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What sort of student were you?
I was a total psychology nerd, the type of student who read everything assigned, the chapters not assigned, and asked for recommendations for more books and articles. Now my students (current and former) will send me links to articles that made them think of me, or of my classes. This summer I’m reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain; that’s my idea of fun beach reading.

Who is your favorite psychologist?
Jean Piaget! As an undergraduate, I was a research assistant to Hans Furth, who studie
d with Piaget. I became a huge fan of Piaget and was envious of the picture Dr. Furth had in his office of himself with Piaget. I always wanted MY picture with Piaget! Years later, my husband had an artist friend make a life size cardboard cut-out of Piaget for me. It’s in my office (I can’t keep him at home because my dog is scared of him!). Piaget visits my classes every semester. Now my students love to have their pictures taken with Piaget!

Who is your least favorite psychologist?
Bruno Bettelheim. When I was in high school and first decided I wanted to be a psychologist, I read many of his books on autism. Once I took my first psychology class in college, I found out that his theories (of unaffectionate parents causing autism) had been discredited. After his death, reports came out that he was abusive to children at his school. I’ve always regretted that I spent so much of my teen years reading and believing his work, when he was not only wrong, but also an unethical human being.

What are three words that best describe you?
Optimistic, enthusiastic, and empathetic

What is your favorite class to teach?
My favorite class is Child Psychology; I
have taught it every semester since 1986, and I still love it! I have toys that I bring to class to demonstrate various theories (such as such as concepts from Piaget’s stages of cognitive development); I am known for my "Tickle Me Freud” doll, finger puppets of famous psychologists and anecdotes about my children and numerous nieces and nephews. I tell my students that I have the most fun job I can imagine! Every semester I learn something new: there are always new findings to share with my students and we have wonderful classroom discussions about their childhood experiences. I teach at a very diverse university, and I particularly enjoy learning about my students’ childhoods in other countries and cultures.

Deborah Harris-O'Brien, PhD
Trinity Washington University
Biographical Information

Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Republic of Ireland,  Egypt, Russia

Trinity Washington University 


Phone: (423) 756-2044 | Fax: (423) 265-1529 | Certified member of the Association of College Honor Societies
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