My path to taking an early career psychologist position in tech

November 12, 2020
Brian 1

Brian Pace, PhD — Director of Clincial AI

As we head toward the winter months, it is the time of year when clinical and counseling psychology students are applying for pre-doctoral internships and post-doctoral fellowships. I went through this process over the past two years and while certainly anxiety-provoking there is a bit of fun and adventure in it all. Looking back, it was hard to imagine where I’d end up and never would have guessed I’d be at Lyssn.io. I wanted to share a few thoughts on what I learned from my journey and maybe this will help shape another early career psychologist’s path.

I matched for my predoctoral internship at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Palo Alto, California. I had the privilege to train with a number of phenomenal psychologists and build friendships with brilliant colleagues. Reminiscing aside, our training director set up a number of “non-traditional career path” panels during our weekly internship seminar. Psychologists from Google, Lyra Health, Big Health, and other tech companies described their experiences working on clinically-focused products and applications. The intersection between tech and mental health is prominent right now, and they outlined the unique skill set psychologists can provide to these companies. From psychologists’ understanding of human behavior to research and analytical skills, the panelists portrayed a career where each day was different from the last, where one could work in multidisciplinary teams they never imagined in grad school. The wheels in my head started turning. I found these conversations exciting and opened my eyes to a world of possibilities I hadn’t previously considered.

I accepted a postdoctoral position and was eventually hired full-time at Lyssn.io where my evolving skillset was tested in unique ways. My primary work involved training and managing qualitative coders to label various psychotherapy phenomenon that fed our machine learning algorithms. While this was most closely linked to my background, I also assisted with compliance requests and developing a social media presence. I began to quickly learn the vernacular of the startup world such as working ‘agile’ and KPIs. Where my graduate training didn’t provide a lot of support for these aspects, I was excited to learn new ways to utilize tech in helping improve psychotherapy. Additionally, I was aware of my presence within diverse teams and knew the role psychologists can play in maintaining healthy team functioning (shoutout to Dr. Kim Hiroto!).

“This skillset, this ability to complete unique and diverse tasks while learning on the job, sets psychologists up well to succeed and help companies and their teams thrive.”

The day-to-day at Lyssn has been invigorating. I love working with different disciplines focused on research and product development, specifically a product aimed to help therapists do their best clinical work, something I wish I had available throughout my clinical training. Psychology training programs are a grind and we are asked to juggle a number of things – not just learning how to effectively provide therapy, but also engaging in research and teaching. This skillset, this ability to complete unique and diverse tasks while learning on the job, sets psychologists up well to succeed and help companies and their teams thrive.

Interested in finding a non-traditional career path in tech? There are a few pieces of wisdom I gleaned along the way. While there are clear runways for early career psychologists to counseling centers, VA hospitals, and academic hospitals, there are fewer inroads into the world of tech (one potential bridge between these two worlds is training sites that focus on health informatics and mobile health interventions).

I think first and foremost it is important to put yourself out there and reach out to people at companies doing cool stuff. Create a LinkedIn profile and learn how to market your skillset, because you definitely have one! If you have experience in behavioral health, delivering evidence-based treatments, or data analysis, these skills are valuable and can make you an appealing job candidate.

Locate psychologists or clinically-focused employees at these companies by searching LinkedIn, Twitter, the company’s website, and message them expressing your interest. Oftentimes, companies don’t explicitly look to hire psychologists, but it never hurts to reach out and provide a brief introduction of your background and how your skills can benefit their mission. Attach a short resume to the email, no longer than one page, that highlights your skills, including clinical training, experience with evidence-based treatments, publications, and analytical skills (e.g., R or Python, etc.). It is vital to keep this short, nobody is going to take the time and read your 10+ page CV.

Continue to network and put yourself out there, pay attention to job boards, and join communities like Leapers where people often post about startup opportunities, many in the mental health space. Be patient and who knows where you might end up, it could be somewhere great like Lyssn.io!

Still have questions? You are welcome to reach out to me and I’d be happy to help you develop more ideas. It is never too early to start thinking about where you might end up. To all the predoctoral applicants that are about to submit, or have already submitted, their internship and postdoc applications, best of luck to you all. I hope you land at a site where your training continues in new and exciting ways.

March 2021 Update: Since writing this post, a number of online communities have formed with resources for mental health clinicians in tech. There is a group focused on therapists in tech (therapistsintech.slack.com), a more general mental health startups group (mhealthstartups.slack.com), and a group for professionals in digital mental health (www.dmhhub.org/). You may need an invite for the Slack groups but feel free to send me a note at brian@lyssn.io.