Dr. Carissa Dwiwardani named prestigious American Psychological Association scholar

Carissa Dwiwardani, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Psychology & Counseling, sits in her warmly lit office on the campus of Regent University. Her hands clasped casually in her lap, she is positioned for drawing out the thoughts and challenges of her clients and stepping into their experiences.

Her goal is to understand, without projecting her own cultural background into their situations, and to help her students do the same. The goal serves her well in the research sect of psychology. In 2014, Dwiwardani was selected as a Scholar for the Multicultural Concerns Committee for the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 39 for her research on multiculturalism.

The APA consists of more than 134,000 members made up of an association of psychology researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Dwiwardani’s recognition places her at the top of the leaders in her field; and she hopes that this distinction will encourage the APA’s psychoanalysis division to explore more multicultural factors of psychology and how they interface with psychoanalysis.

As an expert in her field, Dwiwardani is often asked how she compartmentalizes her work as a psychologist and her personal life, but for her, it’s all connected. This is where the love of Christ and psychology meet.

“My clients do impact my life in some ways, and they do leave an imprint on my work,” says Dwiwardani. “I take their experiences with me, and I think that’s a good thing.”

She knows her perspective, like everyone’s, is limited to her own experiences. So she’s careful to explore the ins and outs of her clients’ stories, almost as if she was taking on the lead role, gaining a first-person understanding of their trials and through their inner-dialogue.

“I remember one of my professors in graduate school saying, ‘We have a front-row seat in witnessing God work in our clients’ lives,’” says Dwiwardani. “That means we’re beside them in that journey. How could I not be impacted by that?

“The way we think about human nature and how people change is very much influenced by our culture and the way we gauge what’s ‘healthy’ and ‘not healthy,’” she continues. “Now we’re being more explicit about the limitations of the framework in our subfield, and we want to be more transparent in challenging them.”

Her passion for multicultural emphasis on psychoanalysis was born throughout her own education in psychology. Though she was drawn to American psychology and “resonated with psychoanalytic thought,” she found herself having to compartmentalize the fact that she spent the first 18 years of her life in Indonesia.

“I had to put away the ‘cultural me,’ during my studies,” says Dwiwardani. “I didn’t know how what I was learning would apply to an Indonesian population, but I thought, ‘Let me learn this first and then work on applying it to different cultures.’”

For instance, in Indonesia, the American view of “separation-individuation” is quite foreign. Dwiwardani explains that, for an American, psychological health includes the idea that everyone needs to become self-sufficient in order to maintain his or her individuality during young adulthood. However, “If I was still living in Indonesia and I had moved out of my parent’s home just because I was 18, people would ask, ‘What’s wrong? Do you not have a very good relationship?’” she says. “It would raise more questions about our health as a family rather than reflect a successful developmental milestone.”

Dwiwardani says that this can be dangerous in a therapist-patient relationship, if the two have differing definitions for topics or cultural norms.

Her desire to develop a deeper understanding of multicultural differences in psychology spurs on Dwiwardani’s passion for research and teaching. She believes this understanding of multicultural analysis is learned relationally, and she guides her classroom the same way.

“It’s important for my students to learn this before they meet with clients — to understand the limitations of their worldview so they can be humble, open and always growing,” says Dwiwardani. “That’s a concept that I will teach again and again.”

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