Getting to Know Carla Bradley

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Getting to Know Carla Bradley

New Counseling Director Talks Data, STEM Students, and Technology

By Michael Hagearty September 4, 2018

The child of an engineer, Carla Bradley learned the power of data to persuade early on, when she surveyed her grade-school classmates in order to make the case to her parents for a larger allowance. That early success brought with it an appreciation for evidence-based approaches to problem solving.

carla bradley

She joined Georgia Tech in July as its new director for the Counseling Center, which provides mental health services and support to Tech’s student population. A licensed psychologist with a doctorate in clinical psychology, Bradley has spent the last 16 years at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“I am thrilled to be at a STEM school where there’s a real dedication to solving problems and helping the world,” she said. “To be surrounded by this kind of intellectual energy and passion is a real privilege, and I want to work with students in any way I can to make the Counseling Center a place of innovation and service.”

Bradley sat down for an interview to share her enthusiasm for collaboration, her thoughts on technology-based options for mental health, and approaches for serving all students in need of support.



You are currently pursuing a master’s degree in Engineering Management. What was your motivation to begin and what interests you about the connections between engineering and psychology?

It began when my former institution initiated a merger between the two counseling centers on campus. As a result, I began to ask: ‘How does organizational change best occur?’ ‘What’s good management?’ ‘What’s good leadership?’ These were just philosophical questions that were in my head; when I expressed them to a colleague she told of a program offered in the School of Engineering. I never connected the idea of engineering to management, but the experience has been wonderful. My dad’s a retired engineer, so I speak a little bit of this language.

I think the connection between STEM and psychology is that psychology is trying to become increasingly clear about what ails people and what helps people, with an evidentiary basis to our problem-solving efforts. I like the engineering approach for solving problems: Identify an issue, understand the nature of the problem, and find solutions that make people’s lives easier. That’s a fundamental connection between what engineers do and what mental health professionals do.

I’ve heard from some students that a major reason they are excited to work with you is because of your plans for collaboration with existing resources. Can you share some of your early ideas in this regard?

One of the biggest challenges in collegiate mental health today is what I’ve referred to as the “flow and volume problem.” We have a greater volume of students seeking services across the nation than we historically have, and this volume creates a difficulty with serving students as rapidly as they would like to be served and as rapidly as we would like to serve them. I am interested in what engineering might be able to offer in terms of a collaboration. We know these engineering principles have been effective for improving volume and flow problems in hospitals through the use of queueing theory, for example.

What role does data play?

Data plays a prominent role in the analysis of college mental health at the national level. There are several large-scale, collaborative efforts across the nation, and data feeds into them. From this data bank, we can tell how our student concerns compare to those at the national level.

The top three concerns at Georgia Tech — depression, anxiety, and relationship concerns — are very consistent with what’s happening nationally. For Tech students, it’s a particular type of intense pressure around grades, as well as notions of accomplishment and success that I think are different from [students in] other parts of the country.

Janice Harewood

Janice Harewood, licensed psychologist and assistant director for Outreach and Wellness, talks with a student in the Counseling Center.

make a splash

Counseling Center visitors are greeted by a community art piece, Make a Splash, that was finished earlier this year. Learn more about the project.

A lot of students express that they feel uncomfortable walking into the counseling center or picking up the phone. What are your thoughts on how counseling across the country might adapt in the next 10 years to engage young people who are most comfortable when using modern technology while also ensuring proper care?

There are ways in which technology is already playing a greater role in mental health. There are apps students can use to self-monitor between sessions. There are applications for helping students explore stress management or temper anxiety. All of that is good. I think the problem that we don’t have enough data about yet is that most of our information comes through non-verbal channels. When we sit with another person, we’re getting a lot of data that we can’t necessarily put into words, yet is still being registered somewhere within our physiology. We really don’t yet know how much of that information can resonate via technology.

carla bradley

"I am grateful to have come on board to lead an incredibly dedicated, talented, and altruistic staff who care deeply for our campus community."

—Carla Bradley

And within questions of that type there are wonderful opportunities for research into how technology interfaces with our brains and with our physiologies. For instance, I imagine within the next decade or so we could have functional holographic representations of ourselves that can be transmitted in real-time into the same space, like a classroom or consulting room.

Once we’re technologically able to do that we can begin to learn how much of the approximately 70 percent of information transfer that occurs nonverbally between human bodies occupying the same space might be able to be transmitted through holographic representation. Holographic imagery and non-verbal communication is just one example of the fascinating questions that emerge when we begin to talk about the interface of human psychology and technology. Another fascinating question is how the use of technology may be changing our brains in ways we can’t yet really measure. What might such changes mean for our future as a species?

While there are multiple current ways of interfacing, I don’t think we clearly know yet the level of effectiveness for these technological solutions. We mental health professionals need to know much more about how to select and utilize the best that technology has to offer in order to meet the needs of our clients.


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What approaches have you found to be effective in helping to break down the cross-cultural barriers for students who may benefit from mental health services? How do we engage them as equal partners in improving mental health on campus?

One of the programs we offer here is Let’s Talk, where a staff member will go out into the campus community at various locations and be available for a non-clinical conversation. It’s not therapy per se, but it’s an opportunity to meet students where they are, both geographically and culturally.

That’s just one aspect of the Counseling Center’s broad outreach component. We’re contacted fairly frequently to provide support to the campus community. All of our counselors are trained for sensitivity to issues of diversity and inclusion. We want to keep in mind how we can best serve the interests of a broad range of people.

What about underrepresented minorities? Are there any special considerations here?

At a recent staff meeting, one of our counselors presented statistics about different identities that we need to be thinking about: Are we being sensitive to the student when we inquire about gender identity? How are we supporting students who hold a particular faith? What about sexual orientation, or racial and ethnic differences?

Our data, then, informs this questioning process. We use it to assess who we are currently serving, and ask ourselves: ‘Do we need to do anything differently to ensure we are reaching all students who could benefit from our services?’

I know I’m coming to Tech in the wake of a powerful focus on mental health. I take that very seriously. I know the campus has been through a lot. And that’s by no means lost on the staff at the Counseling Center. I’m aware that my staff has been through a tough year in which the tragedy that occurred was deeply felt by campus mental health professionals and by the entire campus community. I am grateful to have come on board to lead an incredibly dedicated, talented, and altruistic staff who care deeply for our campus community. It’s vital to remember that part of the grief our campus experienced came out of respect and concern for people who are disenfranchised in our larger society.

I believe the will and heart of this campus is to embrace everyone. That type of inclusivity is just one of the many reasons I’m so delighted to be here at Georgia Tech.

  • Georgia Tech Counseling Center: 404-894-2575
  • Campus Police: 404-894-2500
  • Georgia Crisis & Access Line: 1-800-715-4225
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • National Hopeline Network: 1-800-784-2433