Alumni Spotlight: Mark Schenker
Marsha Weinraub interviews Clinical Psychologist and Temple Alumnus Mark Schenker, Ph.D. Dr. Schenker is currently working in private practice, consulting, and hosting events on addiction treatment.
What led you to your current profession?
I always had a curiosity about what makes people tick. I did not take any psychology courses in college, but after stints working in a banjo factory and a copy shop, I got a job as an aide at a psychiatric hospital. I began to wonder if psychology might be a viable career for me (vs. just a “job”) and started to consider going back to grad school, something I had vowed never to do during my tumultuous college career. I had to first take a few night school classes, but I liked them (even Experimental Psychology and Statistics). Through that I got a couple of jobs as a research assistant, complementing my clinical work at the hospital. To my amazement I was accepted at several schools including Temple, and off I went.
Soon after I began thinking about pursuing psychology, I encountered a friend who was in the Clinical Psychology program at Temple, and she encouraged me to apply to Temple. I left the interviews impressed and even though I was accepted to my then first-choice school, I had already decided to come to Temple. I felt that Temple provided a balanced approach to clinical psychology, rather than a doctrinaire one.
How did you get into working with addicted persons?
I answered an ad for a psychology job, and soon I found myself working at a drug clinic in Chester PA. Eventually, with a lot of experience and guidance I became more interested in the field of Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) from a theoretical perspective, and eventually from a research perspective as well.
Sounds like it’s a case of first doing, then learning, and then finding your passion rather than the other way around. That’s not uncommon!
That seems to be the way it’s worked for me. Despite the cliché, change doesn’t always “come from within”.
What types of tasks does your work require of you?
I’m now in part-time clinical practice, working primarily with people suffering from Substance Use Disorders. Three days a week I see patients, doing assessments and psychotherapy. On my “off” days, I write, consult, serve on the board of the Philadelphia Society of Clinical Psychologists, and work for the Society of Addiction Psychology (APA Division 50). I host a monthly clinical teleconference on addiction treatment, to which all are invited –contact me for more information. *
As I remember, you are also in a rock band? Say a little bit about that? Does it affect your work in any way?
I’ve played guitar since I was ten. In the 6 years between college and Temple I spent a year studying Arranging and Composition at Berklee College of Music. However, gigging in smoky bars till 3 AM got old after a while. After one memorable Saturday night gig, I went out directly Monday morning and signed up for Statistics and Abnormal Psychology. I didn’t play much during grad school, but promised myself that when I finished, I’d pick it up again. I played guitar with a bunch of similarly inclined geezers in Stone Age, a classic rock and oldies band, for about 15 years. Eventually I again got tired of gigging in smoky bars. I needed music in my life, but having it as an avocation rather than a primary pursuit kept it in perspective and kept it fun.
Were you involved in research or internships during your time at Temple?
At the time I was at Temple, the Clinical Division was more oriented to clinical practice than research. I received clinical group supervision from our Clinic Teams; on my internship at Temple Hospital I had both group and individual supervision.
My research experiences at Temple included a Master’s thesis (under Jay Efran) and my Dissertation (under Marsha Weinraub). Both were quite difficult and stressful, but I also recall an “aha” moment – a few weeks after defending my dissertation, I realized how valuable the experience was in learning what psychology is all about. I also have fond memories of our monthly Research Team in Jay’s living room, in which we bounced around everybody’s ideas and in the process developing an awareness of the process of research and of psychology in general.
What do you think are your major professional accomplishments since leaving Temple University?
I’ve gotten a couple of awards in recent years, which is nice. I’ve written a book and a few chapters and articles. I’ve worked in a variety of settings in addiction treatment and other programs. I started a few SUD programs, and once set up a Crisis Program at a hospital Emergency Room. Both those activities were fun; they involved building programs from the ground up, including locating office space; hiring, training and supervising staff; developing treatment protocols; monitoring program functioning and outcomes; and doing direct clinical work. We flew by the seat of our pants, and we did good work in the process. Along the way, I like to think I helped a couple of people, too.
Apart from my clinical work, I’ve trained and taught people in various settings, and presented at a few large conferences. I’ve raised a kid (also a Temple grad) and a couple of step-kids, and managed to stay married for 32 years; these seem like the real accomplishments.
What are your current research and clinical interests?
I have a strong interest in advocating for better training in addiction treatment in graduate programs. Although SUDs are ubiquitous, especially in the clinical population, only about 25% of psychology programs offer any training in this area. Typically, people with SUDs are marginalized, stigmatized and ignored, even within the “helping” professions, and especially in psychology. This is an embarrassing predicament for our profession and a disservice to our clients. My work as a Board Member in Division 50 has been largely directed to changing this situation by raising awareness of the importance of study and training in this area.
Do you have any advice for current Temple Psychology students?
Follow your interests and be willing to go with the flow. I never had much of a plan for my career, but have been open to various opportunities that came up. At one point I was interviewing for a job and was asked what my career plans were. Taking a bit of a risk, I told the interviewer, “I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up”. To my relief, he responded, “Me, too”.
Is there any additional information you would like to include?
Moby Grape was the greatest band that ever existed.