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Dr. Christian Conte, Meeting People Where They Are

Hi everyone, republishing this from August 25, 2015. It was one of our first interview with a psychologist. Bringing this back. Dr. Christian Conte is one of the most empathetic people out there. When we spoke back in 2015, he offered not only his time, but was genuinely invested in sharing his knowledge and offering to help Psych2Go where he could. It’s been almost 2 years now and we haven’t caught up, but we do want to share with you guys his work. Hopefully, we will touch base sometimes this April again to catch up and hear where Dr. Christian Conte is at. 

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Dr. Christian Conte was an award-winning, tenured professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, before he left the West Coast to return to his home state of Pennsylvania. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Nationally Certified Psychologist, author, professional speaker, and television personality. Dr. Conte specializes in anger management and communication. He co-founded a center in South Lake Tahoe, California to work with people who have been convicted of violent crimes, and he is the creator of Yield Theory, a theoretical approach to change that combines radical compassion with conscious education. Dr. Conte has studied his Yield Theory in maximum security prisons, where he has observed a reduction in violence using his approach. He recently gave a TEDx talk entitled, “Why I chose to go to prison,” explaining recidivism and the impact of Yield Theory.

 Why I Chose To Go To Prison | Dr. Christian Conte | TedxPittsburghStatePrison

Here is a video of Dr. Conte presenting his Tedx on the Yield Theory. The yield theory, which he formulated, supports that recidivism rate will be lowered when you really take the time to meet people where they are.  It’s a very inspiring video, and one I would recommend watching.  Make sure to share this after you watched it.

Dr. Conte has generously offered his time with us to help answer any questions related to a career path in psychology. Here were some of the questions you guys have asked:

US: I am really inspired by your Tedx talk, and I am just wondering how did you know that psychology was the path for you? How did you end up where you are today?

Dr. Conte: My dad was a geologist. When I was in high school, I wanted to know what it was that he liked about studying rocks, so I asked him, “Hey dad, why geology?” and he said to me, “You only live on one planet, I think it’s pretty important to know about that planet.” I loved his answer. In my own journey, I realized somewhere along the way that you will only ever live with yourself; so why not get to know yourself? That opened up the doorway to psychology for me.

US: How did I get to where I am today? That’s such a great question. The best answer that I can give you without writing a book for an answer is: hard work, vision, and patience. If you have a vision for what you want to do and you are willing to work hard enough for it and be patient, I really believe you can achieve anything.

US: I am passionate about psychology, but I am having conflicting feelings deciding if I want to pursue it as a career path because of what people say about the job market for it.  What would you advise to help me gain more clarity or confidence in pursuing a psychology degree?

Dr. Conte: I love your question. I will tell you what the great mythologist Joseph Campbell taught: Follow your bliss. I can promise you that if you love what you’re doing, everything else will fall into place. I love when people are passionate about psychology, because I always say that this is one field where we are constantly dealing with human lives, and every single person’s life matters. Every person’s story counts. The more fired up about the subject you are, the more you will read and pursue knowledge in your field; and with more knowledge in the field, the more lives you will impact. I think it’s beautiful you are pursuing what you love, and I doubt that you would be happy if you simply listened to what other people told you to pursue. Follow your bliss. Do what you love, and you will be grateful for your career path.

US: How did you get to where you are today, being successful and renowned? What are some tips?

Dr. Conte: The overwhelmingly best tip I can give any young person is this: Learn to be non-attached to feedback. When people give you feedback, be open to it. The more you can understand that feedback about what you do has nothing to do with who you are, the more you will be willing and ready to learn from feedback. Plus, psychology is the one field where you will be giving feedback to people constantly, and people can spot a fake in a minute, so it’s vital that we all practice what we preach. If we want others to be open to feedback, we have to lead by example.

We all make mistakes, and I make as many mistakes as anyone, but the one strength I seem to have is that I do not tend to repeat mistakes. The way I’ve learned to not repeat mistakes is that I remain open and listen to the feedback people give me. The more you hear feedback, the more likely you can become as successful as possible.

US: With just a Bachelor Degree in psychology, how do I increase my chances of finding opportunities? I find myself struggling and getting rejected from places, and right now having to go back to school to pursue a post-graduate degree.

Dr. Conte: Psychology is the study of the mind and body, but the original definition of psychology is the study of the psyche (or human soul). The depth of the psyche is infinite; and anytime you pursue an infinite field, there is always room to learn and grow. Going on in school is a natural progression for those interested in psychology. You can, however, make any kind of career you want for yourself with even a bachelor’s degree. The key is to not limit the way you envision what a career actually is.

At the core, any position that has you interacting with other people’s psyches is fascinating. Conversations won’t always go the way you hope, interactions won’t always end in the way you might like, but if you are open to learning, you can remain wide-eyed and fascinated throughout your entire career. A deep interest in others is a beautiful aspect to being human, so I believe that, regardless of the amount of schooling you do in psychology, you can have the utmost fulfilling life helping others.

