Sitting Down with Dr. Woolley

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A little Q&A with the newest member of the Community Orange staff

Dr. Matthew Woolley has been a practicing psychologist for 11 years following his post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Utah, which he finished in 2003. We here at Community Orange magazine are excited about having such an esteemed member of the practice on our staff, so we sat him down and had him tell us about himself.
CO: So, why did you go into psychology?
Woolley: First it was due to my interest in neuroscience, but then it quickly began to include my interest in child development and behavior.
During my undergrad at BYU I was working part-time as a PE teacher at Maeser Elementary School. I found that instead of being interested in the games I was playing with the kids I was interested in the reasons they were behaving in certain ways and why they made the choices they did—this lead me to a shift from pre-medicine to psychology.
CO: What is it that you hope you can do as a psychologist?
Woolley: Many things really. First I hope to help the people who come see me improve their lives in meaningful ways. As a clinical psychologist I primarily work with clinical disorders, so that means disorders that originate in the brain as well as being learned through experience.
Second I hope to continue to be involved in expanding the public’s understanding of psychology in an accurate way, I call this “normalizing.” My first real experience with this was when I was a regular guest on the “Chunga Show,” a morning radio show on the old 101.9 FM here in Salt Lake. I did this show for 5 years and found that when we talked about psychology on the air many of our listeners had the “I thought I was the only one who did that or thought that” experience. This is very powerful for people, helping them realize they are not alone and that many of the things they struggle with are common—and most importantly, there are things they can do to improve how they think, act and feel.
CO: What do you enjoy most about being a psychologist?
Woolley: It’s very rewarding for me. I’ve mentioned helping others and seeing their lives improve in meaningful ways, that’s very rewarding. I also have the opportunity to teach and supervise medical residents and doctoral candidates at the University of Utah—I’m a clinical professor in Psychiatry and an adjunct professor in Psychology. Seeing the students grow in their skills and understanding of psychology is wonderful.
And then finally I guess I love learning, so being in this field of work and studying things that are always progressing. The use of technology in the study of the neuroscience of psychology has been a fascinating part of my ongoing education, which keeps me stimulated and motivated.
CO: How has your practice changed over the years?
Woolley: I have learned to include more mindfulness techniques in the therapy I do, so that’s an increasingly important part of my practice. Doing more in the public, such as radio, TV, Podcasting, public speaking, and writing is probably the largest change.
CO: What’s the hardest part of your practice?
Woolley: That would have to be the cases in which the improvement is not what I think it should be, or what the person needs. I always set a very high bar for success, so when goals aren’t achieved I feel frustrated. So I guess that’s probably more about me than the person working with me, but that’s how I operate I guess.
CO: Why is it so hard sometimes for people to communicate?
Woolley: Great question, there are probably several different correct answers to that based on a person’s specific issue. In general I’d say that it has to do with the patterns of communication that we learn growing up. People learn different ways of communicating and value differently what they should be communicating about. Then they get together and their styles and values don’t always match up. In this way you may have two different and equally effective ways of communicating that clash, resulting in poor communication for the particular people involved. Another simple explanation is that people are insecure and communication often brings those insecurities to the surface, complicating the process.
CO: What’s something most people don’t know about your profession?
Woolley: A lot really. Many people, at no fault of their own, continue to have many old-fashioned or inaccurate views of psychology. This is where psychology as a field should do a much better job of normalizing what we do by communicating better with the public. This would greatly help dispel common misperceptions about therapy and psychology in general.
But probably the biggest thing that most people don’t know is the real science behind the therapies and interventions that are being used today. Medications are not the only way to make changes in how our brains function. Retraining our patterns of thinking and behavior not only result in significant improvements in anxiety, depression, and other issues, but those trainings also result in positive changes in our brains. These changes last because they are a type of learning.

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About Author

Alex Sousa is a Utah native whose passion for writing has guided his life. His first love has always been fiction, holding to a firm belief in the power and importance of storytelling. He studied journalism at Utah Valley University, has worked as a freelance writer and an editor for several Utah publications, as well as working as a copywriter for an advertising agency. His sense of adventure has brought him to untouched corners of his home state and around the world, living in Mexico, backpacking through Europe, studying in the Middle East and—for a time—being stranded in Ukraine. He currently resides in Orem, Utah, married to his work.

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