Dr. Sharp: [00:00:00] Hello, everyone. Welcome to The Testing Psychologist Podcast, the podcast where we talk all about the business and practice of psychological and neuropsychological assessment. I’m your host, Dr. Jeremy Sharp, licensed psychologist, group practice owner, and private practice coach.
PAR offers the RIAS-2 and RIST-2 remote, to remotely assess or screen clients for intelligence and in-person e-stimulus books for these two tests for in-person administration. Learn more at parinc.com.
Welcome back, everyone. Hey, my guest today is Dr. Courtney Ray. You may have seen Courtney in a variety of other venues in the field. She’s pretty active in the neuropsychology world. But she’s here today talking with me all about the Society for Black Neuropsychology.
We talk about the origin story of the SBN, and we talk about their outreach efforts to recruit and mentor more black [00:01:00] neuropsychology students reaching all the way to the undergrad level. We talk about future directions for the society for black neuropsychology. We dip into certainly some of the cultural factors that may have contributed to the need and growth of the SBN here over the last two years. So we cover a lot of ground.
We also touch on Courtney’s faith. As you’ll see in her bio, she is also an ordained minister. And we talk about that a bit and the overlap of faith and practice. So a lot to take away from this conversation. And Courtney is a dynamic and energetic guest who clearly cares a lot about what she’s doing and the work that she and many others are doing to reach a vastly underrepresented group in neuropsychology is pretty amazing.
Let me give you her bio and then we will get to the interview. [00:02:00] Courtney is a licensed clinical neuropsychologist, neuroscience researcher, writer, professor, and ordained minister like I mentioned. She is the founder of Array Psychological Assessments, a private practice that provides neuropsychology evaluations in Northern New Jersey and New York City. Dr. Ray is the current president of the Society for Black Neuropsychology, as well as a member of the American Psychological Association, the International Psychological Society, and the Society for Neuroscience.
Pastor Ray earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Neuropsychology from Loma Linda University and her master’s in Divinity from Andrews University. She is the author of the upcoming book, Just Pray More and other church myths about mental health.
So, I hope you enjoy this one. And without any further delay, let’s get to my conversation with Dr. Courtney Ray.[00:03:13] Hey, Courtney, welcome to the podcast.
Dr. Courtney: Hi, how are you? I’m glad to be here.
Dr. Sharp: Yes, thank you. I am doing well. Thank you for asking. And I’m excited to have you here. We were chatting ahead of time about how this has been a long time coming. I feel like I’ve been stalking you online for a while and finally got in touch with you. And now it’s been a few months since we chatted and here we are. So, I’m glad to be here.
Dr. Courtney: Thanks so much for inviting me. I do appreciate it.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, absolutely. I just feel like there’s so much that we can chat about today. Of course, I reached out to you [00:04:00] to make some connection around your involvement with the Society for Black Neuropsychology. I know you’re doing a lot of things in your life, but this is one of those things. And I’m just excited to learn more and hear what y’all are up to. And honestly, just try to spread the word as much as possible for something that is really important in our field.
I usually start with this question of why is this important or why is this important to you? And in this case, I feel like that’s basically our entire conversation. So, I’ll still ask the question, but just knowing we’re going to really take that and run with it for the rest of the conversation. So yeah, I’m curious, however, you might want to take that, like the why now, or what’s driving you to [00:05:00] put your energy into something like this, what’s this about for you?
Dr. Courtney: Oh, well, I guess for personal reasons as someone who is a black neuropsychologist, I know that as a trainee, I really felt that there was a vacuum of just people within the field who could really help reach out network with trainees as they send the pipeline and also just professionals as we continue to work in our communities.
And that’s not to say that there aren’t wonderful, brilliant neuropsychologists who are black, who have gone before. I mean, we have 6 fantastic people who are veteran neuropsychologists who are on our advisory board and there are many others who [00:06:00] are phenomenal people, but as individuals just working on their own, you can only take so many lab students. You can only personally mentor so many people. And if you have a collective network of people, you can use those synergistic efforts to do a lot more than you can accomplish just on your own.
So one of the things that I really wanted to do with SBN and the rest of the Founding members of SBN really had this vision for having a collaborative network of neuropsychologists to really work together, doing these things that can help improve the field and help our trainees move through the pipeline and also to reach out to the community. So, I really think that these are things that [00:07:00] other organizations I have had some emphasis on, but not the focused energy that I think that it deserves on its own.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. I feel like there’s so much history maybe to trace there. I mean, what are some of the efforts that have been present over the years that like you said, maybe, move the needle a bit but still left some room for y’all to step in? What do the efforts look like over the years outside of the Society for Black Neuropsychology?
Dr. Courtney: Well, before SBN came around, like I said, there were definitely several black neuropsychologists who have done excellent work in research in specifically the black community, and making sure to have representation [00:08:00] within samples and research and making sure that black people are represented in those samples.
One of the big things that you’re probably really familiar with is the Heaton norms and they’re called the Heaton norms, but they’re demographically adjusted norms for a lot of the neuropsychological tests that we usually work with, just in recognition of the fact that a lot of these norms were normed on white populations, right? And when you take just this homogeneous population and you say, this is the standard for everyone, then what you find is that it’s not generalizable to all of these other populations.
I think it was really a Seminorm project to make sure that black [00:09:00] people communities were looked at and just the demographic differences were taken into account. And so that recognition of making sure that black people are seen as a population for norming different tests was I think a huge step in having this attention brought to the diversification of the field.
