When Jonathan Jackson, PhD, started his role as director of the Gordon F. Derner School of Psychology Center for Psychological Services, he thought it was one of those positions he might grow into—and 36 years later, he thinks he might have done just that.
“Grow into it I did—the role afforded me so many opportunities,” Dr. Jackson said. “Adelphi really became my career. I had the wonderful opportunity to develop over the course of so many years. If I were to compare the job description in my first year to when I finished, you wouldn’t recognize the position.”
Dr. Jackson had worked for nine years in public mental health for New York state before joining Adelphi in 1986, though he didn’t have much academic experience other than having earned his doctorate. While he enjoyed the administrative work at Derner greatly, he now looks forward to doing more clinical work and continues in an adjunct faculty role, supervising graduate students in clinical therapy.
“Jonathan has been a critical person at Derner for a long time and helped make the program what it is today,” said Jacques Barber, PhD, dean of the Derner School. “All students in the PhD program need to have experience working with patients/clients as therapists in order to qualify for certification. He has been a great mentor of the PhD students and a major force in their clinical training for more than three decades—and a key individual to the University in solving mental health problems for students, faculty and staff.”
Among the bigger challenges Dr. Jackson faced as director was the COVID-19 pandemic—“certainly the most abrupt change,” he noted. But perhaps a larger one was in the field of training doctoral students in psychology and “the imbalance.” Psychology students are required to have a fifth-year clinical experience to graduate, a capstone training, full time, but they were finding that there were not enough positions.
“You can imagine what that was like,” Dr. Jackson said. “’I trained with you for four years, I spent quite a bit of money and other resources to get through four grueling years, and now I’m supposed to do what? Not qualify? Reapply?’ We had to find some way to address that.”
From “Idea Guy” to Director
Dr. Jackson was among those thinking about solutions. And when the American Psychological Association created starter grants to begin new internship opportunities or certify programs that hadn’t yet been accredited, he began moving toward a possible solution. He reached out to Derner alumni and other professionals in the field who might be able to put together certified internship programs. The resulting program became Adelphi’s internship consortium. It’s the accomplishment that he is the most proud of.
“I thought, ‘I’ll be the idea guy and send it to my dean—and hey, you need a director,'” Dr. Jackson recalled with a laugh. “He said, ‘You’re it!’ I’m so grateful to Jacques Barber for having challenged me that way. It really became a capstone career experience, going through the whole process, and I guess it’s become part of my legacy, my lasting gift to the program.”
In Spring 2020, like the rest of the world, Derner and its programs were blindsided by the COVID-19 pandemic. While Dr. Jackson had been a skeptic about telehealth in terms of providing psychological therapy, he quickly saw that it not only met the needs of the moment, even as the pandemic eased in terms of in-person restrictions, but it still had a role.
“The technology already existed for teaching and providing therapy online, and people were already using it to some degree,” he said. “The speed that we needed to adapt was remarkable. We were much more ready than we thought. And telehealth remains pervasive—it’s become second nature.”
Managing Change in Assessment and Integration
A major change he notes over his career is in psychological or neuropsychological assessment. The American with Disabilities Act pushed along a growth in assessment, describing just what the disabilities were and how they could be addressed in school or work with accommodations—problems with attention, reading, processing, organization and other more significant mental health issues. It became a speciality in the field, neuropsychological assessment, that has made a major difference for children and adults in their education and careers. “Our students had to be trained in these evolving fields in order to remain competitive and current,” he said.
Another significant development in the field was what became known as psychotherapy integration. “When I was starting at Adelphi, cognitive behavioral therapy was the new kid on the block, while psychoanalytic treatment was mainstream,” Dr. Jackson recalls. Psychotherapy integration takes similarities and intersections of possible treatments for the most benefit to patients. Understanding different approaches to treatment and how to use them to help patients became a key skill required for graduate students training to be psychologists.
“Over the years, I had pretty free rein in listening and arriving at my own assessment of what the program needed to become,” Dr. Jackson recalled. “I really appreciate my colleagues in Derner and the confidence of Dean Barber in giving me a free hand as we worked to improve the experience for both graduate students and the patients we all served.”
Robert Mendelsohn, PhD, a professor and former Derner School dean, will personally miss Dr. Jackson’s daily presence. “He is a kind, decent, incredibly intelligent person. And his dedication to our work and to the practice of psychology has been crucial. Every doctoral student at Adelphi since 1986 has worked with him, and benefited from him, from their first day. No one has been more important in training our students for professional practice, the third aspect of what we do, along with theory and research.”
A Lasting Impression on His Students
His former students also appreciate Dr. Jackson’s efforts.
“He’s meant so much to so many people,” said Mary Minges, PhD ’19, a psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center. “Physically, JJ was quite a presence, relaxed, smiling an enigmatic grin when we brought him what we thought were life-and-death issues. ‘What about my patient, what about my exams?’ He set us at ease and we knew all would be okay. At the same time, he was being thoughtful and working hard to make sure we were matched with supervisors and placements that met our needs and who we were. It was easy to trust him. He was brilliant clinically, could be piercing and he would come back with something very precise and helpful.”
Another former student agrees.
“Dr. Jackson is a very special person and that’s why I enter this role with a lot of humility, understanding all that he did for students and faculty,” said Monica Pal, MA ’10, PhD ’13, who in August succeeded him as Center for Psychological Services director. “When I was a doctoral student, he was my supervisor. At the center, he left us a really good foundation and I recognize that he also left very large shoes to fill in that role.”
While he had avoided making too many plans for his time going forward, he hasn’t left the field of psychology.
“In addition to being an administrator—which was an absolutely wonderful role to have—I’m also a clinician,” Dr. Jackson noted. “The heavy administrative load didn’t allow me much time to do that. I’m very much enjoying having that time again.”
See more about the Center for Psychological Services, practicum training for Derner fifth-year graduate students, and the creation of the internship consortium in a story from the 2013 issue of Day Residue, the Derner doctoral student newsletter.