Jeremy Ridenour, PsyD, Reflects on His Four Years as a Riggs Fellow
Q: How did you come to the Riggs Fellowship?
JR: I entered the Fellowship in September of 2013 – I had heard Dr. Charles present on her work at Riggs in my graduate program at George Washington University and I found it compelling and a very intriguing way of working. I had other professors recommend the Riggs Fellowship, in part because my major interest at the time (and still) is how to work with people with schizophrenia psychotherapeutically. I wanted to work at a place that treated people with severe mental illness and provided meaningful psychotherapy.
Q: What have been some of the most meaningful aspects of being a Fellow at Riggs?
JR: I really have enjoyed working with staff and patients. I find the staff to be thoughtful, original thinkers who can think imaginatively about patients and mental illness in a very sensitive and human way. I found this refreshing and enriching both personally and professionally. I have also appreciated the patients – they are here voluntarily to engage in a unique treatment; I have been impressed by their dedication to facing difficult things about themselves and to trying to tell the often uncomfortable and scary truths about their experiences. I have learned a lot from them and hopefully helped some along the way. The work with staff and patients here has provided me with a more complex view of mental illness – what it means, how it is created in society, and how to address it.
What will you take away from the experience of being a Fellow at Riggs?
JR: I’ve learned to appreciate the very particular nature of people’s experiences – how they are singular, created in a social and familial context – and understand the meaning that it has for them. All experiences have to be interpreted and made sense of – one individual’s depression may mean something very different than another person’s depression – and unless you truly inquire about it, you won’t understand what the personal significance is for that individual.
Alongside the respect for the individuality of each person, there is also an effort at Riggs to see in people’s basic humanity. Patients I see here may have severe problems, but they are also, like all of us, human beings grappling with the basic problems of living – how to have a life that’s meaningful, how to find work that’s useful, how to create relationships that can be loving and challenging. Patients may bring very different resources to try and answer or address those questions, but they are normal dilemmas that all of us face.
Finding both the commonality and the distinctness is a balance. I think most places that treat people with mental illness tend to see them only as distinct or different and they create artificial divisions between normality and psychopathology that not only do injustice to the individual, but also in some ways deny that we all experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress, etc. I think appreciating both the universality of experience and the distinctness allows for people to be recognized as fully as possible.
What would you say to someone considering coming here as a Fellow?
JR: I would say that it’s very interesting and it’s important for you to be intellectually open to different ideas and different ways of viewing people. Although it’s generally psychodynamic, there’s not a kind of orthodoxy here and staff are not wedded to stereotyped ways of thinking or intervening with patients.
Working here requires that you bring yourself in a way that’s unique – in part because you’re working in a community; you don’t have the normal privacy that someone in private practice or other treatment models may have. You will see your patients in various contexts – in individual therapy, in groups, in the community program, outside of the hospital in the community – and you have to navigate that, which requires a kind of comfort with oneself that took me a while to build.
Along with intellectual openness, there’s a lot of freedom. For example, I’ve been able to pursue various research projects, and I feel that staff are open to allowing people to explore their own ideas and learn about human nature in all of its various ways – that’s been helpful. I think you have to be open to learning and be willing to expose yourself to things that are at times challenging and make you insecure, because you’re not often afforded the luxury of privacy.
You’ll be joining the Riggs staff after you graduate – what are you looking forward to?
JR: I’m very flattered to join Riggs as a staff psychologist after I graduate. I’m interested in continuing to develop my abilities as a psychologist and psychotherapist. I look forward to hopefully supervising testing in the future and being involved in how we assess patients and understand them psychologically.
I’m also interested in continuing with my major research interest, which is trying to understand schizophrenia – both the lived experience and some of the basic biological and cognitive mechanisms that contribute to symptom formation – in order to help people find a way to develop the self-direction or agency that allows them to get back into the world in a way that’s meaningful.