears as an impasse rather than an incongruence that may be realigned.

If you were not in your current field, what would you want to do for a living?

I love to help others utilize technology. Before this career as a therapist, I worked in communications, helping others with live presentations, social media and audio/video needs. Now I am able to use these gifts to help others improve their webcasts, video training and tele-counseling services.

Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with the division?

In conclusion, I would remind the division that unity within the division does not mean consensus. We can be at different places on issues and still support one another. We can find some sort of connection to another human being if we look for commonality, even if it is in our humanity. I want to set the bar high with modeling how I want to be treated, even if I disagree with their beliefs, actions and choices.

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