Podcast: Interview with GGU Psychology Chair & Eating Disorder Expert Tom Wooldridge

Dr. Tom Wooldridge, Chair of the Department of Psychology at GGU, was recently interviewed for the ED Matters Podcast about the psychoanalytic treatment of eating disorders. On the podcast, Suzanne Phillips and Dr. Wooldridge discuss his recent book, Psychoanalytic Treatment of Eating Disorders: When Words Fail and Bodies Speak.

The podcast conversation focuses on what a psychoanalytic or psychodynamic approach can contribute to the integrative treatment of eating disorders and how such an approach can address the unspoken pain, secret shame, self-blame – and difficulty with affect regulation that often accompanies them. The role of childhood experience, cultural norms, cyberspace connections, and online forums are also discussed.

Listen to the Podcast >>

In addition to his role as Department Chair GGU, Wooldridge has a practice in Berkeley where he works with a wide variety of patients using a psychoanalytic approach. This year, he earned a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California (2018).

The first article Wooldridge wrote centered on anorexia nervosa in male populations, published in Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention. The article – recently chosen as one of its “Top 25” published in that journal over the past 25 years –  became the basis of his first book, Understanding Anorexia Nervosa in Males: An Integrative Approach (published by Routledge).

Related blog post: Teacher, Clinician, and Writer: An Interview with Psychology Chair Dr. Tom Wooldridge.

Request information about GGU’s master’s-level Psychology degrees >>

Teacher, Clinician, and Writer: An Interview with Psychology Chair Dr. Tom Wooldridge

You’re a Psychologist as well as a Professor here at GGU. Can you tell us more about your professional life?

Professionally, I wear two hats. Here at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, I am an Assistant Professor and the Department Chair in the Department of Psychology.

I also have a private practice where I see patients in Berkeley. I work with a wide variety of patients using a psychoanalytic approach, and about half of my patients come in with eating disorders or some struggle with body weight and shape. I think my professional practice is really important because it gives me real-world experience that I can then fold back into my teaching in the classroom.

We have two different programs, a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology that leads to eligibility for licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) or Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). The other degree program is an MA in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, which is a field that brings the principles of psychology to bear on the workplace environment. I teach courses, meet with students, attend faculty meetings, and do other sorts of administrative tasks. When I get time, I also work on research.

I think my professional practice is really important because it gives me real-world experience that I can then fold back into my teaching in the classroom.

Can you say more about your research?

The first article I ever wrote was on anorexia nervosa in male populations, published in the journal Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention. That article – which was recently chosen as the “Top 25” articles published in that journal over the past 25 years, became the basis of my first book, Understanding Anorexia Nervosa in Males: An Integrative Approach, which was published by Routledge. Since then, I’ve published a number of different articles and recently released an edited book, Psychoanalytic Treatment of Eating Disorders: When Words Fail and Bodies Speak. Now, I continue to be interested in psychoanalytic approaches to the treatment of eating disorders.

Can you give us a brief explanation of psychoanalysis?

I think it’s a great question because, of course, the term is used in many different ways. For the purposes of this book, psychoanalytic treatments are those that draw, in some way, on psychoanalytic theory — which is a diverse body of work that has been developing for more than 100 years beginning with Freud, of course, but encompassing far more than him. These forms of treatment are often referred to as psychoanalytic or psychodynamic — and can be differentiated from psychoanalysis proper, which tends to refer to a more intensive form of treatment that follows similar principles.

Probably what I enjoy most about my work here is talking with people about their professional interests and aspirations. 

Perhaps it would be useful to describe a few of the unifying themes of psychoanalytic treatments. In no particular order:

  1. Focus on affect, or emotion, over cognition.
  2. Have a developmental focus — in other words, to situate a person’s current struggles in the context of their emotional development throughout the lifespan.
  3. Emphasize the unconscious — which, for our purposes, we might think of as aspects of ourselves that we don’t know well, often because those aspects have been too anxiety-provoking or otherwise destabilizing for us to explore more fully.
  4. Recognize that we tend to avoid, or defend against, knowing certain parts of ourselves.

Any final words?

My final word would be that if you’re interested in the field of Psychology, whether that’s Counseling Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapy, or Industrial-Organizational Psychology, reach out to me to have a longer conversation. Probably what I enjoy most about my work here is talking with people about their professional interests and aspirations. I’d love to speak with anyone who’s got passion and energy to bring to these important and quickly developing fields.

