Professor Luckman’s research on eating disorders, her struggles with opening a private practice, and her take on deciding between a Ph.D., PsyD, MSW, or LMHC.
Who is Professor Rachel Luckman?
Who is Professor Rachel Luckman?
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.
When you were younger how did you know you wanted to become a psychologist?
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 was understanding the different ways between couples therapy. I was involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters and I really enjoyed helping children in underserved communities. Also, I was trying to understand 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.
What do you specialize in, in the field of psychology?
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.
What inspired you to study anorexia?
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 knew nothing about eating disorders, and never really thought of a specialty. I thought I was more of a generalist (which is working with all types of populations), and I really felt for this population because it seemed like there is just not as much treatment for a really severe mental illness like that. 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.
What is something truly impactful you have found in your studies?
Humans are resilient. Oftentimes people with eating disorders have it for a certain reason and maybe there was something hard that they went through in their life, but people do get better. 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.
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 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.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced when opening your own private practice?
There were so many obstacles. I think the biggest obstacle for me is that my training is so specific in being a therapist. I feel pretty confident about being a therapist because I have six plus years of training and if I consider undergrad studies that is ten years of education, but 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?”, and they were like “This website is awful, it looks like it’s from the 1990s”, so I really had to allow myself to be vulnerable and admit what I didn’t know in the realms of business. I ask a lot of people in my community, my friends from marketing, and people who understand taxes to support me and figure out how to build the business side of the practice.
What are some ways that therapists like you engage in self-care?
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.
A hot question for undergrad students like me: Why did you choose to pursue your Psy.D over the alternative Ph.D.?
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; Burly Dickinson 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. I spoke to one of my advisors who had a Ph.D. and he told me: “Ph.D. is only research and PsyD is only clinical.” Because of this I didn’t even apply for or look at Ph.D. programs. What he said was actually not true. 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 that doctorate, and having that 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 at many different levels, I did a dissertation, and I defended the dissertation. When I look at the courses of people and colleges that have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, they are very similar. 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) and if someone doesn’t really want that research experience then other degrees like a mental health counselor or an MSW are really great ways to go about it too. With those degrees they tend to be a two years 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.
If you had known what you know now, would you have changed your plans in terms of your education?
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 is really broad so the training is also in policy, and other things that are more typical of a social worker so I wouldn’t have done anything differently. 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.