Featured Therapist Interview
Dr. Alan Berkowitz received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1977. He completed his clinical internship at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, California. After receiving his doctorate, he moved to California and worked as a staff psychologist at Patton, and later as a director of an L.A. County program for persons released from the hospital. Since 1980, he has been a full-time independent practitioner. He is an Associate Fellow and Institute-certified supervisor of the Albert Ellis Institute and a Fellow of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. Dr. Berkowitz specializes in couples therapy and in the treatment of the anxiety disorders in Calabasas, California, a Los Angeles suburb.
Congratulations on being the ABCT Featured Therapist.
First, we would like to know a little about your practice
When did you begin your practice?
I began my practice in 1979, two years after getting my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Immediately upon graduating, I took a job as a staff psychologist at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, where I did my internship. After one and a half years at Patton, I became director of an outpatient program in Santa Monica for people coming out of the state hospital system. While working on that job, I began my clinical practice.
Do you have a specialty?
I specialize in couples therapy and in the therapy of the anxiety disorders. A unique aspect of the latter specialty is that I use virtual reality therapy to overcome fear of flying.
What are your personal strengths as a practioner?
Based on the feedback I receive from my patients, which I ask for on a regular basis, I excel at providing a safe environment in which clients feel heard, understood, and respected. I am also perceived as being collaborative, so that people regularly report that they focus upon what is really important to them in sessions. I strive to make sure that we are working together on goals that the client has in mind.
Another strength is that I constantly monitor progress, striving to make sure that clients are achieving their goals and, if they are not, we discuss what they think the problem is and I offer my impressions as well. I regularly consult the literature and consult with colleagues, especially when my client and I agree that things are not progressing. I am good at monitoring the here-and- now process and using it to help clients grow. I am very dedicated to my continuing education, frequently attending workshops and seminars that help me hone my skills. I am extremely positive and encouraging.
What is one method you use to promote your practice?
My main method is not a marketing method at all, but just to provide the best services I can, which leads to referrals from colleagues and clients. I stay involved in my local psychological association and maintain connections with colleagues, including regular peer consultations.
How important are board certifications and/or credentialing programs to your practice?
Early in my career I found it extremely important to become credentialed in various modalities. For example, I became an associate fellow and institute-certified supervisor at the Albert Ellis Institute in the mid 1980's. Later I studied with Christine Padesky and was grandfathered in as a Fellow of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. These credentialing processes were invaluable in terms of learning how to do psychotherapy. They also helped and continue to help me receive referrals.
What "tips" can you offer to colleagues just opening a practice?
Work hard to provide the best services possible. Constantly monitor the progress of your clients and elicit regular feedback from them. Find a specialty area or two that people will associate with your practice. Stay involved with your professional community, and strive to be of service to your colleagues. Stay emotionally and physically healthy, so that you avoid burn-out. Keep up with continuing education. Be visible in your community so that people get to know you. There are many ways to do this including volunteering to give talks and workshops, joining a service organization, writing a column. Don't be reluctant to give people your card and enthusiastically share your passion for what you do. These days, of course, it is important to have a presence on the internet, including a website. I have to admit that other than my website for virtual reality therapy, I do not yet have a general website! Still, I recommend that my tech savvy younger colleagues create one for themselves.
What self-help books do you suggest to your clients?
That depends, but I will share some of my favorites.
I like Bourne's Anxiety and Phobia Workbook; Feeling Good by David Burns; Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson; Dan Wile's website; and Christensen's book Reconcilable Differences for couples. For Panic patients, I often recommend parts of Barlow and Craske's MAP program. I also use parts of Antony et. al's specific phobia workbook. I will recommend various books by Albert Ellis, especially for clients who are explicitly seeking REBT. I think his books on anger and procrastination are especially good. I recommend some of the other evidenced based manuals for clients, eg. Heimberg et. al's for Social Phobia.
What one book do you recommend as a "must read" to improve your practice?
