BenJohnson200x236Welcome to my professional web site. I am a clinical psychologist based in Rhode Island. I would like to share a bit about myself and my approach to mental health and coaching.

Current Roles

I serve in a number of professional roles. I focus on directing RICBT, Inc., a group psychotherapy practice specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy and coaching. RICBT collaborates with many adults, teens, and children on improving their moods, relationships, and lives. Though I don't take on many new people, I see a number of individuals for psychotherapy and coaching each week. I also teach and supervise in the Brown University system. I conduct seminars on supportive and cognitive behavioral psychotherapy for the psychiatry residency, and participate in a career paths seminar for psychology residents. I also lead the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Team at the University of Rhode Island for the clinical psychology doctoral program. I write a monthly mental health column for the Providence Journal newspaper. Links to my columns are available on the Mental Edge Columns page on this site. I occasionally give presentations about how we apply psychotherapy research findings to the development of our psychotherapy practice. I am also the chair of the Public Education Committee for the Rhode Island Psychological Association. We work to "give away psychology" to enhance the mental health of the public at-large. 

Interests

I have a number of professional interests that I have been exploring in different ways since beginning my formal study of psychology in college twenty-seven years ago. I am most passionate about how to use the vehicle of psychotherapy to help people make ambitious transformations in their lives. I have focused on the importance of establishing a special kind of connection, what researchers call the "therapeutic alliance," to create the stage for change. For me, healing connections are authentic, natural, and generally long-term, though I work more frequently with people when they are symptomatic, and then taper down when they are doing well. I am also interested in the way people think about themselves and their relationships - what psychologists call cognitions - and ways people can change their beliefs, attitudes, and expectations about life. I think the stories and themes people have at play in their lives are important to understand and directly examine. Many people have life themes and stories that are at play in subtle ways across many realms and decades of living. What people do - their behavior - has also been a core focus, as we ultimately have more control over what we do than what we think and feel. It is amazing to me what people can accomplish - and what behaviors they can change - with the right coaching and support. I have seen many patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), for instance, confront situations that deeply disturb them with utmost courage, enabling them to make changes they never thought possible. One aspect of behavior that I am particularly interested in is communication. So much of the work I do with people ultimately involves helping people learn to identify their core needs and communicate them more effectively.

Approach to Psychotherapy

I have a lot to say about how I approach psychotherapy. I sometimes joke that there are many things about which I don't have strong opinions. When it comes to how to treat people in psychotherapy, and more generally even, I am fervent. My beliefs have been shaped in many ways - fabulous teachers, years of study of the psychotherapy research literature, numerous conferences, watching a disproportionately large number of videotapes of experts doing psychotherapy, and many thousands of hours of clinical practice. I begin treatment with a thorough assessment of an individual's current condition, as well as the larger life story arcing in the background. We prioritize goals and clarify the core pain and difficulties. We search for the underlying needs, goals, and values of the person or family. I work with the clients to understand any dysfunctional cycles at play, and what maintains the viciousness. I then try to help the patient create a range of practical ways of breaking the patterns and learning new ways of managing themselves and relationships. People learn to be more aware of core needs and feel more empowered to get them met. In the end, I hope my patients and clients end up feeling more compassion and acceptance for themselves and others and more skillfull about navigating relationships and the world.

Beliefs about Mental Health and Well-Being

We are all shaped. We are shaped by our experiences, by our temperament, and by our choices. The context within which we exist in any stage of life matters a ton, as well. If a teenager is criticized night and day, with every move scanned through a filter of negativity, they are going to suffer. If you are in a loveless marriage, with little warmth exchanged, you will likely feel lonely and isolated. So much of the human condition means understanding how the forces working on you are impacting you, and finding the power and support to make changes. So many people feel their pain is inherent to them - somehow genetic, central, a part of them that cannot be cut out. Much of what psychology as a field clarifies, though, is that problems are maintained through vicious response cycles that can be broken. Problems are rarely inherent and immutable - though they may feel that way. They are often more about context, history, and habits. They are about habits of mind, habits of mouth, habits of hands and feet. We need to break these habits; we do not need to be different people.