And even though I say the heat norms, that’s because the first author in this book or in this work is Robert Heaton who’s a great psychologist. He’s still in California working. Also, Samuel Miller was also a black neuropsychologist who worked right alongside Dr. Heaton and Dr. Miller was one of the individuals who helped to [00:10:00] organize the communities and organized the testing so that you could have a black sample of individuals because you can’t make something like this, derive these norms, unless you know how to outreach to the community. And unless you’re able to build that trust and build that foundation so that people will participate in the testing. And so it was very interesting.
Now, I’m kind of veering off into something totally different, but this is the initiative that SBN did this past year and it’s called the Luminary series. One of the things that we wanted to do was to highlight black neuropsychologists who have done things in our field and whose stories should be told and whose work should be publicized. And so we have [00:11:00] that whole series on YouTube and we started out by looking at the 6 neuropsychologists who we have asked to be on our advisory board.
And so one of the things that we did before each of the interviews, we asked them, who is somebody who has been influential to you? We’re interviewing you because you’re a trailblazer in this field, but who was the trailblazer for you? Who was the person who helped you to become the professional that you are?
Many of them talked about Dr. Miller and talked about the fact that he really was a huge influential factor in their training and in their ability to become the people who they are. And I was like, “Wow, I’ve never heard of this guy.” And then finding out that he was like a part of the Heaton norms, and like I said, he called it the Heaton norms because think [00:12:00] about Robert Heaton, but he didn’t do this on his own, right?
And just the fact that there is a black neuropsychologist who did this huge undertaking and who was pivotal and crucial in this work that we still today use and reference and are always going back to, I think the fact that his name is even in the one generation has been lost to history in a way before you were able to get these stories, these oral stories from these luminaries that we interviewed. I think that that in and of itself demonstrates how important it is to be intentional in sharing the contributions of black people, people of color altogether, but particularly SBN focuses on is black people.
So [00:13:00] looking at how our black professionals have really contributed to the field and continuing to tell those stories so that they can inspire the next generation of neuropsychologists to say, hey, there are people who have been doing this and who’ve done just landmark work and whose footsteps you can follow as you grow in this field as well.
That to me is one of the biggest things as we’re going forward and paving a way, looking back and making sure that we have the recognition of the things that people have done in the past that have built up neuropsychology to what it is even right now.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. I think that’s so important. You used the phrase “lost to history” and I was just thinking to myself as you were sharing all of that, I certainly can not recall hearing that name [00:14:00] during my training or people. Maybe lost is the right word. It seems like it takes a concerted effort to bring those efforts to the forefront and make sure people are still aware of such a huge contribution.
Dr. Courtney: Absolutely. And now we’ve actually named our luminary series after Dr. Miller because we think that his name really needs to be one that people know and people will remember and to be able to recognize all the contributions that he’s made. I mean, when I dug into his biography and just learned about so many things that he’s been pivotal in, I was like, wow, why have I not heard about that name in my textbooks and in classes and things like that. And I’m sure that there are many other people out there whose stories also need to be told.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Well, I was just thinking, I mean, this is just the same [00:15:00] story that’s happened in so many areas of our culture or society, it’s the same story hiding the stories of those that… yeah, maybe more obscure. It’s not cool.
Dr. Courtney: Definitely not.
Dr. Sharp: We’ll definitely link to that Luminaries series in the show notes. I’m super curious about that. I think there are so many directions that we can go. I would love to just hear the origin story though if you’re willing to share it for the Society for Black Neuropsychology? And before we go any further, I feel like I’m going to use that phrase Society for Black Neuropsychology about a thousand times during our interview. Is that okay?
Dr. Courtney: SBN is fine[00:16:00] Yeah SBN is absolutely fine.
Dr. Sharp: Sounds good. Thank you. So where did this come about? How did this start?
Dr. Courtney: Well, I think I alluded to it just a little bit. When I was a trainee, I had gone to my first I&S and I remember just looking around and seeing like, huh, are there any other people who look like me? And they were but few and far between. I mean, there were definitely some people whose names that I knew, and there were definitely some people who I had personal attachments with.
My externship supervisor at the City of Hope in California was Dr. Natalie Kelly and she is a black [00:17:00] neuropsychologist. So she was the first black neuropsychologist that I ever knew. I had heard of. Dr. Anthony stringer is amazing and phenomenal in his own light. And he’s also one of the people that we interviewed for the Luminaries series. He’s on our advisory board. He’s at Emory and I’ve read different papers that he had written at I&S. There was Dr. Jennifer Manly. She’s done a lot of research here in New York. She’s at Columbia and she’s also phenomenal.
All three of them are on our advisory panel now. And at that time, those were the names of the black people who I knew had already been established veteran neuropsychologists. I didn’t really know of any other ones. And [00:18:00] just being in the mix, in the middle of all these brilliant minds, I’m like, okay, well, I’m sure they’re not the only three I’m sure that there are others out there. Where are they?
I remember just looking in the crowd, trying to find out if there were any other black people, and just striking up a conversation with two other people who are trainees as well and just asking them like, “Hey, do you know of any other black neuropsychologists?” And just having that conversation. And we had seen H&S was doing… I think they do at I&S have an H&S conference that they do afterward. But I’m not sure if that was… I don’t remember which number that was that they were doing that, but I remember they were doing it [00:19:00] at that particular I&S.
