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Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD of www.mybetternursinghome.com was nice enough to visit with us about her profession as a professional psychologist.

What do you do for a living?

I am a psychologist and I specialize in geriatric psychology which is working with older adults. I work mainly in nursing homes.

How would you describe what you do?

I talk with the residents to try to help them cope with the challenges that they’re facing and adjust to the nursing home environment. I work with the staff to provide the best care for the residents. I also help the families help their loved ones adjust to the nursing home as well and cope with any challenges working with the staff members and the nursing home administration.

What does you work entail?

I go to a nursing home, I’m only in one nursing home right now, though at times I have been in more than one. I work as part of the team, so I might attend a morning report, and then I have a roster of residents that I see and I generally meet with them in their rooms. Then I talk with the staff about them.

Being a psychologist is a very rewarding profession. I can always say I am doing good in the world and that’s important to me.

I may look at the medication in their chart or talk to the doctors or another staff member to try to work out any kind of problems that the resident may be having.  I consult with the psychiatrist and talk with family members to try to create a more pleasant environment for them and help them with any kinds of problems, whether they’re feeling depressed, or they’re having an issue with a roommate, they’re not getting along with the staff member, any kind of problem.

What’s a typical workweek for you?

Typically I see about thirty to forty residents of the nursing home a week. I talk with the staff every day and I have a lot of paperwork to take care of.  It’s always interesting and often challenging. When I go into work, I have a certain number of people that I need to see so it’s pretty flexible in that I start at a certain time, I see who I need to see, and when I’m finished, I can leave.

How did you get started?

I got started in the mental health field when I was in college. I started by working at a counseling center at the university I attended. It was really interesting and I felt I had an aptitude for it and I continued on to graduate school. I started specializing in geriatrics because I thought it was going to be a boom industry because there were going to be many people that needed care as they got older. I was young in my career at the time so I wanted something that would sustain me throughout my career and found that I really enjoyed it. I feel like I can be of tremendous help to the residents in the nursing homes.

What do you like about what you do?

I do feel that I am very helpful. I make a tremendous impact on the residents’ lives and I know because they tell me. I like the flexibility of the job. I like the challenges of it. I have an opportunity to be very creative in my approach to handling problems in a community setting.

Is there anything you dislike at all about your job?

Usually, being a psychologist, you see people when they’re having trouble and when they’re better they say thank you and then they leave. So one of the challenges is that when people want you and need you they’re having a hard time, so you have to get used to being with people that are having a hard time. I also find it challenging when I see people at the nursing home that are not getting the type of attention or care that they should.  That’s why I’ve been developing my work where I have the opportunity to give people on the staff ideas of how to handle problems in a different way that’s more effective and helpful for the residents.

How do you make money or how are you compensated?

My work is fee for service which means I get paid for the number of people that I see. So some psychologists that see many residents in a nursing home or see many patients in an outpatient practice would make more money.

I really don’t think you have to be crazy to see a shrink. I think that life is very challenging and that it can be incredibly helpful to have the outside perspective of somebody that doesn’t have a vested interested in your choices that you make.

And people that don’t see quite as many people would make less money.  It really depends on how ambitious you are and how much time you have to put into your work and what kind of resident population you’re working with.

How much money do you make as a psychologist?

The salary range for a psychologist is between $70,000 and $200,000. I am sure there are people who are making more and people who are making less.

How much money do you make starting out?

It depends if you’re working as a salaried employee because there may be jobs where you can get $50,000-70,000. And then if you’re starting a practice, you probably don’t make very much until you get more people coming through your door.

What education or skills are needed to be a psychologist?

First you need to get a high school degree, then a college degree, and then you need to get a graduate degree.  And you need to have a PhD level. So that could be a PhD, a PsyD(Doctor of Psychology), sometimes people work with an EDD(Doctorate of Education), but it’s a doctoral level program. And then you would have to be in a clinical study so that you can be licensed. You have to take a licensing exam in order to work as a licensed psychologist.

What is the most challenging part about your job?

I think as part of my job I tend to fall in love with everybody that I work with, at least to a certain extent, and since I’m working in a nursing home, some of them do pass away. I miss them and have to deal with losing them, so that is the most challenging part for me.

What is the most rewarding?

My residents give me such compliments, it’s quite lovely, and it’s very rewarding walking into a room where somebody is anxious or depressed and seeing them within the span of my meeting feeling so much better.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

I would caution them to think carefully about whether they are able to spend most of their time talking to people that feel bad, and are having troubles.

How much time off do you get/take?

Because I’m not working for any particular company, I can take as much time off as I want as long as I have coverage for the patients I am seeing. So it can vary. But of course when I take the time off, I don’t get paid. So you have to factor that in.  I typically take three or four weeks off a year.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

I think that many people have seen a lot of Woody Allen movies and so they think that they would be lying on a couch, talking to somebody that isn’t saying much. And often you have people saying “Oh you’re a shrink? I’m not crazy.” I really don’t think you have to be crazy to see a shrink. I think that life is very challenging and that it can be incredibly helpful to have the outside perspective of somebody that doesn’t have a vested interested in your choices that you make.

What are your goals and dreams of the future?

Well I find that I’ve been very helpful for individual residents in their rooms and individual nursing homes.  But my goals for the future are to bring the kind of help that I offer to them to a much larger group because I think I have a perspective that many people don’t have. And that is currently what I am working on; training staff members how to help in the nursing home and creating opportunities for families that are looking to place their loved ones in a nursing home learn from me about and how to transition their family member to a nursing home.

Is there anything that you would like people to know about what you do?

Being a psychologist is a very rewarding profession. I can always say I am doing good in the world and that’s important to me.

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