New psychology chair calls for empathy, not upset
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Dr. Julia Langdal-Sittu agrees that it’s an interesting time to study human behavior. In the past year, the nation was awash in riots and protest, pandemics and drug overdoses, political upheaval and anger.
“No one knows the root cause of everything, but psychologists can at least help to understand,” said Langdal-Sittu, the new faculty chair of the Psychology Department at Grand Canyon University. “The one thing we can really help with – as psychologists, we are skilled in empathy. We can teach our students to look at all sides of an issue and to show empathy and understanding and compassion to everybody.
“That is the cornerstone of our field — understanding, empathy and compassion for the people we work with. And that means we look at everyone and try to understand where they are coming from as people. We don’t make judgments, we seek understanding. That is pretty powerful. And it’s really hard to do.”
That’s why one of her goals as chair is to look for opportunities to help students and faculty engage even more in the community through service and volunteerism.
“Psychology lends itself to social justice and social services, so being able to do more with the college to partner with ministries or Habitat for Humanity or others would be really awesome for the department and the community,” she said.
For Langdal-Sittu, that understanding began in the classroom, when the then-biology major was urged by a friend into an introductory psychology class at Northern Arizona University.
“I took it and was blown away. I was so interested in human behavior and understanding why people do the things they do,” she said. “After that, I switched my major to psychology and never looked back.”
She went on to work as a staff psychologist at Christopher Newport University in Virginia but found her evening work as an adjunct professor energized her more.
“I think it was because when you teach a class and are explaining a concept to students, there is that moment where faces go from bored or confused to interested and excited,” she said. “That moment is the best moment. It just makes me happy. It’s exciting. It shows me they actually care about psychology. And it never gets old.”
After earning her master’s degree in theology and doctorate in clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary, she arrived at GCU in 2013 with a heart for teaching. It included an engaging style, from leading discussions about her passion for superheroes and how they are modern myths that examine deep psychological needs, to leading a class to the campus coffee shop to study conformity – by playing a non-conformist.
Langdal-Sittu made her students feel OK about the uncomfortable by standing on a chair in the middle of GCBC, thrusting a replica of the Sword of Aragorn from “Lord of the Rings” while loudly reciting a speech from the movie as those in line gaped at her. It made her point on violation of social norms.
“I like to have my class as conversational as possible while still delivering important information,” she said. “I like to open the floor for comments or questions and do a lot of activities. It’s makes the material relevant.”
She said many who take the psychology intro course have told her how much it applies to so many other fields they major in, such as business or education.
Psychology majors enter a vast array of fields, from case workers to real estate sales. Psychology is a part of everything we do.
As faculty chair, she hopes to be the voice for faculty and students and look for new opportunities to engage.
“As a clinical psychologist, Dr. Langdal-Sittu brings a unique perspective to the teaching of psychology,” said Dr. Sherman Elliott, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “After having clients and working in the mental health arena, she understands first-hand the impact of psychological theories and research as they relate to human experiences.”
And that includes empathy.
“If we can embed that value in our students, it will prepare them to look at their colleagues, families and constituents — or whoever within their communities — as people who have needs and who have value,” she said. “That is what psychology can do.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
GCU Today: Faculty Focus: Dr. Julia Langdal-Sittu