Chicago Disaster Psychologist Recommends Pursuing Passion As A Career

Interview with Jamie Aten by Michelle Guilbeau

This article was originally published on CBSlocal.com on November 29, 2015.

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Jamie D. Aten is a disaster psychologist and holds an endowed chair dedicated to teaching and researching the intersections between theology and psychology in the clinical psychology doctoral program at Wheaton College. Through this position, Aten started the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) to study faith and mental health in disaster contexts and to help people, congregations and communities live more resiliently.

To this day, Aten feels very fortunate that he received a music scholarship to attend community college at Lincoln Trail College. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for a career; this opportunity allowed Aten to do something he enjoyed, gave him time to figure out his career path and is where he discovered psychology. Aten then went on to complete all three of his degrees at Indiana State University– a Bachelor of Science in psychology, a Master of Science in counseling psychology and a Doctorate of Philosophy in counseling psychology.

What are the scope and responsibilities of your current role?

“In my current role, I teach graduate courses in the Wheaton College Psy.D. program and co-direct HDI. One of my major responsibilities is co-directing a recent $1.9 million John Templeton Foundation grant that HDI received to study how people make meaning, relate to God and grow (psychologically and spiritually) after natural disasters.”

What is your favorite part of your daily duties?

“I’m grateful that I get to teach and be a part of the Wheaton College community and for all the great students, colleagues and staff I work with. One of the favorite parts of my job is getting to learn from and collaborate with people from all over the globe through HDI’s disaster and humanitarian crises work.”

Do you feel your education prepared you for your current role?

“I never thought I’d be a disaster psychologist. Then I moved to south Mississippi just six days before Hurricane Katrina, and I’ve being doing this work ever since. I feel like my educational background prepared me well for this line of work, even though I never studied disasters in college. My education, especially my college mentors, prepared me by teaching me how to think creatively and scientifically, exposed me to a wide range of diverse ideas and taught me the power of relationships and communities.”

Do you have any advice for people who desire to pursue a similar career?

“I can remember struggling at one point in graduate school until one of my mentors Dr. Michele Boyer stopped me in the hall one day and asked me, “Jamie, what are you passionate about?” After I answered, she said, “Then go do that.” Her question and encouragement helped set me on the career path I’m on today. Thus, my advice would be to ask the same question my mentor posed to me and then to pursue your passion.”