I also recognized that I had heard that there were rumblings about people starting an Asian Neuropsychological Association as well. And I remember like, oh, that’s really interesting. I wonder if there’s anything for black neuropsychologists. And so I was asking and nobody knew of anything. They haven’t heard of anything. And I’m like, well, if there’s not anything new, well, maybe there should be. And so, like I said, there were 3 of us who were trainees who had been there at that I&S who just met together to talk together and we’re like, Hey, why don’t we start something? Why, why?
And I remember going to… like I said, I had heard rumblings about ANS starting. And so I went to [00:20:00] their meeting because they were like, everybody can come. And I was like, Hey, I’ll come and see what they’re talking about. And I remember Dr. Darryl Fujii was there and he was facilitating, just talking to the other people there about his vision for ANS. And so I remember I met back up with the other two trainees that I was talking to and it was like, Hey, they’re starting up too. We could do the same thing. We just need to get people.
And I literally walked around I&S just try to find other black people. I was just wandering. Anytime I saw somebody who had a little bit of melanin, I’m sure there were people that I missed because they might not have looked apparently black and there might’ve been people that I might mistake. I don’t know, but I just started going up to people like, Hey, we’re trying to start this society for black neuropsychology, would you want to…[00:21:00] and actually, I don’t even think we had a name at that point. I’m pretty sure we didn’t have a name. We were just like, oh, we want to start a group for black neuropsychologists. Do you want to be a part of it? And just asking people, Hey, can I get your contact information? And we were first a GroupMe. I don’t know if you even know that app. I don’t use the app anymore. And it was just a GroupMe of people whose names and numbers I had gotten. We all just compiled all these names and numbers of people.
And so for the first, maybe year and a half, SBN lived on GroupMe. And all it was, was a GroupMe group. We would pass messages back and forth if there was something very interesting or if there was like a post or something that we thought was, or maybe an opportunity, a job posting [00:22:00] or a conference or a call for papers or something like that. We put it on the GroupMe app but it wasn’t necessarily like super solidified. So that is the original kernel SBN being was before it became more organized into what we have right now.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I love that story though. I feel like that’s how so many of these things start out as just some message thread between friends or people with a shared interest and it just grows from there. How did you take the leap then? I’m just curious. I’m always curious about how things come to be and how things are created especially like this. How did you make that leap from, okay, we’ve got this app and we’re [00:23:00] sharing stuff back and forth to, okay, we’re doing a website and now there is a society and we’re going to partner with these other neuropsychology entities. Was that a conscious choice or did it happen organically? Like how was that?
Dr. Courtney: I will say that initially, we were just going to be like, what do you call this, a special interest group underneath I&S. That was originally what we were going to do. The other two neuropsychologists that I was working with were Arthur Grayson and Will McBride. So Arthur was going to really take the lead on this. And so we’re like, Hey, you could be the president and Will was to add the flavor, something like that. Because you had to have like an established when you do the submission process for the special [00:24:00] interest group, you have to like say the names of the people who are going to be in charge or whatever. So it’s going to be the three of us, so Arthur, Will and myself.
And then Arthur actually wound up leaving the fields for different personal reasons. So then it was just Will and me. And there were two other people who Arthur had talked to a little bit, but Will and I had not met them personally, but we knew about them. We knew that Arthur had talked to them and stuff like that. And so then when he left, I was like, well, we can’t just let it die. This is bigger than us and than one person.
And so I reached back out to Will and he’s like, I have the contact information for the other two people that Arthur was talking to. And [00:25:00] so I talked to Kendra Anderson and also to Valencia Montgomery. And so then it became the four of us who were like, Hey, let’s make this into something that can be a little bit bigger. And as we were talking together, we said, well again, with the acknowledgment that we aren’t the people who are the first black neuropsychologist, we need to get people who have been where we want to go and who are veterans in this field and have like a knowledge base that we can draw from. And so we solicited the advice of the three people who had mentioned before, Dr. Natalie Kelly, and then Dr. Jim Manley, and Dr. Anthony Stringer. And then also in addition to that, we also reached out to Dr. Mark Morman and Dr. Monaco Rivera-MinDt, and Dr. Desiree Byrd. [00:26:00] And they became our advisory board formally.
And one of the things that we were talking about was that this should be more formalized than just being a SIG. This is something that we should probably make into a nonprofit and make into something a little bit larger than just being underneath the umbrella of a SIG in I&S.
I reached out to some people who I knew who were in H&S and asked them, how is it that you guys got to be where you are because I knew that they were more than just a SIG as well? And so we had some conversations with them.
We had decided we want to expand to be something larger than just the subsidiary of I&S. And it was very simultaneous in a way [00:27:00] because I genuinely cannot tell you which came first, because as we were talking to different people about it, there were some people I will say, even some people who are now on our advisory board, that when we first reached out weren’t very interested, to be honest. They were just like, ah, whatever.
I’ve mentioned going around and talking to people like to get them on GroupMe. Even at that point, there were some people who were just like, I don’t want to be. I don’t know what this is. I don’t want to be a part of it. They didn’t really seem like they caught the vision or they saw what we were doing as a priority.
And so as things unfolded last year with the pandemic and then with all of the protests around George Floyd’s murder and so many other racial and [00:28:00] social justice issues, the fact that SBN was on the cusp of becoming what we were, it was the zeitgeist for that moment. And so I’m not exactly, like I said, I can not tell you which came first, but I know that all of a sudden it was an eruption of people being interested now in, oh my goodness. How do we make sure that we are looking at and considering those things that are important for the black community? That was across so many other fields, like a lot of different fields, including psychology and specifically neuropsychology.
