Linda (Sapanski) Smith ’07, Ph.D. ’12: Going Behind Bars to Address Trauma


Linda (Sapanski) Smith, Ph.D.


December 12, 2013

Linda (Sapanski) Smith ’07, Ph.D. ’12: Going Behind Bars to Address Trauma


by Bonnie Eissner

“I loved Derner. I had a great time there and [have] felt really well prepared for everything I’ve done since.”—Linda (Sapanski) Smith ’07, Ph.D. ’12

Linda (Sapanski) Smith ’07, Ph.D. ’12, spends most of her days behind bars—voluntarily. As a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center, she is working to change the culture of juvenile detention in New York City. She and her colleagues work with staff at locked, secure detention facilities in Brooklyn and the Bronx to bring a greater focus to trauma and its pervasive impact on kids in the system.

“I didn’t expect to be working in jails,” Dr. Smith said. “But the facilities have been so welcoming and the people there are just asking for help. Everybody knows that these kids have just experienced…much more trauma than average kids have.”

Dr. Smith first became interested in trauma as a Gordon F. Derner Institute of Psychological Studies undergraduate when she took a class with Associate Professor Kate Szymanski, Ph.D. “I sought her out in graduate school,” Dr. Smith said. Ultimately, Dr. Szymanski became her mentor and research adviser.

Clinically, Dr. Smith has immersed herself in trauma, particularly childhood trauma, and has already amassed experience in preeminent hospitals and programs. In 2011, she was one of five psychology fellows selected by the Yale University School of Medicine Child Study Center. In her two years there, she accompanied New Haven police officers in responding to violent crimes involving children. At the crime scenes, she and her colleagues intervened on behalf of the children and families to try to prevent the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

During her fourth year in the Derner Ph.D. program, Dr. Smith was chosen for an externship at the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. “It was very, very, very intense, and probably the most meaningful work I’ve ever done,” she said.

Dr. Smith is as passionate about her Derner education as she is about her work. “I loved Derner,” she said. “I had a great time there and [have] felt really well prepared for everything I’ve done since.” She cited the thorough training in assessment and the psychodynamic orientation. “In New York, a lot of the hospitals emphasize psychodynamic theory and testing, so I really feel like Derner students are given an edge in that way.”

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