Interview: Diane H. Engelman, Ph.D.

Interview: Dr. Diane Engelman

Name: Diane H. Engelman, Ph.D.

Where do you live: Sonoma, California, USA

Known for:
– Therapeutic Assessment and Collaborative Therapeutic Assessment
– Neuropsychological assessment
– Psychological Assessment
– Psychotherapy
– Co-creating metaphorical, therapeutic stories for adult clients
– Speaking/presenting nationally and internationally, with my co-author, psychology writer JB Allyn, about therapeutic stories and their impact on people

Currently working with:
– I am active as a therapist and personality and neuropsychological assessor.
– I also co-write metaphorical stories and co-present about the stories and how we write them.
– I also am writing a book with JB about how people can destigmatize personal or family mental health concerns and “change the story” of their life narratives.
– I am on the faculty of Therapeutic Assessment Institute

When did you realize that you were going to work with this/in this area?
– When I was 19, a retired psychologist became a good friend and mentor. Her example and thoughtful suggestions aided me in seeing my life’s work – helping others through psychology.

– Writing therapeutic stories and books evolved out of my work in psychology and out of my friendship with my co-author and co-presenter.

If you could choose one place only to live, where would that be and why?
Where I am living now. I love to travel, but I also love coming home to this valley. It speaks to my spirit.

How would you describe your creativity?
I would describe my creativity as collaborative and intuitive.

In my assessment or therapy work, I work most creatively when I collaborate with the people who seek my help and with those who are important in their lives – their families, for example, or perhaps other health professionals, including coaches and teachers. Together we become detectives, solving the challenges they face. I have specific training and knowledge, but they are the experts on their own lives, so we solve their problems together.

In writing and presenting, my creativity is triggered by working with my co-author and collaborator, JB Allyn. We feed each other’s creative ideas by working back and forth in a sort of creative feedback loop. Each of us pays attention to intuitive hits and shares that in our work with each other.

How and when did you start to work with this in a serious manner?
My education was in psychology, with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and post-doctoral training in neuropsychology. I have been a therapist and psychological assessor for more than 30 years.

My work with JB Allyn, writing therapeutic stories and giving presentations about them, began 12 years ago.

What do you do at the moment?
Assessments, Psychotherapy, Write stories and books.

A recommendation for those who think about starting and running a creative business?
Each of us has a unique form of creativity inside. Regardless of whether we work in a traditionally “artistic” field or a scientific one such as mine, we can find and tap into our creative nature and use it to help our work.

Tell us how it all started.
My creative work with JB Allyn grew out of a surgery – she took care of me when my husband had to be out of town. While recovering, I mentioned to her that I had colleagues who wrote therapeutic stories for child assessment clients. I said, “I’d love to do that, but when I’m done, I’m done – that is just one piece too many at the end of a long assessment”. JB raised her hand and said playfully, “Your friend is a writer – maybe we can write the stories together”.  Many of my clients were – and are – adults, so our focus is primarily on stories for adults. We have discovered that living inside most adults is a child who loves a story – especially one that captures his or her own life experience and opportunities for growth.

What is the most important thing in a workplace/studio for you?
Light; the space to spread out any reference materials I am working with; and access to an outdoor garden.

What is your favorite film?
“The Miracle Worker”, the story of Helen Keller’s childhood.

Who would you like to invite for a dinner and why?
It would require “time travel”, but I would invite Helen Keller. I respect that she overcame profound adversity to make such a difference in the world. She graduated from Radcliffe and was the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She learned to speak and became a world-famous speaker and author. She was a leading humanitarian and social activist of her time – or perhaps of any time.

How do you like to spoil yourself?
I spend time in my garden. It is both my meditation and food for my soul. I also am enjoying training my collie as a therapy dog.

What is luxury for you?
Time – time to do things that feed my soul and to spend with those I love.

What is the nicest compliment you’ve received for your creative work, and from whom?
So often the assessments I do, and the stories JB and I write, are for “an audience of one” – the client who seeks help. The best compliment is when I hear – often much later – that the assessment’s effect on a person’s life was profound. With the stories, when the recipient sees the metaphorical frame the story gives to his or her life, his or her reaction can range from tears to quiet thoughtfulness to joy. The most powerful compliments from our speaking audiences come from the emotional impact our stories have on those who attend. Compliments range from inarticulate tears to comments that they breathe easier when we speak and feel safe in the journey we will take them on in the story.

What do you fear most?
Not completing all the projects I have planned.

What is a happy life to you?
The life I am living.

What does a regular day look like for you?
My life is regular in its irregularity. I am with my grandchildren each Monday. I meet with clients on Tuesday and Wednesday at my main office in Kentfield, (Marin County) California; I occasionally meet with clients on Thursday and Friday in my Sonoma satellite office; otherwise, on those days, I write, score testing materials, write reports, meet with JB regarding our writing projects, and write portions of those projects. Weekends I write reports, write the book and other projects, and spend time with my husband and my collie dog, Sherpa.

Tell us about your dream project.
The book I am writing with my coauthor, which I mentioned previously. I am inspired by the impact we can have in helping people to normalize their feelings about mental health concerns. In that process, we also aim to help them decide if the stories that make up their life narratives need changing and if so, how to go about that.

Who is your professional role model/inspiration?
The retired psychologist I met at one of my first jobs, when I was a teen aide in a nursing home.

How would you describe your work style (academic field or fashion style, or both, or something entirely different)?
As with my answer to the question about creativity, my working style is also collaborative. The nature of all my work is that I bring my knowledge and expertise to a project and then factor in the other person’s skills and knowledge to reach a productive conclusion.

Both my fashion and my decorating styles combine classic with ethnic. In clothing, I wear lots of deep and/or intense colors, mainly solids, with accents of scarves and hand-crafted jewelry. In decorating my home, I also use solid colors (deep and/or warm), accented by ethnic masks, prints and fabric wall-hangings, and masses of indoor plants.

Which is the one thing you can’t live without?
My family and closest friends.

What inspires you?
People who are pursuing their life’s passion.

A book that has changed/made the most impression in your life?
So many… But one that stands out in terms of nurturing one’s creativity is “The Courage to Create” by psychologist Rollo May. It does take courage to open the door to our individual forms of creativity – but it is fulfilling to both mind and spirit.

Connect with Dr. Engelman via LinkedIn & Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @DianeEngelman
Check out her website & know more about her work here

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