And so now people were like, oh, there’s this thing. There’s this organization that is… people started hearing about us. And we did a talk, the four of us, Kendra and Valencia and Will and myself, [00:29:00] we did a talk about, the first thing was the COVID-19 response and how black communities really needed to be prioritized because at the very beginning, black communities were not being as hard impacted as some of the white communities.
And there were even some myths about, oh yeah, black people can’t get Covid because we weren’t really being affected as much. But just knowing how these things unfold and recognizing from history, how our communities are often impacted, it might be a delayed impact, but we would get impacted. We would get impacted harder. Like that has been the trend of every single epidemiological outbreak in the United States history. And there was no reason to believe that this was going to be any different.
So [00:30:00] we knew that, okay, we need to be speaking out and saying, hey, people need to be considering what’s going on in the black community. People need to be paying attention to what could potentially happen to us, not just on a social level, but on a health level and on a mental health level, because we also knew that there was a lot of precedent for how a lot of respiratory distress can impact brain function. And so we put together this webinar on that.
And then after we did that, people who saw it reached out to us and said, hey, can you come and do this? Can you be a part of that? And then there were some people like, hey, how do we become a part of what you guys are doing? And so it just snowballed from there. And then with, like I said, the murder of George Floyd and with the protest and with just this [00:31:00] heightened awareness of social justice.
And then there were also people who are in academia who were saying, hey, I don’t know where to turn to as a black trainee. I’m being overwhelmed by what’s happening outside, but I don’t know anyone who can empathize with what’s going on, who can help me to get through this? Because I think that the vicarious trauma of just the repercussions of the social issues that play black people, people don’t understand how much of an impact that has on people who might not be directly related to it.
I mean, I don’t have to be George Floyd’s cousin to be impacted. Just by virtue of being a black woman in the United States, I’m impacted. And it has an [00:32:00] emotional impact on me. It has a psychological effect on me and it has real cognitive impacts on people and their ability to function. And I think that we discount that in many ways for all communities, but then specifically when we’re talking about in academia, there is this pressure to perform, pressure to just go and do whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing. You have your dissertation to do, do it. You have your research to do, do it. And there’s not that time taken thinking.
I mean, even though we talk about self-care and our whole entire profession is about helping people in their own mental health, we’re not very good at prioritizing mental health for our professionals and instilling the importance of our trainees developing good skills in mental health. And so they still have this pressure to perform and still dealing with those things and not [00:33:00] having those things be considered on how it’s going to really impact them had been taking a toll. And I think SBN was able to fill this gap or fill this void at that time that really needed people to really recognize.
And so we had listening sessions that we did. We had two healing circles that we facilitated for trainees and other people who worked in academia and post-docs and interns. And we wanted to make sure that they felt like they were being heard, that they knew that there were people who did empathize with what they were going through and that it was okay to feel how they were feeling, even in the midst of what was going on.
And a lot of them felt like, this was the first time that they had a platform where someone was listening to what was going on and really [00:34:00] feel what they were feeling because a lot of them didn’t have black PIs or black dissertation chairs or black DCTs. So there were people who might not have appreciated just how hard all of these things were because everybody was dealing with COVID sure, but that on top of the stresses of what was going on just socially was something that doubly impacted black people in a way that some other communities really didn’t understand and really didn’t extend that help for those trainees.
And so, we were able to be there for that. We were also able to help educate some of those administrators and some of those supervisors and organizations and institutions and helping them to see like, this is important for you to recognize. And we didn’t want to hesitate in [00:35:00] building what we needed to build up to get up to speed, because like I said, H&S has had a bit like decades to be who they are and to develop their infrastructure and everything like that. And so we knew that there was not an expectation that we could be what they were, already at the level that they were at like 30 years, I think they’ve been around. But we wanted to do as much as we could to ramp up as much as we could because the truth is that you got to strike while the iron is hot because people are fickle.
And while people were at were focused on, oh, we need to pay attention to what black people need. We’re like, you know what? Let’s make sure that we take advantage of this while people still care because next year, next month, we don’t know if people will even care about what we’re talking about because this is the hip thing in thing. There were all [00:36:00] these corporations like black lives matter and all this other kind of stuff, but sooner or later it’s going to go back to the status quo business as usual. And so we want to make sure that we do everything that we can now to get as far ahead in the game as we can towards building this organization to what we aspire to be with as much help from people as they’re willing to give at this moment because that goodwill can wither out very quickly once there’s another focus or people are shifted with something else that that gets their attention.
Dr. Sharp: Oh, of course. It sounds like it was exactly what people needed at exactly the right time. You were there, right?
Dr. Courtney: Yeah.
Dr. Sharp: I just think about how isolating that would be as a black neuropsychology graduate student and not having, like you said, like any black faculty or staff members and having to, like grad [00:37:00] school was our life at that time. That is everything for you when you’re in grad school. You’re living with your cohort and just eating and sleeping and breathing grad school and to not have anyone that looks like you, that’s heartbreaking to think how isolating that might be. So to know that y’all stepped right at that time was pretty amazing.
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Dr. Courtney: Yeah. And I’m glad that we were poised in that position that we were able to do that.
Dr. Sharp: Right. What’s that phrase? I’m going to butcher this. It’s something like luck is when preparation meets opportunity or something like that. It’s like you had been laying the groundwork and then like environmental factors came in and you’re like right there and it could be what people need.
