Since 1993, Susan Simonian, professor of psychology, has been inspiring legions of students in her wide-ranging psychology courses.
College of Charleston Magazine caught up with Professor Simonian in between her hectic schedule of teaching and work as a clinical psychologist, and learned more about her research with children, her involvement in the College’s new graduate child life program and how she deals with stress.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in a suburb of West Los Angeles. Southern California is really one continuous city, bordered by a beautiful coastline. I love the Pacific Coast, but sure appreciate the warmer East Coast water!
Q: When people find out that you teach psychology, what’s the most common question you get?
A: Especially when they find out I’m a clinical psychologist, they automatically think I’m analyzing their behavior. I can be in a relaxed social situation and people will ask me questions about what I think about their behavior, or, more frequently, the behavior of their partner. Really, you don’t want me to answer these questions. I politely tell them that clinical science is a more complex and in-depth practice than superficial questions and answers in this setting can offer. I also tell them that a friendship relationship is very, very different from a therapeutic relationship, and I do not blur that boundary.
Q: Abnormal psychology is a favorite class for students. Why do you enjoy teaching it?
A: I think the most interesting aspect of psychopathology is that that there is a fine line between mental health and mental illness. It’s really an issue of quantitative versus qualitative differences in behavior. Many behaviors are normal until you exhibit higher levels of that behavior in terms of duration, intensity and frequency. For example, all of us experience anxiety, but we do not all have an anxiety disorder. It’s when the anxiety is frequent and intense and these symptoms are of a longer duration that it becomes a mental health issue.
Q: Speaking of anxiety, what’s the most stressful part of your job?
A: Honestly, it’s not a frequent occurrence, but I get frustrated with students who aren’t excited to learn. Intellectual laziness to me is a great waste of potential.
Q: So then, how do you blow off steam?
A: Exercise, particularly running. I can put in some long miles on a particularly stressful day!