Brenau welcomes nearly a dozen Psy.D. students this fall, first for program

Three doctor of clinical psychology students standing together.
From left to right: Alisha Elzie, Daja Robinson and Kymberly Sampson

Thirteen students have begun earning their doctorate in clinical psychology from Brenau’s newest degree program. While they all share the goal of getting the degree, the motivations that brought them to the program vary.

“I like working with the courts and I like working with those who are mentally ill, whether it’s minor or severe, but I felt like my passion lies in helping within the system,” cohort member Alisha Elzie said. 

Elzie currently works as a federal investigator, and was inspired by her family members to address the needs of those in the justice system by furthering her education.

 “If I could be that forensic psychologist conducting assessments and working with people on the inside, they’ll be better off on the outside,” Elzie said.

Elzie and her classmates began their on-ground studies for the Doctor of Clinical Psychology program this fall at the Lynn J. Darby School of Psychology and Adolescent Counseling, located in the Gainesville Renaissance at Brenau’s Downtown Campus.

The program is the latest expansion of Brenau’s psychology program, driven by a national and statewide gap in access to quality mental healthcare. In 2022, Georgia ranked No. 48 nationally in access to mental health care, according to the nonprofit Mental Health America. Much of the state is categorized as underserved by the Georgia Department of Community Health.

As Elzie searched for her dream school, she was impressed with Julie Battle, Ph.D., Fuller E. Callaway Professorial Chair and professor of psychology.

“I’ve always wanted to work directly under a forensic psychologist, and Dr. Battle had a background in social services,” Elzie said. “At the time, I was an investigator in social services, so that’s kind of where I linked on to her, and then just continued on to see Brenau had forensic specialties. So I was like, ‘Oh, perfect, it has my schedule and it has someone who actually has my background.’ So I figured what better way than to work with someone who’s already done the work, and is doing the work.”

Much like Elzie, Daja Robinson knew she had to pursue her doctorate to impact on community mental health on a greater scale.

“There is a small percentage of Black psychologists and I want to contribute to that number, because representation is so important, especially in our helping field,” Robinson said. “Obviously, to become a psychologist, I need to obtain this degree. I also want it to further my experience when it comes to psychology, more in depth.”

Robinson, who wants to have her own practice, earned her master’s degree in psychological counseling at Brenau. In addition to pursuing her doctorate, raising her family and balancing her career, Robinson also founded and runs a non-profit organization, S.H.E., Inc., that aims to destigmatize mental health among Black women.

Members of the Psy.D. cohort won’t just address the stigma of mental health; students like Kymberly Sampson want to tackle the intricacies of neuropsychological testing. She hopes to combine neuropsychology and forensic psychology in her studies.

Sampson said the complex inner workings of the human brain and how issues impact patients individually were areas she wanted to focus on, especially with neuropsychological testing.

“Say you have a patient with a traumatic brain injury, or a patient with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ADHD or autism. It’s just seeing how their brain functions,” Sampson said. “The testing is to evaluate their cognitive functioning and the severity of something like brain damage or severe mental illness.”

The Psy.D. is the newest terminal degree offered at Brenau. It joins the Doctorate of Education, Doctor of Nursing Practice and Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees in Brenau’s doctoral offerings.