So, what are y’all about now? We’re a [00:39:00] year down the road, year and a half, maybe two years as you’ve gotten this ramped up. I don’t know if this is what you call your mission or your focus, whatever you might call it. What are y’all really trying to do now that you have a little bit of time and some more membership under your belt?
Dr. Courtney: Well the objectives that we have are twofold. So there is the building up of the fields and diversification of the field. So making sure that there is a pipeline of black professionals in neuropsychology. So we do a lot of outreach and mentorship. Outreach even down to the undergraduate level, because that’s where it starts. There’s a lot of people who wind up stumbling into neuropsychology.
It’s funny because I asked different people, how did you [00:40:00] even get into this? And there are few people who are like, I wanted to do this from my undergraduate. A lot of people just stumble into it. I know when I was in grad school, that was when I found out what a neuropsychologist is about. I had never even heard of a neuropsychologist until I was in a psychology program. So just that idea that you can’t be what you can’t see. You have to know that something exists for you to want to pursue it as a field. So being able to get that education and outreach out there.
A big part of what we do right now is mentorship. So the vast majority of our membership, it’s either 60/40, or maybe even it might even be 70/30 of our membership proportion is [00:41:00] trainees at some level all the way up to post-doc versus professionals in the field. So we are definitely heavily training focus right now in terms of helping them in their development, helping them get connected with mentors. Our mentorship program is one of the things that I’m most proud of. It is like the heartbeat right now of what SBN is. And I hope that it will continue to do that.
But as obvious as our membership portions change, some of the dynamics of what we’ll be super focused on will change as well as they graduate and become professionals themselves. But right now, most of our energies are towards mentoring and helping those trainees to become competent professionals.
We also do CEs for our professionals now. We work together with [00:42:00] other organizations that make sure that they’re considering what they need to do to help make the environments that our professional colleagues work in is one that’s welcoming and taking into account what needs to be done so that they are being responsive when things like this happen because it doesn’t just affect trainees. It also affects our colleagues who are in professional settings as well.
So we do training in that capacity. We have a lot of research things, that we have been collaborating with and making those connections with different professionals who are interested in the same things, who might need other people to collaborate with. We put out those different opportunities for people to be a part of those things.
So that is the [00:43:00] internal stuff that we do with the professional pipeline because we want to make sure that we have a voice at every table. When there is a professional meeting, there’s a black representation that we have a voice at the table who will be talking about making sure that there is equity in the way that our professionals are treated.
We want to foster the idea that we are not an afterthought. You need to definitely be intentional in the things that you do around making sure your black trainees and black colleagues are considered when different decisions are being made. So, as I said, we’ve done CEs just for professional development and all sorts of ways. So we do that.
We’ve done a lot of webinars in terms of how to get into grad school and then how to [00:44:00] get an internship and then how to get a post-doc out. So we have a whole series like that still on our YouTube channel as well. And we’re also partnering with some of the editorial boards of different neuropsychology magazines to develop an editorial training program, because it’s not just about getting through but then now what do you do once you are in a position where you can be the gatekeeper of research and not just submitting your own research but being an editor on those publications that disseminate the knowledge to the rest of our field.
So making sure that there are enough people who look like the composition of our constituency, who can say, okay, I’m on this editorial board as well. And I want to make sure that I’m representing the interests that may have been neglected in the past time. So [00:45:00] we’re working on developing that with these different editors. Actually, the first cohort of people who will be in that training program are going to be starting next month. So that’s really exciting as well. So that is the professional side.
The second part that we do is be outreach part. The outreach part is making sure that we are advocating for black communities. Making sure that we are doing our part to keep black populations at the forefront of the minds of those people who are doing research in different ways. We know that unless you are intentional, if you’re just calling out a sample of people that come, you’re not necessarily going to get a diverse sample. You have to work with those communities. You have to build bonds with those communities. You have to make sure that you recruit in ways that those communities are receptive to.[00:46:00] So helping researchers understand how to make those connections and fostering trust within those communities as well and helping them to know like, this research is important and we want you to be a part of it. And also not just in research but education about neuropsychology in general. Because like I said, the average person doesn’t know what a neuropsychologist is or what they can do for them. And we want our communities to know that neuropsychology is a field that can help them. And that can be something that they utilize as a resource and that they can have access to. And so providing that access to various communities throughout the nation.
And like I said when COVID hit, we did that webinar, but we also established some relationships within the congressional black caucus to make sure that we [00:47:00] are advocating for public policies that made sure to be intentional about helping black people to be considered when different changes and policies were being made that would affect their health.
We also wrote to the task force that now, since this is a different administration, they’re not the same task force as it was last year, we were in communication with them by putting out there in the forefront like, COVID is something that’s going to impact mental health and cognition. We want to make sure that black people are recognized and that they’re able to get the help and the resources they need. And that means public policy needs to be focused on, making sure that those resources are allocated to reach out to those communities so they can get it.
So doing a lot of that public work is another part of what we’ve done. We’ve partnered with [00:48:00] a few of the other agencies like the American Pediatric Association and the American Bar Association as well in talking about just things surrounding social justice and the death penalty, juvenile definitely. It’s still something that is done in some places. And just talking about brain development, human development, cognitive development, and the reasons why we need to make sure that we’re not penalizing people whose brains are not developed for adult decisions.
