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April 05, 2012

Lifetime Experience in a Pocket: How I Subdued the Information Explosion

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by Janet Sonne, PhD

Would it surprise you to learn that the phrases “information explosion” and “information overload” first appeared in popular press in the early 1960s?  Many of you were not even born; I was only in elementary school.  Since then, an ever-increasing abundance of information and its rapid spread on the Internet has given the term “information overload” new meaning. 

We all struggle to find ways to manage the constant flow of information, gleaning what we need to do our jobs competently.  We attempt to structure, organize, and master the vast array of details we collect. We commit some to memory.  We carefully file the notes we take (or simply throw them in a familiar pile on our desks or office floors).  We dog-ear pages and bookmark websites. But herein lies a basic problem.  As a psychologist, I am often confronted with questions to which I know I have the information that will lead to an answer…somewhere.  But I have to spend precious time jogging my memory to find the exact piece of paper, book, file folder, or website.  IF I can remember the details or where the material is, I typically need more time to figure out whether the information is current enough to provide a valid and reliable answer. 

My students and supervisees have the same basic problem, and when they hit that wall, they ask me.  Although I am no organizational guru, I began to compile my scraps of material several years ago in the hope that I could make our working lives easier.  Last month, this dream was realized with the publication of PsycEssentials: A Pocket Resource for Mental Health Practitioners, which is available in print, e-book, and mobile app formats for Apple and Android devices. 

Physicians began to address this problem years ago by creating pocket-sized reference books for students and practitioners on how to assess, diagnose, and treat their patients.  PsycEssentials  provides a similar resource for mental health students and professionals.  My objective was to gather a broad range of information that clinicians commonly need and use in their practices and present it in a simple, clear format for quick reference.  The resource contains many links to web-based information sites—directly accessible in the Kindle and mobile app versions—that effectively multiply its utility.  I’ve been pleased to see them in action!

PsycEssentials is divided into 18 chapters.  The order of the first 14 chapters is intended to reflect a “typical” chronological process with a client—from the initial session through assessment and diagnosis to treatment and termination.  Specific topics include published assessment instruments for an array of presenting problems, risk assessment of self- and other-injury, mandated reporting of child and elder abuse and of client threat of harm to another, evidence-based interventions, and psychopharmacotherapies. The final four chapters include information on records and record-keeping, professional standards and self-care for clinicians, and resources for clients and their significant others. 

My hope is that practitioners will carry PsycEssentials to work (whether in their purses or coat pockets, or on their electronic devices) to refer to during the course of their workdays.  It represents nearly 30 years of clinical experience and of tracking, testing, and compiling reliable resources.  I hope this first attempt to organize the information overload that we experience as mental health practitioners will be of help, and I look forward to your comments for its continued refinement.

About the author: Janet L. Sonne received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Stanford University, her master’s degree in social and personality psychology research from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her doctorate in clinical psychology from UCLA.  She has been licensed as a psychologist in California since 1983 and has conducted both a clinical and a forensic private practice for nearly 30 years.  Over the course of her career, she has taught and supervised clinical psychology doctoral students, medical students, psychiatry residents, and graduate students in departments of nursing, social work, and marriage and family therapy.  

 Dr. Sonne is a fellow of American Psychological Association (APA) Division 42 (Independent Practice) and a member of the California Psychological Association (CPA).  She is the former chair and member of the CPA Ethics Committee, and she served twice as a member of the APA Ethics Committee.  Dr. Sonne has also served as an expert consultant to the California Boards of Psychology, Behavioral Sciences, and Nursing, as well as to attorneys, religious organizations, and practitioners regarding professional standards of care, competency issues, and perpetration and sequelae of childhood sexual abuse.  She has authored and coauthored several articles, book chapters, and books on various topics relating to professional standards for mental health practitioners and clinical practice.

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