When you google Lisa Damour, PhD, a litany of media outlets appear on topics of adolescent development. She’s been featured in articles from Slate, GQ, The Washington Post and The Atlantic, was a guest on NPR’s All Things Considered, writes a monthly column for The New York Times and appears on CBS News as a regular monthly contributor. Add two New York Times Best-selling books and it’s clear that Damour has made a name for herself as an expert.
“My career took an unexpected turn, operating at a more public level as a clinical psychologist. It never crossed my mind as a graduate student that I would be where I am in my career today. Being thoroughly grounded in research training and clinical theory has supported my career in everything I’ve done. What I couldn’t appreciate or understand when I was a student was how good the training was at the University of Michigan Department of Psychology,” Damour reveals.
She remembers her graduate school days as a time of incredible growth. “The faculty were so generous with their experience and knowledge. They were so eager to bathe us in the richness of the field,” she recalls.
Damour graduated with honors from Yale University and worked for the Yale Child Study Center before earning her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Michigan in 2007. She has been a fellow at Yale’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy and the University of Michigan’s Power Foundation, where she did an intensive study on the implications of death and divorce on children.
She started her career with a large, private practice, taught at John Carroll University and did consulting work in schools. Her writing career launched as a graduate student at UofM. “My good friend, Anne Curzan (the new LSA Dean) and I started to write a book we wish we would’ve been handed as a teaching assistant,” says Damour. First Day to Final Grade: A Graduate Student’s Guide to Teaching was published in 2000 and Damour is excited and thrilled it’s still a needed resource with a third edition.
Curzan noted, “Lisa and I met in graduate school and wrote First Day to Final Grade when we were just finishing our degrees. We drafted and revised chapters in Rackham, at the picnic tables at Dominicks, by Fuller pool, and elsewhere around Ann Arbor. I am grateful for all the teaching insight and creativity, deep respect for students, empathy for new teachers, and good humor that Lisa brought to the book. We loved writing it together.”
After she wrote the book with Curzan, she was asked to coauthor the textbook Abnormal Psychology with Professor Jim Hansell. Damour recalls, “I was teaching when he asked me, so I was writing and practicing simultaneously. This speaks to the incredible diversity of what Michigan trains you to do.”
Damour’s private practice clients are largely teenage girls and she consults at a girl’s school. This led her to once again realize she could fill a void by publishing a book about adolescent girls. “I wrote Untangled because the book I was looking for about normal development in teenage girls didn’t exist, so I took a stab at it. Under Pressure grew out of how often I started to hear that young people felt incredibly tense, girls in particular,” she explains.
She takes her advocacy role seriously and says, “I feel very lucky to get to do the work I do - especially because I feel that adolescent girls are so often negatively stereotyped and misunderstood. It's an honor to advocate for them and to do my part to help adults better understand how interesting and remarkable they are.”
Even though she’s considered an expert, she stays grounded by focusing on the basics. “I hope I can help preserve the important tradition of understanding normal development as a complex and powerful force. What it means to be six years old differs dramatically from what it means to be sixteen, and even fourteen-year-olds and sixteen-year-olds are two different species in my book. We understand children best, and can be most helpful to them and their parents, when we ground our thinking in the excellent, established work of developmental psychology.”
With so many issues facing adolescents, Damour says it’s not all negative. “The good news is that psychologists can do a lot of good by helping the broader culture to have an accurate understanding of these issues. What compelled me to write Under Pressure was my wish to close the gap between what we as psychologists know about stress and anxiety - which is that these are usually normal, healthy functions - and what the culture currently believes, which is stress and anxiety are inherent, harmful or pathological.”
She advises students to keep an open mind about where their careers might take them and know that they will rise to the challenge. “University of Michigan offers an extraordinary foundation in the field that can take you where you may not expect.”