Our penal system needs an overhaul in so many ways, but just making sure that we are doing what we can to lend our voices to causes that we know affect our community and have this intersection with black lives and with [00:49:00] cognitive and behavioral and neuropsychological health. So we’re doing all that. We have our hands on a lot of things, but like I said, we are trying to be focused on the things that we’re doing well and expanding out from there.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that’s amazing. Just hearing all those ways that you are so active. I would love to focus on two. You said the mentorship is the heartbeat in a way of what you’re doing. Can you just give more detail about that mentorship program and what that looks like for folks?
Dr. Courtney: Yeah. I’m very excited that when we put out the call for people to participate in the mentorship program, we had more professionals who wanted to mentor than we actually had mentees. So we actually had to turn away from mentors and say, we’ll get you in the next round of mentorship because there were so many people who were like, we want to give back [00:50:00] and we want to help trainees in a way that we would’ve liked to have been helped. There was a lot of enthusiasm there.
Basically, we pair up black trainees at various levels with people who are professionals in their field and have them meet together. They get to choose the format in which they meet and they have the opportunity to formulate the way that they want those meetings to be held and the frequency, and things like that. But then we also have specific mentorship meetings where everybody comes and is invited to be a part of that are happening at regular intervals as well, because we want there to be some structure around it. We want to make sure that they’re checking in and being accountable to each other as they develop these mentorship relationships.
So that is [00:51:00] being run by our mentorship and education committee. Dr. Willie McBride is overall in charge of that as well as Anny Reyes. She is now an intern at Emory, and I’m excited about that. And she’s just a phenomenal young woman as well. And we want to make sure that we have people who are really passionate about this themselves who are leading it because they bring that passion to making sure that this is a quality program for our trainees.
So you have to be a member of SBN to be a part of the mentorship program. So if you are a member, then you can sign up. It’s that simple. It’s no charge for you to be a part of it once you are a member and you get a chance to pick the brain of some [00:52:00] really impressive people who are professionals in our field. The mentorship program, the first cycle I believe will be ending next spring. So actually, I say that as if it’s a long way away, but we’re more than halfway through. I can’t believe it. So in a few months, the first cycle will be ending, and then people can re-up if they want to just stay with their same mentor or they can choose to cycle to somebody else.
And we wanted to keep it not an open-ended mentorship because sometimes when things are open-ended, people are hesitant to be a part of it, but we wanted people to know there’s a definitive ending part. And if you want to continue on later, you can. We’re only asking you for this commitment for this part, and then after [00:53:00] that, you can choose what you want to do. And that way, at least they say, I’ve committed for this much. And I can make sure that I’m doing what I can to help this mentee while we’re in this committed time-space.
Dr. Sharp: Interesting. I’m so curious because, to me, I think a lot about how we get into this field, and like you said, I think we sound like we had a similar experience. I always joke around it. I didn’t actually know what I wanted to do or even really what a psychologist did until probably 3 or 4 years into grad school. So I’m really curious about what y’all might be doing to spread the word, even to undergrads and others to build that pipeline, like you said. What does that even look like? I wouldn’t even know how to tackle something like that. Would you be willing to share anything about your strategies there?
Dr. Courtney: [00:54:00] Sure. So actually, when I was in grad school, there’s this thing called the Brain Bee which is a national competition that is like a spelling bee in a way. They target high school students and trying to help them know about brain health and stuff like that. And you can be a person who facilitates a local Brain Bee in your area. And so I had signed up to do that and brought that to San Bernardino, which is the county that my grad school was in. I went to Loma Linda University and so we did a Brain Bee in San Bernardino county there for two years, my last two years of grad school.
And so that was initially, one of the ways in which I wanted to bring that to SBN. This is when there was no [00:55:00] SBN formally. And this is when we were just talking about and stuff. So when we formalized, that had been the plan for outreach initially, but then of course COVID happened, right? So the Brain Bee, the big thing about it is that you get young people in person and there are workshops and things like that in the morning and then the competition in the afternoon. And without that in-person piece, it was like, okay, what are we going to do now in order to really reach out?
And so what we have done is it’s just not elegant. It’s just like a blunt force instrument. I’m just looking up, looking at different undergrad programs, and emailing them. [00:56:00] Hey, this is SBN. This is what we’re doing. And whenever we had a webinar or a program that we did on YouTube or something that we’re a zoom webinar or something like that, we would just do these cold email blasts or cold calls to all of these different institutions, and like, this is what we’re doing. We want you to be a part of this, tell your students, and some departments.
I will say this, I don’t know who your listening audience all comprises, but if there are any people who are department folks listening out there and you’re administrators, please make your contact information readily accessible on your website because sometimes it’s buried so deep in there. I would be like, okay, well, how do I get a contact with this department? And it will be a task but really [00:57:00] just going down, now we have a directory, a list of contact information for different undergrad departments.
High school is a whole different beast. We haven’t been able to do that in COVID like we would love to, but in terms of undergrad psychology programs and in the country, we have a substantial database. We haven’t gotten to all of them. I’m sure there are some other colleges that we don’t know about. We tried to hit some of the major ones like the State school systems, the HBCUs because one of the things we want to do is diversification with the pipeline, right? So we wanted to make sure that HBCUs were on our mailing lists and things like that.
So just sending those out and saying, want people to be apart. And it was receptive. There were a lot of people who sent that to their students. I’m sure there are some who [00:58:00] just toss your stuff in the spam folder and just forgot it. But we have gotten a lot of people who would listen and who eventually did join. And they said, my department sent me this flyer or my department told me that this is something that you guys were doing. This webinar or whatever and that’s how they got involved in SBN. So that’s been like I said, it’s not elegant. I’m sure that there are lots of more refined ways to do it, but it gets the job done.
