Psychologist Lorrie Ness
Featured Professional Series: The second Monday of every month, we feature one of our favorite educational consultants, psychologists, or professionals in a related field. We ask everybody the same five questions, designed to show you why we like them and to help you decide whether they’re a good fit for your needs.One way to judge a psychologist is by the quality of the reports they write, and Lorrie Ness of Ness Psychological Services is known for writing the best ones. She’s thorough in her analysis, generous in the ways she empowers families, and, most importantly, practical in the recommendations she makes.
How did you get into this field?
When I was in graduate school I became very interested in comprehensive testing because I saw so many undergraduates in the classes I taught wrestling with different aspects of academics. Working with students as a college instructor allowed me to see, first hand, how these challenges play out in an educational setting.
At the same time, working in the field of psychology, I was also gaining perspective on how academic issues were impacting students at the emotional level. I saw this as a major issue that affected all aspects of a student’s life and I wanted to be able to do more than just intervene with one set of issues.
I decided to focus my training on the type of testing that can help students of all ages solve the puzzle of why they are struggling and then develop the skills that would allow me to walk with students and families as we navigate the various interventions and accommodations needed to support the whole student and help them realize their full potential.
What do you love about the work?
In a word…EVERYTHING! However, if I had to narrow it down, I’d say it comes down to three factors. First, I really enjoy the collaborative nature of this type of work. I partner with students and families to help solve a puzzle. It’s very much a process of sharing insights and perspectives with each other and working as a group to understand what’s happening. Testing is not something that’s being “done” to a student but is an endeavor that we’re all in together. I enjoy trying to ignite a student’s curiosity and then guiding them through the process of disentangling what is going on and uncovering their strengths as well.
Secondly, I truly am fascinated by human cognition and the idea that through testing we can gain insights and information that will help a student reach their full potential. I truly believe that accurate knowledge of this type can improve confidence and provide students with the perspective that they have the power to steer their future toward the goals that they really desire. Test results that show areas of challenge are not presented as “barriers” toward goals. Rather, we use the knowledge of what the challenging issues are to create a new map or path that takes students toward the end goal using different routes, techniques or skills.
Lastly, I really enjoy talking with students and families about the results in a way that promotes positive self-esteem and empowerment. I want families to walk out of the office feeling bolder and more knowledgeable and, most of all, invigorated about taking the next steps.
Why do people hire you?
I suppose people hire me for the same reason that we hire guides to take a tour of an exotic land with a different language. I am very much immersed in the world of academics and neuropsychological testing and my practice specializes in solving the puzzle as to why students are encountering academic challenges. In many ways, I act as a guide through these issues.
Often, there are multiple factors that are concerning parents. Students can become disengaged, unhappy at school or can be having difficulty mastering certain skills. Sometimes variable grades are an issue as students advance in school or parents might suspect that a student is having trouble with executive function, study skills or attention. Anxiety, depression, school refusal and social challenges may also be present.
My job is to “jump in” with the family and, through a process of detailed interview, record review and comprehensive testing, determine what the underlying cause of the challenges is. Once we’ve determined this, we then know the way out. Like a guide in an exotic land, I can light the way for families and help bring clarity to the mysteries that have been surrounding them.
How do you feel about study skills?
There is no such thing as just plain “being bad at studying!” Study skills are something that can be taught and mastered. Just because one technique hasn’t worked for a student doesn’t mean that there aren’t techniques that will. Students need a guide who will listen to their feedback, provide tailored suggestions that fit with that student’s life and preferences. Approaching this from a collaborative perspective can go a long way toward opening a student’s mind toward new possibilities.
What’s your favorite piece of advice to give students?
I see a lot of students who view underlying issues such as ADHD or dyslexia as a nemesis to be constantly guarded against and who is ready to “pounce” the minute a student lets their guard down. As such, students are constantly vigilant or defending against these issues and it can produce anxiety, depression or fatigue. Then, these emotional issues can actually exacerbate the underlying cognitive challenges.
Rather than seeing these issues as the enemy, why not look at them as a friend who’s along for the ride. The older you get, the more latitude you will have to shape your environment to really play to your strengths. In many respects some of the underlying “challenges” that could be affecting a student, such as “ADHD” are also associated with very positive traits such as “hyper focus” or creative thinking. In time, these other factors will become a huge asset and will actually become an integral part of their personal success.