Not any one book. Just read widely. Don't only read books in the CBT area. I love Scott Miller et. al's The Heart and Soul of Change . Stuff by John Norcross, Irvin Yalom, etc.
Are you involved in other types of professional activities in addition to your private practice?
Yes, as I already mentioned, I am involved in my local psychological association. I am in a special interest group for couples therapy. I am on the continuing education committee. I regularly meet with colleagues for peer consultation.
Next, we are interested in your continuing education activities.
How do you stay current with new research or advances in the field as applied to your practice?
In the ABCT area, I read the journals, especially Cognitive and Behavioral Practice , although not every article, I confess. I go to seminars. I am a member of APA and look through The Monitor, and sometimes order and read books. I get ideas for reading and references from listserves I belong to. I read the Division 29 journal, Psychotherapy, for theory, research, practice, and training; the Journal of Psychotherapy Integration ; and Clinical Psychology , the journal of division 12.
Where do you earn your continuing education credits?
Various places. Last summer I spent five days learning about what is current in psychotherapy research by going to Chicago and learning about Scott Miller and Barry Duncan's findings. Since one of my specialties is Couples Therapy, I recently spent a week doing an externship in Emotionally Focused Couples therapy, an empirically validated approach. I go to the Los Angeles County Psychological Association's yearly convention and attend workshops offered by that organization. I sometimes go to the ABCT and APA conventions. Occasionally, I will just pick something completely unusual for me, for instance, an Integrative Body Psychotherapy program. I am a member of the Society for the Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration and attended their convention a few years ago.
We would also like to know a little about you personally.
Who was your mentor?
I had quite a few. In graduate school, I was a TA for Victor Raimy who taught me a lot about his "misconception hypothesis". Albert Ellis, Leo Rubinstein, Ray DiGuisseppe were also early mentors in REBT. Christine Padesky was a later mentor and influence. I considered Irvin Yalom a mentor by his books. All my therapists have been mentors. Dan Wile is a current mentor. John Van Dyke was my mentor during my internship. All the colleagues I interact with and consult with are mentors. I am sure that I have left some key people out.
What is the last book you read?
American Lion by John Meacham.
How do you avoid burn out?
I live a full life. My wife and I do ballroom dancing together. I play tennis four or five times a week, sometimes more. I ski during the winter. I run, hike, and work out. I socialize with my friends. I meditate and pray daily and attend a spiritually oriented support group. I read. I give myself "down time" regularly, when I don't have to accomplish anything. I am a fanatical fan of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. I have started taking a week off every three months.
When not practicing CBT, what do you do for fun?
See the above, plus all the usual things people like to do, like go to the movies, listen to music, go out to dinner, try new things. I enjoy being with my wife, grown children (not often enough!), and friends
Do you have any other "talents?"
I am a fairly good athlete. I think I have a talent for enjoying life!
We are also interested in some of your views of cbt.
What do you think is the single most important thing CBT can do for your clients?
Teach them that there are things that they can do to overcome their problems and even more than that, that self-actualization, meaning living a truly fulfilling life, is definitely possible for them.
Where do you see the field of the behavioral therapies going over the next 3-5 years?
I am not sure. I hope that we continue to research objectively what truly works in psychotherapy rather than defending CBT against other forms of therapy.
Finally, we would like to know your opinions about ABCT.
How long have you been a member of ABCT?
I am not sure, but I have been involved in cognitive and behavioral practice from the beginning of my professional career.
How has ABCT helped you professionally?
It is great to have a group of like-minded colleagues who are dedicated to the scientific investigation of psychotherapy.
What services do you consider the most valuable from ABCT?
I think the website is very helpful to consumers who want to reach a therapist. As a therapist, I appreciate the ongoing professional education and dialogue.
What service(s) are missing from ABCT in your role as a practitioner?
I can't think of any.
How do you see the future of ABCT?
I am not sure what the future holds. I hope we continue to be an organization that not only studies and promotes CBT, but also a society that seeks to research what is truly helpful in all psychotherapies.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.