Dr. Sharp: Exactly. I mean, when you don’t have any other means, that’s what you do. You just send that and see where it lands. Well, it seems to be working. I know y’all are gathering a lot of steam, and like you said, that it’s a snowball effect that keeps growing.
I’m curious just looking forward, are [00:59:00] there any objectives, any goals that you haven’t already spoken about, and if not, that’s totally okay. I want to make sure to make it clear how people can get involved and contact you and join if they would like to do that.
Dr. Courtney: Oh yeah, absolutely. So right now we are in the midst of rebuilding our website. So the old website is under construction. We have a new website. The domain is www.soblackneuro.org and that is our website. Like I said, it is under construction now. So if you are listening to this, shortly after our interview, it might still be under construction, but check back soon.
In the meantime, [01:00:00] if you want information on the organization, you can get in touch with us by email, which we are very responsive to. And that’s email@example.com and shoot us an email and say, how can I be a part of this?
Membership is something that we actually did a lot of back and forth in this because we want people to know that this is a valuable organization to belong to. And so we do have membership dues, but if the amount is so encumbering that they cannot expend that money to be a part of it, we will still allow them to be a part of it. They just need to explain. I can’t do the suggested [01:01:00] membership price. And we’re going to let you be a part of it because that’s one of the things that we don’t want finances to be a hindrance or barrier to anyone to be able to be a part of this organization because our whole goal is to be more inclusive and to help diversify the pipeline and to make sure that as many people who are interested in being a part of SBN are able to do so.
So that’s something that we’re really committed to doing. But it’s not a lot. The fees aren’t a lot anyway. We’re not trying to break the bank on anybody. And this is basically our upkeep in different things like that, to do some of these initiatives that we’re doing.
One of the things you asked in the future, what are things that we really want to do more of, [01:02:00] I think that making more inroads into various communities is really important. And now we’re at another place of another zeitgeist moment where a lot of people are directing their attention towards mental health, right? So many people in the community are seeing the value of making sure that your mental health is taken care of just as much as your physical health is taken care of.
And for a long time, especially in the black community, there has been a stigma about mental health, and for good reason. There’s a lot of reasons why black communities are distrustful of the medical community in general, because of things that have institutionally been propagated against black populations in the United States. And just the history of gynecology, the Tuskegee [01:03:00] experiments, so many other things that are a little bit obscure to many of your listeners, but have made a big impact in the black community in terms of fostering this mistrust.
So you have people who are not necessarily willing to do this. Would you say, oh, do you want to be a part of a research program? That doesn’t necessarily render a good feeling. So you got to say, okay, how can we make sure that people understand that they’re not going to be part of something that’s going to be detrimental to them and really fostering those relationships within communities and institutions that other people trust that we can collaborate with to make sure that we are letting black people in the country know that this is something that we should be a part of.
Also, one of the things I have not mentioned as well [01:04:00] is some of the things that we want to do outside of the country. So we are in the very nascent stages of trying to foster some relationships in some countries in Africa, in helping to build up their neuropsychological professional communities as well. Like I said, it’s still pretty new. We have some people who have already worked in different areas. So like Dr. Charles Conger. He works in the Congo. He is exceptionally brilliant and has made a lot of connections, both here in the US and in Congo to try to establish that community there. And we want to help him to facilitate that.
Also, we have some people who have connections in Ghana, some people who were actually in Sierra Leone who [01:05:00] reached out to us to see if we could help them. They’re building up the neuroscience community there. So we’re trying to expand beyond the borders of the United States. It’s slow going right now. I shouldn’t say slow going because it’s only been a year, right? But it takes time.
Dr. Sharp: Of course. Yeah, It always feels slow. And then you look back, hopefully, reflect on all the amazing things that happened over that period of time. Yeah.
If anything is striking me about this conversation is just how many places you are extending the reach and trying to make connections and do this important work. There are so many avenues that y’all are exploring. It’s really amazing.
Dr. Courtney: Well, thanks. I feel like I’m talking a lot, but it’s something that I am very passionate about, obviously.
Dr. Sharp: Well, yeah, [01:06:00] this is all important stuff. I know that our time is starting to run a little short, but I feel like I’d be remiss to not touch on this whole idea of faith and practice. I mean, this is big for you. I could have introduced you as a pastor Courtney Ray in addition to Dr. Courtney Ray. So we didn’t really jump into that in the context of the SBN but I would love to hear a little bit about that from you, how faith comes into your life and overlaps with psychology and the work that you do.
Dr. Sharp: So just as you said, not really knowing which specific field of psychology you want to go into, and I mentioned not knowing what a neuro-psychologist was. Initially, when I went into psychology, it was for the purpose [01:07:00] of specifically reaching my faith community.
So I am an ordained minister in my denomination. I spent 17 years as a pastor at different churches. I’m a Seventh-day Adventist. And so we have what are called conferences and you work for the conference and then they can move you to different churches. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Catholicism, but they have different parishes similar things.
Anyway, so I had worked in different congregations and most of the congregations that I worked with were primarily black. And one of the things that people would often come to me to talk about where there are different issues, and it wasn’t just spiritual issues but just regular issues they felt they needed counseling for, [01:08:00] and they will be very open to talking to me about those things. I had taken specifically taken pastoral counseling classes because I knew that this was a really important part of ministry.
