Members of Psi Chi, the University’s chapter of the National Honor Society in Psychology, gathered in Judd Hall on Thursday, April 23, to listen to Dr. Heather Claudine Nash ’92 read from her new book of poetry, “The Problem With Loving Ghosts.” Nash graduated from the University as a Psychology and English major.
After graduating, Nash went on to obtain two masters degrees and a PhD in psychology. She spent two decades working as a clinical psychologist, and has recently revisited her love of writing poetry.
“When reading novels, I was always interested in understanding the character’s psychology,” Nash said. “I’m especially interested in stories, narratives, and metaphors.”
After obtaining her various degrees, Nash began working in the public health sector. She has spent the bulk of her career working in settings such as prisons, public health institutions, and inpatient units of hospitals.
Nash explained that her interest in writing has affected her views towards therapy in many ways.
“People who have severe mental illness speak in metaphors,” Nash said. “Psychosis is like a language, and each person living through it speaks a different dialect.”
During the event, Nash described the psychological principles behind her poetry. Among these principles are the Rorschach inkblot test and object-relations theory, which postulates that early relations with caregivers may shape the way people relate to each other as adults.
Nash cited the importance of listening to the stories of those who have been ignored before.
“I am interested in listening and providing treatment to those who have been cast off by society for not making sense,” Nash said.
She explained that stories are both therapeutic for the patient and informative for the psychologist. According to Nash, the stories shared by patients tend to reveal underlying fears, many of which are rooted in their pasts.
Nash further explained that she takes both a psychodynamic approach—a psychology approach that emphasizes the psychological forces that underlie human behavior, feelings, and emotions and how they might relate to early experience—as well as a cognitive behavioral approach in her psychology practice.
“Cognitive behavioral therapy technique helps people to positively reframe their relationship with something,” Nash said. “People are often stuck on something we wish we could have heard some significant person in our past say, whether [we’re looking for] an apology, forgiveness, or permission.”
In addition, Nash’s poetry aims to intertwine themes of longing and loss with scientific terminology drawn from her years of work in psychotherapy. Specifically, they deal with the consequences of clinging too hard to the past.
In her work as a psychotherapist, Nash encourages patients to talk about their own “ghosts” or traumas; her poetry uses ghosts as a metaphor for being lost or stuck in the past. According to Nash, talking about trauma is the key to moving on.
“Some stories are too painful and must be retold to have someone else bear witness [to them],” Nash said.
Professor of Psychology and Wesleyan’s Psi Chi faculty sponsor Scott Plous applauded the event as a success.
“I thought Nash’s poetry reading and talk was quite possibly the best Psi Chi event in more than 20 years of serving as Wesleyan’s Psi Chi faculty sponsor,” Plous wrote in an email to The Argus. “Her poetry shows that a Psychology-English double major can successfully draw on both disciplines to create something original that would be difficult if not impossible to create from one discipline alone. It also demonstrates the value of a liberal arts approach to writing.”
After reading poems from her new book, Nash provided insight into their meaning by answering a variety of questions from the audience.
“Dr. Nash was inspirational,” said Jessica Park ’17, a member of Psi Chi. “Like her, I’m equally interested in psychology and creative writing, and it’s fantastic how she successfully fused them together.”
Nash offered some practical advice for students on how to make the most of their time at the University, urging students to keep an open mind about academics.
“Try exploring a particular aversion you have,” Nash said. “Because you could turn out to really like something you thought didn’t interest you.”