Tom Wooldridge, PsyD, ABPP, CEDS is Chair in the Department of Psychology at Golden Gate University, where he teaches courses in therapeutic communication and psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Dr. Wooldridge has been interviewed for by numerous media publications including Newsweek, Slate, WebMD, and many others for his work. He is an Executive Director at the National Association for Males with Eating Disorders and has a private practice in Berkeley, CA. He is a candidate at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California.

Request information about GGU’s master’s-level Psychology degrees >>

Golden Gate University Ranked #1 in US for Adult Learners for Second Consecutive Year

For the second consecutive year, Washington Monthly ranks Golden Gate University America’s #1 School for Adult Learners in its annual College Guide and Rankings.

How GGU Was Chosen

To compile the rankings, Washington Monthly reviewed data from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) survey, the department’s new College Scorecard database and the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges.

The metrics that determined GGU’s rating include:

  • ease of transfer/enrollment
  • flexibility of programs
  • services available for adult learners
  • percent of adult students (age 25+)
  • mean earnings of adult students ten years after entering college
  • loan repayment of adult students five years after entering repayment
  • tuition and fees for in-district students

Read the article in Washington Monthly >>

GGU’s Psychology Chair to Lead Discussion at Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California

Dr. Tom Wooldridge, Chair of the Department of Psychology at GGU, will be leading a discussion at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California in September. The discussion will follow a lecture by Kathryn J. Zerbe, MD and focus on secret-keeping and how bringing secrets to light in psychotherapy can result in positive outcomes. Dr. Zerbe is a well-known expert in the field of eating disorders and the author of several books including The Body Betrayed: Women, Eating Disorders. Attendees will get an inside look at a master clinician’s thinking about the complex clinical situations presented by patients with eating disorders.

Dr. Wooldridge will comment on the issues raised by Dr. Zerbe’s presentation. He is an authority on the subject of eating disorders and the author of Understanding Anorexia Nervosa in Males: An Integrative Approach (Routledge Press, 2015). His second book, an edited collection entitled Psychoanalytic Treatment of Eating Disorders: When Words Fail and Bodies Speak, will be released through the prestigious Relational Perspectives book series with Routledge in late 2017.

The Secret Life of Secrets: Toxic Effects of Preconscious Knowledge on the Development of Eating Disorders, Psychosomatic Illness, and Countertransference Reactivity

Kathryn J. Zerbe, MD with Discussant Tom Wooldridge, PsyD, CEDS
Wednesday, September 13, 7:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Location: 530 Bush Street #700, San Francisco
Register >>

We invite you to learn more about GGU’s master’s degree in counseling psychology  program.

Culturally Sensitive Mental Health Treatment for War-Traumatized Syrian Children

In the Middle East, learning from and respecting the culture of the population we are working with is a necessary step that will help build trust, understanding, and acceptability of evidence-based mental health interventions. Culturally informed conversations with Syrian refugees, for example, will help them become more aware of the treatment approaches available to them and give them more agency in their treatment. This will also support the development of new treatment programs better suited to their needs.

HeadHealth (www.HeadHealthGlobal.com), an organization I founded in 2016, is dedicated to funding, designing, and implementing quality, evidence-based and culturally appropriate mental health services for some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The organization strongly rejects the idea of implementing a Western-style treatment program that does not adequately take into consideration the needs and culture of the local populations being served – for example, work with war-traumatized Syrian children living in Jordan.

Mental health programs must align treatment modalities with the cultural values and clinical needs of a given person or population. Making relevant adaptations to traditional (Western) psychotherapeutic treatment modalities for global populations will help reduce the fear, uncertainty, and uneasiness with mental health treatment in general.

Wajdi Fakhoury on a trip to Jordan in 2016, where he decided to form HeadHealth.

I would like to describe how certain aspects of traditional psychotherapy could be adapted for Middle Eastern populations using HeadHealth as an example.

Addressing the Language Barrier in Mental Health Services
Often, mental health providers from international organizations lack the language skills necessary to communicate effectively with consumers of mental health services abroad. The utilization of an interpreter and the general lack of cultural understanding around symptomology, diagnosis, family, and societal norms greatly affect the development of the all-important therapeutic relationship between provider and consumer. There should be no dependence on translators during interventions. HeadHealth’s culturally and linguistically trained US-based clinical team empowers local professionals to speak with children in their own language.


Involving Syrian Families in Mental Health Treatment
Studies have indicated that many individuals from Middle Eastern backgrounds are suspicious of seeking treatment that is culturally incongruent. Emphasizing the normative and traditional role of family and — better yet — actively involving and incorporating family members in treatment activities, enables HeadHealth to overcome some of the limitations of traditional Western psychotherapeutic approaches. This is typically preferred by the non-Western, community-oriented populations we work with.

