Interview with Dr. Albert Bonfil, Cognitive Behavioral Therapist
Dr. Albert Bonfil is an accomplished researcher and instructor and author of the blog, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. He has been involved in research on evidence based assessment and treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder and has presented his work at the annual conference of the Western Psychological Association, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and the Harbor UCLA Scientific Sessions on Mental Health. In addition to working as a cognitive behavioral therapist, he is currently on faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as a Clinical Assistant Professor.
In this interview, Dr. Bonfil shares his own experience concerning the encounters necessary to advance in the psychology profession. His own career serves as a perfect model of one person who, early in life, found a passionate interest and followed his desire for more knowledge in the area of psychology.
What led you to pursue psychology as your profession?
I had been exposed to mindfulness meditation practice as a teenager, and had experienced a profound shift in my life as a result of my meditation practice. I knew I wanted a career that had something to do with this, and I seriously considered joining a Buddhist monastery in India. After some time in India, I realized it wasn’t quite the right direction for me. I had been aware of the work Jon Kabat-Zinn had been doing with mindfulness-based stress reduction, and I decided I wanted to be a part of this exciting work. I realized in order to fully be engaged in helping others develop a mindfulness practice, I would have to earn an advanced degree, so ultimately I chose the PsyD route.
Discuss a challenge you have faced in your career in psychology. What steps did you take to overcome it?
The biggest challenge was the decision to spend another five years of my life in school. I was worried that I would be postponing my life for another five years. It wasn’t until I spoke to a friend of mine who happened to be a therapist, that I realized those five years would pass anyway, and better to spend them doing something I found meaningful. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
What is one interesting project you have worked on and what was your role in it?
There are a number of successes that I can point to as reasons why I continue to do what I do, but one stands out in particular. The was one person I worked with, who had a deep impact on how I view what I do. A few years ago, I worked with someone who had been in and out of hospitals for suicide attempts and self-harm. After a while, he had given up on himself, and applied for and received permanent disability. When he was referred to me, even the referring clinician at the inpatient unit seemed to have little hope for this man getting better. Six months after our first session, he had managed to stay out of the hospital for about four months straight, had gotten off disability, and was working full-time while completing his bachelor’s degree. There are many reasons this case stands out to me. The most striking thing about this case was how far the individual was able to come in so short a time. The main thing I took away from this experience, however, was the profound impact of me not giving up had on his own sense of what he expected of himself.
What does a typical day look like for you at work?
I see about six clients a day, and spend the rest of the time writing notes and making calls to people who are interested in CBT, and find me on my website, CogBTherapy.com. When I am inspired after a session, I might write up a blog post about a technique I had success with, and post it to the website. The majority of my time is spent in direct service with clients, for whom I provide cognitive behavioral therapy or a mindfulness-based therapy.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
I am often amazed by the effectiveness of the evidence-based interventions I use. Sometimes I see people who have been struggling for decades, and after just three or four months of targeted work, have a completely different experience of life. One client I recently ended with had struggled with panic disorder for over 20 years. When we were ending treatment, he was incredulous that we had solved such a chronic, debilitating problem after so short a time. Seeing people fully and vitally engage in life after helping them make a few small changes in behavior is always immensely rewarding.
Is there any advice you would give to graduates for getting hired?
I think it’s a little late to start thinking about getting hired after graduation. Every job I have had since finishing my training, from core faculty to staff psychologist, were the direct result of having put my best foot forward during school, and making a positive impression on my peers, professors, and supervisors. Numerous opportunities have fallen into my lap since finishing school, and I have even had the luxury of being able to turn down a few positions. This is only because I was always fully aware that the people who were my instructors or classmates would someday be my colleagues. This attitude helped me treat every relationship as a professional relationship.
What would you say is your key strength? How do you suggest that others find theirs?
My greatest strength is my level of training and expertise in CBT and mindfulness based therapies. The reason I have this is because I consistently chose training opportunities that would enhance these skills. Although I encourage my students to find generalist training opportunities, I also strongly encourage them to find something they enjoy, and get lots of supervision and training around it. That way they are more marketable, and are able to provide high quality treatment with specific populations, problems, or treatments early on in their careers.