But then there were people who would come to talk about things that were what I felt outside the borders of pastoral ministry, and I felt really needed to be dealt with somebody who was more well-versed in mental health specifically. And I would refer people. I would refer people in my congregation to a psychologist or a social worker or other psychotherapists. And they say, yeah, yeah, I’ll go. And then they wouldn’t.
And I felt like, well, you guys got to go. Like I talked about the stigma and some of the hesitancy around some of these mental health issues, I would find that there would be this [01:09:00] just the stalemate. And so what I decided was, well, if you’re not going to go, I guess you will come to me but you won’t go to anybody else. So then I guess I need to be that somebody else, right? I need to be the expert and be that person for you.
And so, I went to Loma Linda. I decided to do political psychology. And while I was there is like what I said, I was introduced to neuropsychology and just found so many of the ways in which it goes beyond just counseling. And I was like, I feel like this is also a very specific need within my community as well, not just the black community but in the faith community. And I think just the animosity that the faith community sometimes will have with psychology, and it’s [01:10:00] definitely a two-way street. I feel like that does not foster good relationships and a good desire for people to want to participate.
And so, some different issues that are really neuro-psychological in nature or organically based or something that is cognitive disturbance will sometimes be poo-pooed away. Or maybe people will say you can just pray it away. If you only had one faith, this would evaporate. Interestingly enough, in my particular denomination, there’s a very strong emphasis on what we call the health message. So, making sure that your body is very strong and making sure that you’re healthy, but that has not traditionally extended to mental health for some reason.
And I really [01:11:00] want it to be able to help people recognize that your mental health is just as important as your physical health and that just like we help people become doctors and physical therapists and who treat the physical body, we also have doctors who treat your mental health as well. And that they are people that you can also be trusted with your mental health as well. I think that there’s this antagonistic relationship because people feel like it’s a betrayal of faith to see someone for their mental health and it’s not.
The same types of professional development that physicians go through and the rigor and care that they are trained to provide to their patients without judgment, psychologists also are trained in the same way when it comes to mental health. And I don’t want [01:12:00] people to fear the fact that psychologists, I’ve heard so many things like, oh, psychologists who could try to talk you out of your faith and tell you that do not believe in God.
There are lots of different things that people believe that psychology will do if you go to someone who is a mental health professional, and I want it to help dispel those myths and help people to really recognize that they can be devoted followers of faith and followers of God and trusting God, and also utilize the resources that we have in terms of professional help.
I even wrote a book about it. It’s coming out soon. Not as soon as I’d like because I’m doing 50 million other things, but I’m almost there. It’s one of those things where it’s like, I just want to just change this one more thing. And I just got to say, I got to stop and just do it and just put it out there. And it’s about [01:13:00] people of faith and helping them to recognize that you can’t just say, oh, I’m just going to pray about it because faith is not just believing, but it’s also doing and stepping out on faith and that there’s no reason to feel like you can’t also take action to help improve your mental health as you are being a person of faith. So that is that’s the nutshell version of my desire to bridge those two worlds.
Dr. Sharp: Well said, there’s so much. I am just so impressed. I feel like any moment now you’re going to reveal that you’re also like a concert violinist or know Japanese or something. My gosh.
Dr. Courtney: I only played it shallow, not very well.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. Fair enough. So you are mortal. That’s good to know.[01:14:00] This has been great. I really enjoyed spending most of our time on the SBN but being able to end on a little more of the personal note and that intersection of faith and practice was great.
I’m just thankful for your time. I’ll make sure that we have all the resources you mentioned, all the folks you mentioned, and certainly, contact info in the show notes. I’m guessing that, or I’m hoping that this will reach some individuals who may not have heard of the SBN or might just need a little motivation to reach out and help keep the ball rolling. It’s so important in our field. So thanks for your time. This is awesome, Courtney.
Dr. Courtney: Thank you for having me. I ran my mouth.
Dr. Sharp: Hey, that’s what this is about. You did not run your mouth. You took advantage of the platform and shared tons of valuable information with us.
Dr. Courtney: Thank you for [01:15:00] having me. I appreciate that opportunity.
Dr. Sharp: Thanks for listening y’all hope you enjoyed that one. And like Courtney said, if there are any training directors, program directors, department chairs out there listening who would like to get in touch, make your information more available so that the SBN can reach out and reach more black students. That would be incredible. Courtney’s contact info is in the show notes. Don’t hesitate to reach out.
All right. That is it for today.
As I mentioned before, I am opening up a number of mastermind groups. So if you’ve been wanting to hold yourself accountable and connect with other practice owners around either launching or growing or maximizing your testing practice, now might be the time. So check out more [01:16:00] information at thetestingpsychologist.com/beginner or advanced or intermediate, and you can get the info that’s appropriate for you, or you can check them all out and see which one feels like the best fit. And you can schedule a pre-group call and talk to me for a little bit, and we’ll make sure that it’s the right choice for you.
All right. Y’all take care. I will be back with you on Thursday with a business episode. Until then.
The information contained in this podcast and on The Testing Psychologist website is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing in this podcast or on the website is intended to be a substitute for professional, psychological, [01:17:00] psychiatric, or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please note that no doctor-patient relationship is formed here, and similarly, no supervisory or consultative relationship is formed between the host or guests of this podcast and listeners of this podcast. If you need the qualified advice of any mental health practitioner or medical provider, please seek one in your area. Similarly, if you need supervision on clinical matters, please find a supervisor with expertise that fits your needs.