Graduate Profile: Nuttha Udhayanang, Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology
A common spirit runs throughout Yeshiva University: the mandate to matter.
Students of all ages and backgrounds come here to pursue a range of professional and personal dreams, from scientific research and medicine to law, Jewish education or public policy. Our students seek to harness their unique talents and YU education to make a lasting impact on the world around them. This spring, when they graduate from YU, these new alumni will hit the ground running.
In the weeks leading up to Commencement, YU News will feature one remarkable graduate from each school, reflecting, in their own words, on their time here, their passions and their dreams for the future.
Meet the Class of 2013.
Name: Nuttha Udhayanang
Hometown: Bangkok, Thailand
Research Focus: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
You started your university studies as an economics major back in Thailand. How did you end up pursuing graduate psychology in the United States?
Economics is a popular major in Thailand. I had already done a year of university when I decided I wanted to explore the world outside Thailand. Initially, when I came to the U.S., I continued working toward a degree in economics, but there were other foundational courses I was required to take, including Psychology 101. It seemed like an interesting field. I began thinking about other options and decided to pursue forensic science, since that’s an area few people study in Thailand. I went home to do an internship in criminology that summer.
That was 2004, the year the big tsunami hit. Suddenly help was needed identifying bodies, and I had this background. I found myself part of a relief effort working to identify bodies and inform survivors whether their family members were dead or alive. I could see that these survivors had psychological and emotional needs that were simply not being met because there was not enough personnel, especially not enough trained personnel, to provide that kind of service for them. The environment was chaotic, even 12 months later. These people needed some kind of counseling and there was just no one to do it.
This is partly because using mental health services is not popular in Thailand. There’s still some stigma associated with the field. If you say you’re going to a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist, people instantly think you’re really crazy. So it becomes difficult for mental health professionals to reach out and educate people about even the basics of managing their own mental health and stress.
When I returned to the U.S., I decided I would at least minor in psychology. Then I attended a poster presentation in psychology at my college (West Virginia University) and was immediately drawn to a poster about PTSD and environmental disasters. I didn’t even know what PTSD was yet, but after talking to the presenter, Dr. Joseph Scotti, I was hooked. I began working in his lab with veterans who suffer from PTSD and never looked back. When I decided to pursue graduate study so I could return to Thailand as an experienced mental health professional, he recommended Ferkauf.
My professors expanded my world and my mind. I learned that to be a good psychologist, you have to be open-minded about any kind of new knowledge that’s out there, because the world moves so fast these days. The program expanded my knowledge of behavior, neuroscience, psychoanalysis and cognition. There are a lot of really good methodologies you can use to determine which works best with your client—not just one theory is going to work for everyone.
Also, you have to be incredibly patient and in control of your emotions when you work with a patient. The relationship is not so much like a teacher and student as like the trust between friends. Sometimes the client won’t open up to you right away. You can’t force it.
Ferkauf offered much more than in-the-classroom knowledge. I gained life experience and I built connections with other mental health professionals, which is extremely important.
What are your research interests?
PTSD is my area of specialty. We collect and analyze a lot of data about soldiers who have PTSD, whether it’s from the war in Afghanistan or Vietnam, for the National Guard and the State of West Virginia.
But soldiers aren’t the only people we study. Recently, we did research to determine whether people who weren’t in New York City could have gotten PTSD from watching or hearing news coverage about 9/11 through the TV, radio or newspapers. We found out that it was possible, especially for women. We hope to repeat that study in Boston now.
Now that I’ve completed my master’s degree, I hope to pursue a doctorate in psychology in America and then return to Thailand as a knowledgeable, experienced and confident psychologist. I want to become a professor and use my expertise in treating veterans who suffer from PTSD in a clinical setting with soldiers from Thailand, where we have been experiencing terrorist attacks for decades. I hope to contribute something to those veterans and others in my home country who need the kind of assistance my field can provide.