Many studies indicate that in the Middle East, individual “talk-therapy” is often perceived to be contrary to the cultural norm that insists private family affairs not be discussed with outsiders. HeadHealth’s current program does not engage consumers in individual therapy but instead emphasizes community, group, and family work.

Western approaches emphasize the individual. HeadHealth invites the parents, siblings, cousins, friends, aunts, and uncles to engage with HeadHealth’s materials to reduce the mental health implications of war trauma for children.

Fakhoury on his 2016 Visit of Jordan
“I saw thousands of Syrian children who were devastated by the loss of  family, community, and country. The cry of one inconsolable Syrian child searching for the parents, siblings, and friends he knew were no longer alive haunts me to this day.”

Gender and Psychology in the Middle East
HeadHealth recognizes that what is socially acceptable about gender interactions in the West may be far from acceptable in some communities in the Middle East. Many families and communities in the region may not feel comfortable with a female family member engaging with male service providers and vice versa; therefore, HeadHealth utilizes the expertise of both female and male providers. Being aware of differences between Western and Middle Eastern cultures may help alleviate unnecessary tension and may help the mental health program become more approachable to certain communities.

Religious Sensitivity
HeadHealth is not political and is not affiliated with any religion. HeadHealth emphasizes an organization-wide culture that stresses the need for its entire staff to respect all religions. Islam has penetrated almost every aspect of life in much of the Middle East – even in the lives of Middle Eastern people who are not Muslim. Disrespecting Islam will almost certainly influence the therapeutic alliance between a service provider and consumer in much of the Middle East and will likely add to any existing suspicion of mental health treatment and services.

Communication Style
Several studies suggest that many consumers in the Middle East prefer an authoritative and directive style from their treatment providers. In the current program, HeadHealth has implemented an approach aligned with this preference. The consumers’ need to feel confident in the expertise of their provider is met without employing tactics that promote an all-powerful image of the provider.

HeadHealth is concrete in how it communicates to consumers about the role of each treatment activity and what each treatment activity targets. HeadHealth avoids using unnecessary clinical jargon and other languages that might hinder the all-important process of engagement and collaboration with consumers.


Mental Health Stigma in the Middle East
It is common for people in the Middle East to engage traditional healers, religious leaders, or family members before seeking out formal psychotherapeutic services. Although Western and non-Western mental health treatment approaches do not always complement one another, it is crucial to respect what individuals and families want. Building a bridge of respect and curiosity between even seemingly contradictory treatment approaches is a valuable tool that helps HeadHealth better understand the needs of the diverse populations it serves and helps break down the stigma that prevents many from accessing its crucial services.

All images used in HeadHealth’s clinical material are sensitive to the cultural and societal norms that dominate the region where we are working. For instance, perceived intimacy between males and females (holding hands, being alone in a room, etc.) will not appear in any of the material.

The trauma-informed children’s book incorporates images depicting immediate and extended families and communities rather than only individuals. For example, we are working in Jordan, where the scenes depicted in the clinical material are relevant to the Syrian children who live there.

These culturally and linguistically appropriate strategies also have implications for Western mental health professionals who want to work effectively with immigrants from the Middle East. With millions of refugees bringing their war trauma with them, Western practitioners must be well prepared to provide them with effective mental health interventions.

Wajdi Akef Fakhoury, MA, IMFT and Ph.D. Candidate is an alumnus of Golden Gate University’s Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology program. Please support HeadHealth on its GoFundMe page.

Request Information about GGU’s MA Counseling Psychology >>

GGU Ranks Among Top Eight Online Colleges in California

The Best Schools released their top eight online colleges in California and Golden Gate University has made the list! Acquiring such a prestigious award demonstrates our ability to deliver a quality education inside and outside of the classroom.

The ranking was earned based on school awards, faculty strengths, and program offerings. Today, over 3.2 million students are pursuing a post-secondary education in California. Luckily, the internet allows students across the globe to experience GGU with the click of their mouse.


Thanks to online programs, new mothers, full-time professionals and spontaneous travelers can obtain a degree without skipping a beat. The flexibility of our programs allows someone to begin in-person and end online if they choose.

Ageno’s programs include graduate certificates (5-6 course programs) and masters degrees in many areas of business such as psychology, marketing, business administration. For all interested in an online (or even in-person) education, we offer webinars for each of our programs. These online events allow attendees to learn more about GGU course offerings and ask questions in real time.

Who would’ve thought the internet could be used for more than social media and Google searches!?