University of Dallas psychology professor and head of the department, Dr. Amy Fisher Smith, is celebrating her 21st year at UD.
Fisher Smith always had a feeling she wanted to be in a helping profession. Her desire to help others, coupled with her inclination toward philosophy and theoretical thinking, led her to the field of psychology.
She earned her bachelor’s degree at Baylor University with a major in psychology and a minor in philosophy. She then went on to earn her masters at Duquesne University which coupled philosophy and psychology in its programs, and afterwards, she finished her doctorate at Brigham Young University.
“Our department here, at Dallas, is really informed by a human science orientation or tradition,” said Fisher Smith, “rather than focusing only on a natural science orientation.”
The department sees “people as free agents, being capable of purpose and reason,” she said. This perspective allows for choice, purpose, spirituality and meaning within the study and practice of psychology.
“What makes the human science orientation important, particularly here at UD, is that it allows us to appreciate the dignity and agency of the human person,” said Fisher Smith.
Fisher Smith is a woman of many hats, including mother, professor, clinical psychologist and researcher.
She is taking a bit of a break from her practice, seeing only one or two patients this semester, though she always keeps her license active.
“The research I’ve been doing the most has to do with qualitatively examining extremist groups, looking at the process of radicalization and deradicalization,” said Fisher Smith. She has been examining white supremacists in the US as well as the Yazidi population in the Middle East which was targeted by ISIS for eradication.
“They [ISIS] took their [the Yazidi population’s] young girls and women as sexual slaves, and murdered the men and young boys, and tried to radicalize their young men,” said Fisher Smith. This group is now emerging from this enslavement and radicalization. She is “looking at the process of attempted radicalization and traumatization in the women and attempted radicalization in the men.”
“I collaborate a lot with Dr. Sullivan in the history department; he sort of brings a historical understanding,” said Fisher Smith, “also because I have an interest in extremism and the holocaust and genocide, he has an interest in that, so we collaborate in that way.”
When asked about how she balances everything on her plate, Fisher Smith said, “I just find it incredibly hard.”
She does not have any secret answer to balancing having a family and multiple jobs, but she did say: “I think it’s really important to prioritize your family and just set boundaries around that. I prioritize Sunday. I go to church; that’s my family day. I will not do work on that day.” She emphasized the importance of setting strict boundaries around time that is spent with family.
When asked about her hobbies, Fisher Smith joked: “Hobbies? What hobbies? All I do is research.”
In reality, Fisher Smith loves to cook and bake when she has the time, as well as spend time with her friends outside of academia.
Fisher Smith wishes more departments and students were open to interdisciplinary discussions with psychology. “I think there’s so much overlap between psychology and philosophy,” Fisher Smith stated, especially given the fact that psych majors at UD must read a great deal of philosophy in their courses, including Sartre, de Beauvoir and Husserl.
She thinks it would be a good idea for more students to integrate psychology courses into their schedule as electives. Psychology is more important now than ever, as Fisher Smith said, “I hope that the university community is concerned about psychology, if for no other reason than that there are such increasing rates of depression and anxiety, particularly among your population, the student population.”
The psych department is losing Dr. Scott Churchill this year, who is entering into retirement. Fisher Smith has worked closely with him for a long time, particularly in developing her methodology. “It’s definitely a loss to the department to lose his scholarship,” she said of his departure, “there’s a storehouse of knowledge that we are losing there.”
“I’m incredibly proud of the work that they are capable of completing and showcasing,” Fisher Smith said of the psychology majors. When asked what she hopes to leave every graduating psychology class with, she said, “Hope, I want to give them a sense of hope, hope for the future, hopefulness about their own effectiveness, hopefulness in their own ability to make a difference.”
The need for hope seems greater to Fisher Smith than it was when she entered the field. “It’s a really fractured culture,” she said, “it’s really challenging to find your footing and a sense of balance … How do you stay hopeful and not fall into pessimism?”
Regarding Fisher Smith’s plans for when things do finally slow down for her, and she can set aside some of her “hats,” she is still unsure. She has thought about potentially doing mission work or only doing clinical work, but at the end of the day, “It’s gonna be what I’m called to do,” she said. “I have a lot of skillsets and I think it’s where God calls me … I am really open to where I am called to take those skills.” Fisher Smith is excited about wherever she is called and what the future holds.