Adler University professor Shawn Ireland readily acknowledges that there are misconceptions about his chosen field of industrial and organizational psychology.
“Somehow, when you say the words psychology or psychologist, people automatically think you’re a shrink or you’re going to come in and do psychoanalysis,” the Vancouver campus program director of the organizational-psychology program told the Straight by phone. “While we may be trained as clinicians, we’re not doing clinical work in organizations. That’s an important distinction.”
Ireland said that this discipline involves examining the interaction of systems and structures to help manage and enhance the performance and well-being of those within an organization.
“If there’s passion about the mission, people will work for you and commit to doing the work at a much higher and more committed level than they would if it’s just a job and they’re getting a paycheque,” Ireland noted.
Adler University offers a master of arts and a master’s in industrial and organizational psychology, along with a doctor of psychology in clinical psychology.
“The difference is the master of arts has a research thesis and the master’s in organizational psychology has a capstone project,” Ireland said.
Each is a full-time program lasting two years.
Organizational psychology has traditionally focused on the work environment, health and wellness of employees, and the culture of a company, nonprofit, or government body, according to Ireland.
He added that the industrial side is rooted in research, evidence, and assessment.
Industrial and organizational psychologists are sometimes retained when there are company mergers or corporate acquisitions.
“For instance, after the bankers leave, we try to put these organizations together,” Ireland said. “I, as a psychologist, will be part of the team that helps manage that transition. For nonprofits or government agencies, we will be part of the assessment piece to provide data to those in positions of authority to make decisions.”
School enhances students' research skills
The university derives its name from Austrian medical doctor and psychotherapist Alfred Adler, an early proponent of feminism in psychology and a proponent of building strong communities to enhance mental health.
There are three dimensions to Adler University’s master of arts and master’s in industrial and organizational psychology programs.
The first is course work, including a strong emphasis on research and statistics, strategic human-resources management, training and development, organizational assessment, leadership, and coaching.
Ireland called the research component “absolutely critical”. That’s because an industrial and organizational psychologist’s recommendations are rooted in the quality of research methodologies.
The courses are augmented by experiential work in the community.
Adler University requires every student in the two programs to go on a practicum advancing social justice. The school has 150 organizational partners across Metro Vancouver and students have contributed about 150,000 hours of community service.
“We’re leaders in that area,” Ireland said. “That happens in the very first term of the program. They go right into it.”
In their final term, students must complete a second practicum, this time focusing on organizational psychology. This must be done within a commercial, nonprofit, or governmental organization, offering students an opportunity to apply skills that they learned during their program.
“I would say half our students come in already working in government, nonprofits, or the commercial sector,” Ireland said. “So they come in to enhance their credentials and enhance their experience—ideally, from what we see happening, to help their professional advancement or career advancement.”
Some students enroll who don’t have a lot of work experience but have the necessary undergraduate degree to gain admittance.
Ireland said that after they graduate, they often work in small to medium-size enterprises, though some find jobs in the nonprofit or governmental sector.
Adler University requires a 3.0 grade-point average, though it’s fairly flexible when it comes to people who have been in the workforce for many years and might be in senior human-resources positions.
“We have some basic criteria and then we work from there,” Ireland explained, “basically because experience trumps academic quality of work if there’s a long period of time in between.”
Cultural literacy valued at Adler
Adler University tends to cap each cohort at 20 students. They can begin their program in September, January, or May.
In recent years, there has been a growing number of international students, which pleases Ireland. That’s because this stimulates more cross-cultural learning.
“Students are coming in from a wide variety of backgrounds,” he said. “The conversations are much more robust and are challenging the core assumptions that our Canadian students are holding about how the world works and about what are the priorities and what’s important.”
Another exciting development, from his perspective, is the role of neuroscience in helping psychologists better understand the structure and functioning of the brain.
Ireland pointed out that this is opening up avenues of inquiry around how people make decisions, process information, and respond to various types of environments.
“We’ll always go back to some of the latest research and scientific breakthroughs as a way of helping a client understand the recommendations we make—or when we facilitate the client coming up with recommendations,” he said. “We add that to the mix for them to consider in their decision-making process.”