US: What would you say are the three most important traits to help someone succeed in psychology?

Dr. Conte: The three most important traits for anyone to have are vision, patience, and openness. Having a vision of the bigger picture will allow you to see beyond any set of words people tell you (which will allow you to see people’s process, and guide them accordingly). Having patience is critical, because life rarely goes the way people expect it to go, and it is crucial to be able to role model a certain level of comfort with the unknown. Finally, openness is vital because without it, people will not be likely to listen to what you have to offer. If you are attached to what you say, people will likely fight against it, even if it is in their best interest to listen to you; so if you can, stay as open as possible at all times.

US: Lastly, what do professors usually look for in students aside from making sure that the students learn the materials and get a good grade.

I taught at a university for ten years. I wanted students who wanted to learn. I wanted students who read every word I assigned them to read, and read extra. I wanted students who were willing to come into my office and sit down to talk to me about what they were reading. And although I offered that to the thousands of students I had, only a select few would ever follow through with doing that. The more you read, the more you know, but you cannot just have book knowledge, you need to throw your ideas off your professors and be open to their perspectives.

I also wanted students to question everything, even everything I said. But I had this guide for them: The difference between a regular student and a great student is that a regular student questions things, but a great student pursues answers to those questions with alacrity. I think most professors want to work with students who have a fire for the field they are pursuing. Approach your field with passion, and allow your professors to guide you.

US: What would you be doing instead if you didn’t study psychology?

Dr. Conte: If I didn’t study psychology, I believe I would have been a philosophy professor or a literature professor.

US: Are grades really all that important when it comes to getting internship experiences and job opportunities in the psychology field?

During all the time I was a professor and clinical director of a mental health organization, I never looked at one grade a student had as any indication of anything other than that person did her or his homework. It was always all in the interview for me.

US: How do I decide what opportunities are worth pursuing?

If an opportunity sits with who you are, pursue it; if it doesn’t, don’t. I understand that sounds simple, but that’s because it is. The decision is easy; however, following through with your pursuit of opportunities, now there’s the hard part….

US: How important would you say writing and research is in psychology as a skill set for students?

Writing and research are essential to our field. Both, however, are skills that are only developed over a very long period of time. I had a professor who used to say that, “When it comes to writing in psychology, there is no such thing as good writing; there is only good rewriting.” That is perfect advice. Be prepared to write, write, and then write some more. I have thrown out more pages than many people read in a lifetime. The key is to write a lot, and do not be attached to your writing at all. When professors give you feedback about your writing, do not take it personally, because they are not attacking you if they correct your writing. All too often things are more clear in our minds than how they actually come out on paper.

US: Do you have possible connections or recommendations for psychology students who want to look for potential mentors outside of the traditional school path?

I think any self-development authors can be an excellent place for psychology students to begin. I think it is so important for psychology students to go through the process of counseling, because if they are going to help others through a process of counseling at some point, it only makes sense for them to have some idea of what it feels like to be a client. Also, the more you learn about yourself, the less you will project your own history onto others. Although we cannot avoid projection altogether, we can certainly minimize it.

If I had to pick my favorite psychology author, I would say hands down Carl Jung. If I had to pick my favorite non-psychology author and probably the biggest influence on my academic life (although I never met him), I would say Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell’s work was, for me, the main source of mentorship I got outside the field of traditional psychology. I invite every student to begin with his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and then delve deeper into Joseph Campbell’s writings from there.

I would also say to look to literature for examples of the depths of the human psyche. I love Par Lagerkvist, Herman Hesse, and Lord Alfred Tennyson. Find the authors that you like, use their books as mentors, and then, above all, remember this: Enlightenment can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. When you understand that, the whole world becomes your mentor.

US: We understand that most people who study psychology do so because they really want to better and understand themselves while at the same time potentially helping those around them such as their peers, but how could one make a living big enough to do both at a large scale?

We create our lives every day. Who we are impacts the world whether we realize it or not. I am constantly literally creating my career (from working with violent offenders in prisons to doing television shows, to professional speaking, to seeing clients, to writing books, to whatever I make up to do next), and I believe everyone can do the same. Find your passion, follow your bliss, and create the life you want with vision, hard work, and patience.

On behalf of Psych2Go, I want to say thank you to Dr. Conte for generously offering his time to address questions our Psych2Go community has.

You can connect with Dr. Conte on his Twitter account here: https://twitter.com/Dr_Conte

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Psych2Go started with the vision of making psychology accessible for everyone. Previously, involved in a psychology journals club at his university, the founder was inspired to bring that forward into an online platform.

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Dr. Christian Conte, Meeting People Where They Are