American Studies
American Studies

American Studies in the World Today: Jessica Grogan

Wed, July 5, 2017
American Studies in the World Today: Jessica Grogan
Dr. Jessica Grogan

This year, in a series of interviews conducted by AMS graduate student Gaila Sims, we’re highlighting the accomplishments of University of Texas at Austin American Studies graduates who are applying their degrees out in the world. We start the series with Dr. Jessica Grogan, PhD ’08, who published her first book Encountering America: Sixties Psychology, Counterculture and the Movement That Shaped the Modern Self in 2013. Dr. Grogan talks about the influence of American Studies in her work as a psychotherapist and author:


AMS: When did you graduate from American Studies at UT, and with what degree?

Jessica Grogan: I graduated in 2008 with a PhD.


AMS: What is your current job, and how did you decide to enter into your chosen field?

JG: I'm currently a psychotherapist in private practice. I also have some involvement with academics, as an adjunct assistant professor at Texas A&M Med School (Humanities in Medicine) where I work with med students on empathy, communication, ethics, and basic counseling skills.


AMS: What projects or people have inspired your work?

JG: At UT, Bob Abzug and Frank Richardson inspired my work. Both of them were broad in their thinking about psychotherapy in a way that ran counter to much of the work I was familiar with in psychology. Both helped me to develop a critical lens that was constructive, rather than just deconstructive. In psychology, I was inspired by humanistic psychologists, anti-psychiatry people, and neo-Freudians who also took a constructive approach to the problems they perceived in the field.


AMS: How does American Studies inform your work? How does your background in American Studies help you in your work in psychotherapy?

JG: American Studies informs my work in that I avoid narrow conversations that happen in academic isolation, departmental turf wars, and a degree of "specialization" that limits discourse. I think the concept of interdisciplinarity is what I've drawn on the most in my own work, meaning I'm always seeking to bring in other conversations and more context. This is relevant to my work in psychotherapy because clinicians make the same mistakes as academics by isolating factors/ pathologies/ problems in a way that blocks dialogue and narrows discourse. I try not to do that.


AMS: How do you see your work fitting in with broader conversations in American Studies?

JG: I've been trying to think about how to answer this question, but I honestly am not sure what the broader conversations happening in American Studies currently are. Focused mainly on psychology in a discipline where almost no one studied psychology, I always felt outside of these conversations. 


AMS: Do you have any advice for students in our department about how to get the most out of their experience at UT?

JG: I'd suggest that their dissertations be some version of the book they want to write. I'd also suggest limiting, as much as possible, the time and energy they spend on academic exercises (research, studying, etc. to check a box rather than to deepen knowledge, develop their thinking, and satiate their intellectual interests). 


AMS: Do you have any advice for students in our department who are interested in pursuing work outside academia, but still want to utilize the training they've received from American Studies?

JG: First, I think it's clear that those who think more broadly about the uses of a Phd have an advantage, and higher changes of feeling satisfied. I also think being flexible about the outcome of earning the degree allows you to enjoy and really engage with the process of getting the degree and to not treat it as just a credential. Also, in terms of credentials, there's not much that a PhD in American Studies earns you right off the bat, which means it probably makes sense to maintain and develop other more marketable skills simultaneously (whether it's writing, editing, teaching, painting houses, doing therapy, or whatever). 


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