Alumni Spotlight: Janet Barrett, Masters in Applied Organizational Psychology ‘22

Picture of Janet Barrett smiling. She is wearing a blue dress and has blonde hair.

In Janet Barrett’s first class at William James College, professor Dr. Erika Heilman told the class that they would know they found a thesis subject when they could not stop talking about it in their everyday life. Barrett doubted she could find something that could make her feel so strongly. 

But Heilman was right and through her internship, Barrett fell in love with the concept of proactive mental health. In fact, she was so passionate about it, that it grew beyond a thesis subject and into the topic of her first book Stop the Break released in February.

“I have always gone through life without much of a plan,” Barrett said. “The fact that I've been able to lay out this framework and execute it is somewhat shocking to me!”

Barrett’s journey to William James began in 2021 when she found herself experiencing emotional distress and uncertainty with her path forward following a very difficult divorce.

Barrett began focusing on the ways she could improve her life, ultimately deciding to return to school and reenter the workforce after taking a decade off to take care of her children.

When Barrett started researching potential programs, she recalled learning about the College at a panel discussion on mental health. There, she had heard President Nicholas Covino speak on the challenges of scaling the mental health field to meet demand.

“He was incredibly insightful and moving, and so I just wanted to learn more about the College and when I did, it was like the two just came together,” she said.

For Barrett, who had spent her career working in executive roles for large retail organizations, the organizational psychology focus of MAOP made it the perfect program. 

 “It was only a year-long, which I knew I could buckle down and do, and it was exactly what I had loved doing [in my career]. It would refresh my knowledge, get me up to speed, and give employers the confidence to hire me again. So, I applied and was very lucky to get in,” Barrett said.

Through the program, Barrett began an internship with senior healthcare company ChenMed, which prioritizes proactive care to reduce health problems in patients. ChenMed focuses on more frequent visits, lower doctor-to-patient ratios, and other strategies to minimize costs and prioritize wellness. 

The work was personally fulfilling when she considered the ways proactivity could have enabled her to improve the way she faced her own challenges.

“At the time I was going through my own personal transformation. I was using therapy, and these other tactics, but I was surprised how much my divorce affected me,” she said. “For five decades I just kept taking everything on, the divorce was like the final straw. I thought to myself, if I hadn’t let everything pile up, I would have been in a much different situation.” 

Once she graduated, Barrett took her experience with ChenMed and started researching the ways it could be applied to the behavioral health field. 

Barrett became fascinated with the potential, including ways insurance companies could be incentivized to support preventative mental healthcare as a cost-cutting measure. She also researched ways technology could be implemented to improve the detection of these problems before someone comes to a clinician’s office.

This research ultimately led to the release of Stop the Break, which highlighted her own story, how she moved past her struggles, and her “call to action” on how this model could be applied more broadly to the way we treat mental health.

Barrett now travels around the country giving keynote speeches on proactive mental health and is working on a second book titled What Did I Do Wrong? which explores narcissism in relationships with those close to you. 

For Barrett, the past few years have been validating and her personal work has given her a purpose she believes in.  

 “Without the guidance from Dr. Heilman, none of this would have happened,” Barrett said. “Now, I am proud, nervous, excited, and ready to keep on this path talking about proactive mental health!”

As she continues her work as a speaker and author, it’s clear Barrett’s found that thing she can’t stop talking about and has no plans to stop any time soon.


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