Counseling Psychology doctoral student selected as APA Minority Fellow

Posted On May 12, 2016
Categories About, CPS Buzz, Our Voices

David Zelaya, who is finishing up his third year as a Counseling Psychology doctoral student, was recently selected as an American Psychological Association Minority Fellow.  We had the chance to sit down with David and discuss the fellowship, as well as his research with IaM PRIDE and HAPPI Lab.

Q: You were recently selected as an American Psychological Association (APA) Minority Fellow.  Tell me more about this APA Minority Fellowship Program

A:  The APA Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) is funded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).  The fellowship is quite competitive as they accept about 5-7% of the approximately 200 applicants.  Applicants come from clinical, counseling, and school psychology programs. The MFP is committed to increasing the number of ethnic/racial minority psychologists in the field in hopes to advance the understanding of the life experiences of ethnic/racial minority communities through behavioral health services and prevention. The MFP provides financial support, mentoring, career development, lifetime network of professional associations, and advanced training opportunities for its fellows.

Q:  What inspired you to apply for the Minority Fellowship?

A:  I have actually started to fill the application out three different times, but I never completed it because I didn’t think I was ready or did not feel confident in my application.  I never turned it in my first or second year, but this year, I decided to go for it and see what happened.  Two of my letter-writers were former APA minority fellows.  They really encouraged me to apply, telling me I would be a really good fit for the fellowship. I have also met former APA Minority Fellows that are doing really impressive work in the field and beyond and I feel honored to be part of this family.

Q: How does it feel to be selected for such a prestigious fellowship?

A:  I’m still processing that I was awarded an APA Minority Fellowship. I think a lot of it has to do with feelings of being an imposter and being awarded this fellowship really helps to minimize those feelings as it has been very validating and still feels surreal.

Q: Tell me about the research that you are doing.

A:  My research examines minority stress and the intersectionality of multiple marginalized identities; with particular emphasis on the experiences of sexual and ethnic/racial minority individuals.  My current research project is looking at microaggressions in LGBT people of color, using self-esteem as a moderator or a mediator, and its link to psychological distress and well-being.  I’ve also spearheaded a couple other projects working with Dr. Cirleen DeBlaere and Dr. Don Davis examining  cultural humility in women of color and cultural humility in Asian Americans and Latino Americans within the context of psychotherapy.

Q: What sparked your interest in these areas of research?

A:  It started with the need to further understand how discrimination affects minority populations.. It’s been vastly understudied in psychological literature. It’s an area of personal passion that I think needs to be further researched so we can better understand the mental health disparities that historically marginalized populations experience.

Q:  What was your initial reaction when you received the news?

A: I was sitting in my Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) class when the email popped up.  I logged on, which I probably shouldn’t have, and it said “Congratulations, you were selected for support under the Minority Fellowship Program Predoctoral Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (MHSAS) program ”  I excused myself and called my mother and she began to cry a bit saying how proud she was. Then I came to see if  Dr. DeBlaere was in her office.  As soon as she saw my face, she knew something was up.  I said “I got it!” and she hugged me.  We were jumping and I started crying a little bit.  It was a really powerful moment to have her be that excited for me.

Q:  Has receiving the fellowship had any effect on your research and goals?

A:  My research and clinical agenda has always had a really strong ethnic and minority focus. I’m also starting to develop as a Spanish speaking psychologist in training so I want to start working more with Spanish speaking Latin@ populations.  I think I’ll be more able to explore that more moving forward knowing that I have the APA Minority Fellowship support.

Q: Tell me about the work that you’re a part of with IaM PRIDE.

A:  IaM PRIDE puts a really strong diversity and intersectional lens to doing psychological research.  The focus is on providing a voice to people who are sitting at the margins of the margins. I set up surveys, develop new studies, take part in the writing process, and mentor and work with some masters-level students.  We just finished submitting for publication a paper looking at feminist identity in sexual minority women, and seeing if the factor structure of that measure holds with this diverse sample. We’re also in the process of developing new studies examining the experiences of African Americans in relation to mental health, and why there are vast mental health disparities within this population.

Q: Tell me about the work that you’re a part of with HAPPI Lab

A:  The HAPPI Lab researches positive-psychology, strength-focused approaches and how spirituality intersects with other identities in counseling and other relationships.  Right now, we are working on a paper looking at survivors of hurricane Katrina, and how their perception of God may have changed after experiencing different types of loss.

Q: How has being a part of these two research teams helped shape you as a CPS student and psychologist-in-training?

A:  Being a part of HAPPI Lab and IaM PRIDE has provided me with the knowledge to understand the experiences of diverse people, and how psychological constructs change from one group to another group.  It has helped me understand how going through difficult experiences might change those constructs when looking at mental health and I’ve been exposed to rigorous statistical analysis to produce impactful research for the field. Moreover, the emphasis of social justice, diversity, multicultural competency in these research teams are also core to the field of Counseling Psychology and being part of these teams are helping to solidify these core values as a psychologist in training.

Q:  How have you seen yourself evolve in the three years you’ve been in the program?

A: I’ve become more confident in my overall abilities, as a clinician, researcher, and advocate.  Both Dr. Davis and Dr. DeBlaere take a really strong, developmental approach to mentorship that was more hands-on in the beginning and they have allowed me to take more responsibility over time while still giving attention to the areas where I’m still growing.

Q: Do you have any advice for other counseling or psychology students?

A:  Keep trying.  I think that applies to everything.  If you don’t get into the program the first time, keep trying.  If you don’t get the fellowship the first time, keep trying.  If you don’t get the manuscript accepted to the publication the first time, keep trying.  Have faith.  I know it’s hard to keep faith, and it’s easier for me to say right now because I just got the fellowship, but I guess what I’m trying to say is to persevere.

Q:  What do you do when you’re not in school and not researching?

A:  I usually go back home to New Orleans, LA to visit my family and friends. I also enjoy shopping, going out to eat, running, and sitting on my porch just hanging out.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote or words to live by?

A:  I actually used this quote in the cover letter for the Minority Fellowship.  A mentor shared it with me.

“What is it you that you can do, that only you can do, that needs to be done, that won’t be done unless you do it?”

That was a really driving force for me in applying to the fellowship.  What is unique that I bring to the table from all my different intersecting identities that I can use to make an impact and cause change in working with marginalized populations?