Texas Tech University

Therapist Puts Students in Clients' Shoes to Practice What They'll Teach

Glenys Young

May 12, 2020

Cameron Brown won the Texas Tech Parents Association's Hemphill Wells New Professor Excellence in Teaching Award.

Just three years ago, Cameron Brown was at Kansas State University – hard at work on his dissertation and eagerly anticipating receiving his doctorate in marriage and family therapy. Now an assistant professor in the Department of Community, Family & Addiction Sciences at Texas Tech University, Brown vividly remembers what it was like to be a student – and he uses that to his advantage when teaching.

After all, he's training future therapists. How effective can they be if they don't put themselves in their patients' shoes? That's why, after a classroom discussion about a self-confidence-boosting technique they could teach their clients, Brown took his class off campus and put it into action.

Cameron Brown

Upon instructing each student to walk up to a table of complete strangers and ask to try a bite of their lunch, Brown was met with immediate anxiety. But with encouragement from him and their classmates, each student was able to complete the assignment. And, most importantly, they reported feeling a sense of confidence after the fact.

Lessons like these are one of the reasons Brown was chosen for the Texas Tech Parents Association's 2020 Hemphill Wells New Professor Excellence in Teaching Award.

Can you describe your research and its impact, both in academics and society?
I wear predominantly three hats in my profession: researcher, teacher and a mental health therapist. All three of these areas inform one another. For example, being a therapist and teacher reminds me that my research needs to be tangible and applicable to ensure that it is reaching the audience that needs it the most, whether it is in the classroom or families in our community. I primarily study complex contextual factors that couples face within their relationship, such as disease, health, technology and sex.

What projects are you working on at this time?
A primary project I am really excited about is a collaboration between my program, Couple, Marriage, and Family Therapy; Psychological Sciences; and the University Medical Center Children's Hospital, where we are examining innovative methods for reducing post-traumatic stress symptoms following a medically traumatic event. Thus far, we have opened a new clinic, the Children's Behavioral Health Clinic, and it is currently being equipped with cutting-edge treatment modalities, such as telemental health services, which allow children and their families in rural areas of Texas to receive therapy through video chat.

What areas are you interested in for future research?
What gets my feet dancing the most is the integration of physical health, relational health and mental health among individuals, couples and families – specifically, how mental and behavioral health specialists can better improve physical health outcomes, reduce disease or disease symptoms and improve overall well-being.

What rewards do you get from teaching?
Recently, while teaching a classroom of budding mental-health therapists, we learned of a self-confidence boosting behavioral technique called Shame Busting that we could use with clients in treatment. This intervention is where the client is encouraged to perform a silly behavior that challenges their often-inaccurate perception of the rigidity and unforgiving nature of a community's social norms. After learning about it, we as a class walked off campus to a location where there were restaurants such as Torchy's Tacos, Chipotle and Raising Cane's, all bustling with lunch-goers. I gathered the group in the parking lot and exclaimed, "We have just learned about Shame Busting. Now, we are going to practice it ourselves! I would like to challenge each of you to politely approach a table of diners in one of the many restaurants here and ask if you may try a bite of their food!" Near immediately, tension and anxiety spiked among my students. However, with support, encouragement and cheering from me and one another, each student and I completed the task. As we circled back to the classroom, we each shared our experiences, celebrating the accomplishment and reflecting upon the strange sense of confidence, flexibility and triumph it offered us.

Seeing students triumph is what I find most rewarding. Whether it is finally mastering a behavioral technique, building the confidence needed to write a publishable manuscript or a student getting that 'Aha' moment with a complex theory, seeing those small and large triumphs is very moving to me.

What motivated you to pursue a career in academia?
I love the variety of this career. I get to enjoy all things about my field of couple, marriage and family therapy: training young therapists, pushing the boundaries of what we know through innovative research and offering clinical services. The variety keeps every day for me new and fresh!

How has Texas Tech helped you advance your research and teaching?
Texas Tech has fostered a culture of high expectations and overwhelming support to meet those expectations. Texas Tech's culture wants me and other faculty to be leaders in the field and our community. They want us to be on the cutting edge of research and new knowledge. They want us to ever evolve our classroom to ensure that it is inclusive and up to date to best prepare the next generation's movers and shakers. To help us achieve these high expectations, Texas Tech offers us an abundance of support through internal grants, on-campus workshops and seminars, powerful technology, funds for travel to local and national conferences and much more.

Who has had the biggest impact on you and your career, and why?
I am a product of strong mentors in my personal and professional career, ones who have invested many resources, time and love into me. I did not do this alone, not by a long shot. It took a village, and I am forever grateful for each and every one of them and the big hearts they have. I reflect upon these mentors frequently and strive to pay it forward to the students I share the classroom with and work with.