Spotlight On Our Staff
Every semester we feature an interview with a Hunter Psychology Department staff member to become familiar with our staff, and the fantastic things they do!
Professor Rachel Luckman Psy.D.
Professor Luckman’s research on eating disorders, her experience with opening a private practice, and her take on deciding between a Ph.D., PsyD, MSW, or LMHC.
Juliet Weschke | Vice President
Q: Who is Professor Rachel Luckman?
A: I am a New York State licensed clinical psychologist. I received my doctorate in clinical psychology from Long Island University-Post's APA-accredited Psy.D. program. My training included providing therapy and psychological testing for children, adolescents, adults, and families. I am proficient in the theory, research, and application of psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) modalities.
My clinical training gave me the opportunity to work with diverse populations in various treatment settings. I completed an APA-accredited internship at Mt.Sinai Services-Elmhurst Hospital Center where I worked in the primary care department, immunodeficiency clinic, inpatient unit, outpatient clinic, psychiatric emergency room, and Libertas Center for Human Rights. During the first wave of the pandemic in the Spring of 2020, I supported medical staff and families affected by COVID-19.
I received post-doctoral training from New York University Counseling and Wellness Services where I provided individual and group therapy to the undergraduate and graduate student body, specializing in eating disorders and body image concerns. I also provided crisis intervention and assessment for the Wellness Exchange, the university's 24/7 crisis service.
I obtained additional training experiences at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York Foundling, and Long Island Neuropsychological Consultants.
Q: When you were younger how did you know you wanted to become a psychologist?
A: When I was little I was in therapy as a child, and I thought it was really helpful. From there I got very involved in different organizations as a kid, and I really liked helping people, but it was really college where I figured it out. I was in a research lab, and when I worked in a couples lab I learned about different types of couples therapy. I was involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters and I really enjoyed helping children in underserved communities. I also learned the difference between a Psy.D and a Ph.D. I understand that they can be very similar, but a Psy.D is more based on clinical work, and a Ph.D. is more research-oriented; I felt that I would be better suited to being a clinician.
Q: What do you specialize in, in the field of psychology?
A: I specialize in eating disorders, mainly focusing on young adults ages 18-35. My clinical degree is broad though, so my training is from early childhood through elderly adults. Interventions that I'm proficient in have to do with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Psychodynamic Therapy.
Q: What inspired you to study anorexia?
A: It was really the placement that I joined. With the Psy.D., it’s a five-year program and in years two-five I got placed at different clinics for training purposes. In my fourth year I was placed at the New York Presbyterian in Westchester and the program I was trained in was eating disorders. I had limited training on eating disorders and wanted to receive specialized training. I thought I was more of a generalist (which is working with all types of populations). By working in the hospital setting, learning the treatments for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, general eating disorders, and then getting further training at NYU in the college population, I felt a lot of reward in seeing the change in people getting better. My training years are really what helped me figure out my specialty.
Q: What is something truly impactful you have found in your studies?
A: Humans are resilient. Whether it was working with the eating disorder population, working in foster care, or in hospitals, people go through so many hard experiences in their life. Just to see motivation, determination, and resilience are what keep me passionate about this field.
Q: A study from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) shows full-blown eating disorders typically begin between 18 and 21 years of age. Why do you think eating disorders most often start for teens in their college years?
A: A lot of mental illnesses come out when people are eighteen. This is a time of emerging adulthood that can be really challenging for a lot of people. I think that if people are in college living on their own for the first time, trying to understand their identity, having difficulties in class or financial challenges, having an eating disorder can be a way to cope with these challenges. We do see eating disorders develop in early childhood and they also develop later in life so I'm not as married to the age that it starts, but if we consider what people are going through when they are at that age, well, they are leaving high school, and a lot of times high school is regimented. People come to college and it can be really scary. I see it as a way that people cope.
Q: What was the biggest obstacle you faced when opening your own private practice?
A: There were so many obstacles. I think the biggest obstacle for me is that my training is so specific in being a therapist that no one really taught me how to run a business. I was really scratching my head to understand taxes, legal forms, and how to do marketing, and so I found myself reaching out to a lot of my friends asking “How do I brand myself and my website?” so I really had to allow myself to be vulnerable and admit what I didn’t know in the realms of business. I asked a lot of people in my community to help me figure out how to build the business side of the practice.
Q: What are some ways that therapists like you engage in self-care?
A: I’m in my own therapy which is really important and I’m in a few different peer supervision groups. Other psychologists in my community will meet weekly or biweekly and will give consultations whether it’s about clinical cases, running the business, or just supporting each other with things that are going on in the world. Personally, I love to do yoga quite regularly. I really enjoy cooking and spending time with my partner, family, and friends to make sure that I’m having a well-balanced life.
Q: A hot question for undergrad students like me: Why did you choose to pursue your Psy.D over the alternative Ph.D.?
A: I think there is even more than just Ph.D. vs Psy.D. If you want to be a therapist, there’s a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and there are a ton of really great programs in New York. Fordham has a great program; Fairleigh Dickenson University in New Jersey has a great program, as well as Ferkauf. These programs tend to be smaller so they're really competitive and a lot of times you need to get certain grants to get funded for the type of research that you’re doing.
I would say a clinical Psychology Ph.D. (though you’re still being trained to do therapy) is actually very similar to a Psy.D. I didn’t know that when I was applying to grad school. You can do a Ph.D. that is more research-intensive, so not in clinical psychology. You can do a Ph.D. in social psychology, applied psychology, or industrial psychology but if you’re doing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology or a PsyD, they are very similar.
So I would say for people that are looking to apply, if you’re interested in having a doctorate, and receiving comprehensive training, apply to both programs. With the Psy.D I still had to be in a research lab, I had to take a ton of experimental courses, research design, statistics classes, and defended a dissertation.
I think the big difference to consider is that if someone wants to be a therapist and they're not as focused on psychological testing (like IQ testing) or research then other degrees like a mental health counselor or an MSW are really great options. Those degrees tend to be a two year master's and then after you get the master's if you want to say open a private practice then you have to do three years of supervised clinical work before you’re fully licensed as a clinical social worker or clinical mental health counselor so, in the end, it ends up being around the same amount of years of training. But with the mental health counselors or the social workers after you get the master's you’re getting paid and making money sooner.
I think people should broaden it to Ph.D., Psy.D, mental health counselor, or social worker when reviewing their options.
Q: If you had known what you know now, would you have changed your plans in terms of your education?
A: So I applied to Psy.D and social work programs. I actually got into Hunter, Columbia, and NYU for social work. I decided on the very last day because I really could not figure it out. In the end, I decided I really wanted more comprehensive training with research, to do psychological testing, and to have a real focus on being a psychologist. A social work degree would have also been a great option. I'm very happy with my training and my degree but I do know if I pursued any of the other degrees, I probably would still be right here.
Juliet Weschke - Vice President
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Thank you Professor Luckman for this article!