Laura Kauffmann is a California-based licensed psychologist with expertise in parenting and educational issues for kids and teens.
What is your name, age, and location?
Laura Compian Kauffman, 35, San Carlos, CA.
What is your profession?
Licensed psychologist: I have a part-time psychotherapy practice in which I work primarily with children and adolescents, but I also see adults. In general, my clients are all struggling with issues related to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and identity development.
I also work as a Senior Program Manager at Education.com, a free website for parents. I help to maintain integrity on the site, assuring that all parenting information and tips are based in a solid foundation of evidence of what works.
What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?
I received a BA in Psychology with a minor in Education at the University of California at Berkeley. Go Bears! I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in psychology, and I felt that I would be limited with a BA, so I understood early in my undergraduate experience that I would be continuing on to graduate school. I decided not to waste any time, and I went straight from undergrad to earning a PhD in counseling psychology at Stanford University. My research involves understanding the role of social and physical factors (e.g., peers and puberty) in gender differences in depression, anxiety, and eating disorders at adolescence.
What was your first job?
As a teen, I babysat for a family with four young children (I was just 13 when I first began working for them! I’m not sure what they were thinking giving a middle school student so much responsibility!) I then had a series of jobs working for a food concession stand, temping for a golf company, and working for the university recreational facility before I settled into research and clinical training jobs.
Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?
Growing up, I planned to be a writer of non-fiction books for teenagers à la Sweet Valley High. I began my first novel in middle school, and I applied to college with the intention of majoring in English. However, right before college, I spent a great deal of time talking with a friend who was going through a difficult experience. Although I was saddened that she was struggling, I also discovered a sense of purpose in my role as a source of support for her, and I felt a change occur with my internal compass; I knew that I had to pursue psychology. Shortly after I began college at Cal, I read the book, Reviving Ophelia, by Mary Pipher, and I became committed to researching and supporting the emotional lives of adolescent girls.
Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?
I worked as a therapist in a study of Family Based Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa at Stanford University during graduate school. I was lucky enough to be trained by the bright and gifted therapist, Dr. James Lock, who was the Primary Investigator on the study. I had heard for years that clients with Anorexia were frustrating and difficult to treat, so I was curious to see what my experience would be with this fascinating new treatment. In the past, experts believed that the family was part of the “problem” and the client should be separated from them in treatment. Family Based Treatment turned all of this on its head and the results were miraculous. I saw clients who were on the verge of death (they were all being monitored by doctors), recover and rediscover themselves. It was such a pleasure to see the joy on the clients faces, as they reveled in their ability to return to a normal lifestyle at school and at home, and the joy that parents expressed at having their child “back.”
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?
Many parents are explicitly seeking a young female therapist who can relate to their child. I have received a number of referrals for just this reason.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?
There are many, many women in the field of psychology, so I generally feel at home. I feel very lucky in this regard. However, there have been instances, such as when I applied to graduate school in which there were rumors that a male candidate was chosen because of a desire to include more males in the field (given that they are more in the minority for the field).
Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?
I have been greatly influenced by my grandmother. She is a smart, caring, and thoughtful woman who managed to balance family and career during a time when many women could only imagine a life in the home. She is a true delight, and I am filled with so much love and respect for her.
If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?
Know thyself! Whether your journey of self-discovery involves journaling, meditation, church, or therapy, it is so important to be firmly rooted in your own personal identification. It will help you in all aspects of your career and will help you to make the difficult decisions that will definitely come your way.
– Interview by Elena Rossini