Staff Perspective: An Introduction to CDP’s Summer Institute (CDPSI): Preparing for a Military-Focused Career

Staff Perspective: An Introduction to CDP’s Summer Institute (CDPSI): Preparing for a Military-Focused Career

As a graduate student I often fantasized about various potential careers within clinical psychology. On good days, I would imagine myself as the principal investigator of a federal grant exploring innovative approaches to clinical research. On other days, I would imagine myself as a tenured professor, lecturing to a group of clever students or mentoring enthusiastic trainees as they finalized presentations for the annual ABCT or ISTSS conference.  Sometimes, I would imagine myself working for the VA, helping veterans overcome post-traumatic symptoms in a specialized PTSD clinic. Unfortunately, I never imagined myself as a staff psychologist at a large military treatment facility (MTF) like Wright-Patterson Air Force Base engaged in evidence-based practice with motivated patients or conducting forensic evaluations or training students in psychology, psychiatry and social work.

Although I truly loved working as a psychologist for the Department of Defense (DoD), I never imagined that career because I didn’t know of its existence during my graduate training. I was unaware of an opportunity to work in an inter-disciplinary setting while treating active-duty Service members facing various anxieties, mood disorders and PTSD. As the daughter of a veteran, I didn’t realize that the direct and focused nature of military life was a great fit for my interpersonal style. I can’t explain the sense of camaraderie and shared purpose that comes from working in an MTF, knowing that you are surrounded by highly skilled clinicians who share a sense of purpose.

Today, I am very pleased to introduce the CDP Summer Institute (CDPSI). The CDPSI is an innovative, 6-day program for doctoral students in clinical and counseling psychology. This pilot training affords the opportunity to become acquainted with the possibilities of becoming a military psychologist. I am particularly excited about this program, in part because it gives trainees a sense of what this career avenue may entail as well as an opportunity to meet the kind of people you could work with.

The CDPSI will take place June 8-13 at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, MD. The Uniformed Services University is the perfect setting for this course as many of our military’s top clinical providers are trained here. USU’s mission “Learning to Care for Those in Harm’s Way” also dovetails with the intention of the CDPSI. (You may learn more about USU at

The CDPSI will provide graduate trainees with a chance to learn more about the distinct experience of being a military psychologist. During phase one, students will gain appreciation of what professional experiences they may encounter as a psychologist for the DoD. The CDPSI commences with an advanced course on military culture and the deployment cycle. Early on, students will learn how to compare and contrast clinical work between active-duty Service members and Veterans. They will familiarize themselves with the warrior ethos and begin to explore the subcultures within military culture. Information about the post-deployment behavioral health issues faced by Service members is also provided.

Trainees will attend a course outlining the breadth of clinical activities a psychologist may encounter during a DoD career.  This course will highlight opportunities to conduct clinical work in characteristic settings, circumstances to consult with military leadership on behavioral health issues, openings in disaster mental health, as well as work in a forensic framework. Assignments available to clinicians specializing in clinical health psychology and clinical neuropsychology will also be briefed. A second course is devoted solely to introducing assessments conducted only in the military, including special evaluations required for specific military jobs and/or higher levels of security clearance.

Near the end of phase one, trainees will attend a course on the idiosyncratic aspects of PTSD related to combat and detailed information regarding assessment tools utilizing the revised diagnostic criteria. Students will complete phase one by attending a course discussing the positive impact of deployment and gain understanding of how Service members find deployment to be a meaningful and worthwhile experience. This course will also include a discussion of post-traumatic growth.

The highlight of day three is a training director panel, staffed by Military Training Directors (TDs) and Associate Training Directors during which students will hear from TDs first hand. The panel will allow trainees to ask questions regarding a military pre-doctoral internship prior to submitting applications. Later, students will take a field trip (as a group) to experience military culture first hand in Washington D.C. Attendees will take a brief tour (using public transportation) of military- and veteran- focused memorials and reflect upon their experience. 

The final phase provides an overview of evidence-based strategies which are widely used across the DoD and are consistent with DoD/VA guidelines. Highlights include an overview of motivational enhancement techniques, mindfulness, principles of exposure therapy, as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The last day will conclude with a self-care activity focused on helping trainees learn how to monitor their own well-being and modulate self-care as needed throughout their career.

We are hopeful that attendees will leave the CDPSI with a sneak peek into life as a military psychologist and a better sense of how satisfying a career as a military psychologist may be.

More details are available at Applications are open to current clinical and counseling doctoral students in good standing with their program at Please note that only electronic applications are accepted. All applications are due by 5 January 2015 at midnight EST. Please contact Dr. Holly O’Reilly at with additional questions.

 Happy Holidays!

Holly N. O’Reilly, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and Lead on Traumatic Stress and Sexual Assault at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.