Psychology Alumna Thrives Offering COVID-19 Resources Globally

11/3/2020

Rita Rivera is a 2018 Palm Beach Atlantic alumna serving God and others through the field of psychology.Rita Rivera’s PBA studies prepared her for a calling: to honor God by serving others through psychology, a field that has attracted new attention in light of COVID-19 mental health crises.

Rivera recently published two articles in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Trauma journal related to mental health and COVID-19. The first article was about providing both survivors and perpetrators of interpersonal violence with digital resources to help regulate stress and emotions when in-person support may not be available. The second article was about distinguishing between normal COVID-19 prevention measures such as handwashing and clinical obsessive compulsive disorder or illness anxiety.

Rivera, who graduated from Palm Beach Atlantic in 2018 with degrees in psychology and English, is working toward a Doctor of Psychology degree from Albizu University in Miami. She has served as chair of the Florida Psychological Association Graduate Student Division since July 1. Upon completing her degree, Rivera aspires to teach at the university level while working in a practice with trauma patients. Already, Rivera provides telehealth to people in her home country of Honduras, and she plans to travel there in the future to volunteer her services.

“You can see, now more than ever, we need psychologists and mental health practitioners,” Rivera said.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization reported the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 percent of countries, while the demand for mental health is increasing. Rivera is the co-chair of several subcommittees of the APA’s COVID-19 Interdivisional Task Force, which offers some solutions. The task force’s Interpersonal Violence subgroup has been hosting weekly roundtable discussions to offer resources and strategies to the public for managing stress related to COVID-19 and interpersonal violence. People from around the world join those recorded conversations on Facebook Live, Rivera said. Her goal is to start translating such resources into other languages, such as Spanish.

Psychology is more than providing therapy or assessing patients, Rivera said, describing her double major in English and psychology “the best decision I could have made.” Her work requires her to draft meticulously-written legal documents, she said. Practicing psychologists have commented on her ability get her reports right the first time, which spares her from writing numerous drafts.

Rivera’s excellent grammar, punctuation and people skills can be attributed partly to her experience working as a tutor in PBA’s Center for Writing Excellence, she said. Additionally, her English professors urged her to present at conferences and submit her work for publication.

Rivera credits professors such as Dr. Donald McCulloch, along with a practicum course at PBA, for motivating her to pursue a graduate education in psychology. For the practicum course, she provided art and music therapy to dementia patients at Lourdes McKeen Residence, always under the supervision of nurses and medical personnel.

Her real-world experience at the retirement community a short walk from campus also gave her a competitive edge in her graduate studies. Many of the residents there had the neuropsychological disorders that she now studies, she said. Rivera also completed Workship hours there.

“Part of the PBA experience is learning how to volunteer and give back to your community, and that has stayed with me ever since. I’ve always wanted to serve other individuals,” Rivera said. “I think that’s the best way we can honor God.”

Photo: Rita Rivera is a 2018 Palm Beach Atlantic alumna serving God and others through the field of psychology.