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Viva Voce

Meet Suzanne So, Teacher's Teacher

<em>(Photo by ISO staff)</em>

Prof. Suzanne So

  • 2017 UGC Teaching Award (Early Career Faculty Members Category)
  • 2016 CUHK Young Researcher Award
  • 2016 CUHK University Education Award
  • 2016 CUHK Faculty of Social Science Exemplary Teaching Award
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

What does the UGC Teaching Award mean to you?

It is tremendous encouragement. Only senior faculties received the honour in the past. Nominations of early career faculty members were introduced last year. I’m glad that my effort is recognized by UGC, but at the same time, I find it a humbling experience. Many awardees have immense societal impact in teaching and research, and I still have a long way to go.

How does your veteran clinical psychology background benefit your research and teaching?

Prior to my academic pursuit in the UK, I worked in the Hospital Authority serving psychosis patients and their families. Some complicated cases encountered have become my research foci for clinical solutions. I focus on the role of cognitive biases and develop psychotherapies for patients with delusional disorder. Recently I adapted a metacognitive therapy from Germany which yielded satisfactory results in clinical trials. If we could prove its effectiveness on a larger scale, the therapy can be widely adopted locally.

The clinical psychology training is rigorous. Students are required to complete at least 220 days of supervised practicum over two years. They need to attend their first placement having completed their first three-month training. However, how they interact with patients can’t be acquired overnight. My practical experience will help them apply therapeutic techniques and better engage their patients.

You have introduced the new Self-Practice/Self-Reflection pedagogy which made CUHK the first Asian institution adopting the approach. How does it benefit your students?

Reflection is essential to both students and veteran therapists for continuous improvement. I adopt the pedagogy, which covers declarative, procedural and reflective processes, in my cognitive behavioural therapy training. I focus on one technique per lesson and students practice it on the spot. They jot down their reflection after self-practice, which will be anonymously displayed on screen in the next lecture for discussion. The reflection itself helps them understand the struggles that patients go through in the therapeutic process. They also develop deeper self-understanding. A student discovered that he felt uneasy to touch the emotion and tended to stop his patient from crying once it happened. This trait will hinder his clinical work in future.

How significant is empathy to clinical psychologists?

It’s indispensable. Clinical psychologists need to cognitively and emotionally walk with the patients. Not only do we systemically apply therapeutic techniques in accordance with their pace, but we also build a comfortable and equal-footing relationship with them. Authoritative communication will obstruct their growth.

Anything unforgettable over the five years teaching at CUHK?

Quite a lot. The most unforgettable one should be my participation in students’ growth, witnessing their ups and downs. As a clinical tutor, I constantly meet with individual students to listen to their struggles and self-doubt in placement. It’s heartening to know my students’ papers get published, but seeing them overcome obstacles and regain confidence is my greatest pleasure.

Clinical psychology is a profession helping people. How about your self-care?

How can we help more people without self-care? I always remind my students to do what they like for better physical and mental health. Our professional identity may isolate us from seeking help. In fact, we also need peer support and idea exchange when handling complicated cases.

(A previous interview of Prof. Emily Chan, another 2017 UGC Teaching Award recipient, was published in CUHK Newsletter Issue No. 480.)

This article was originally published in No. 505, Newsletter in Oct 2017.

Suzanne So Department of Psychology awards UGC Teaching Award Young Researcher Award University Education Award Exemplary Teaching Award clinical tutor