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Getting to Know First-Year Riggs Fellow Seth Pitman, PhD

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Seth Pitman, PhD is a psychology Fellow at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, MA.The Austen Riggs Center offers an Adult Psychoanalytic Training Program and Fellowship in Hospital-Based Psychotherapy for both psychiatrists (post-residency) and psychologists (postdoctoral). We sat down recently with Dr. Seth Pitman, who began his Fellowship in the fall of 2017, to learn more about his path to the Riggs Fellowship, his interests, and what he hopes to learn.

How did you find your way to the field of clinical psychology?

SP: I wasn’t initially interested in studying psychology, but I have long been interested in psychoanalysis as a way of thinking about the world. I am really interested in how people think, what motivates people, how people relate to each other, and how problems can arise between people in groups or in relationships. I think that's why I studied English, art, and the humanities as an undergraduate–I feel those areas of study address all the same questions.

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I was a musician for several years in New York City and then decided to go back to school and pursue a degree in clinical psychology; I wanted to be able to put my interests in working with people, meeting new people, and hearing people’s stories to work in a clinical setting that valued a psychodynamic perspective. Fortunately, The Derner School at Adelphi University offers that kind of setting, so I applied and was accepted.

How did you hear about the Austen Riggs Center?

SP: I heard about Riggs through the confluence of a personal connection and being a dynamically oriented and trained clinician; there aren't many places that do this kind of work.

While I was in graduate school, I visited a friend who grew up in this area–it was through him that I became acquainted with the Austen Riggs Center. I then found that it [Riggs] started popping up more–in articles I was reading and associated with people whose work I was interested in. It seemed like an interesting place and a place where I might want to be someday.

Why did you decide to apply to the Fellowship at Riggs?

SP: Working in a hospital system that is theoretically dynamic and analytic was very appealing to me. And while I enjoyed life in New York City (where I attended graduate school) and in Boston (where I did my internship), my wife and I love the Berkshires, so the location of Riggs was definitely a draw as well.

What are some of your clinical and/or research interests?

SP: My primary research interest is in psychotherapy process and outcome–the question of how therapy works. We know that psychotherapy works and we know that there are certain reasons why it works, but I'm interested in understanding the process more. There's a lot of literature on the efficacy of therapy generally, and on how psychodynamic therapy works in particular. I’m interested in more fully understanding the process of therapy over time, and patient and therapist factors that contribute to positive outcomes. These seem to be key areas of research moving forward.

With regard to my work, in graduate school I studied how psychotherapy techniques in psychodynamic psychotherapy related to symptom improvement in people with anxiety symptoms. We watched video sessions of psychotherapy with real patients, coded what the therapist did according to a rating system, and then correlated those ratings with symptom improvement between the beginning of treatment and the end of treatment. More recently I’ve become interested in understanding personality and, in particular, personality factors that can affect psychotherapy outcome.

What are you hoping to learn here during your Fellowship?

SP: I'm primarily interested in receiving advanced training in psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapy. I'm also looking to understand how psychoanalytic thinking can apply to how we think about systems–learning how a hospital system like Riggs operates using psychoanalytic principles, because it's extremely rare. To have a whole organization and a whole system built around analytic principles is amazing and something that I'm really excited to understand and learn more about.

How has your experience at Riggs been so far?

SP: It's been really exciting; there’s been a learning curve in terms of understanding how the different parts of the hospital work, how they fit together, and what my role is within all of that. There’s also been a kind of a personal learning curve in terms of how I think of myself, both my professional role and who I am as a person–trying to balance how I can be myself here with my own perspective and contribute to the mission of the hospital in a way that’s hopefully helpful.

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