Psychology and Art: The Road Less Traveled

Written by Stephanie Gordon

As I talked with Elyse Hutcheson, ’18, I couldn’t help but notice her bright smile and colorful pink hair. Her cheerful personality matched her own unique self. We talked about her time at Hillsdale, her post-graduate research assistantship at Brown University, her current clinical psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Toledo, and how a liberal arts education was important to her for a successful future.

“I was interested in a liberal arts education because I wanted to learn about as many facets of the human experience as possible, in order to be a well-rounded and intellectually curious professional in whatever career I chose,” said Hutcheson.

The Pennsylvania native chose Hillsdale for its rich, in-depth education. She also appreciated the faculty’s impressive scholarship and their positive attitudes on mentorship. Hutcheson originally intended to pursue an English degree, but ultimately decided to double major in psychology and art.

“I’ve always been interested in how people relate to one another,” she said. “My interests developed over the years (at Hillsdale). My Intro to Psychology class was the experience that persuaded me to major in psychology.”

Drs. Jeri Little, Collin Barnes and Kari McArthur were Hutcheson’s most influential professors at Hillsdale. “Dr. Barnes was really significant on my journey to academia,” she said. “I appreciated his intellectual curiosity and philosophical approach to psychology. Dr. McArthur was also a fantastic mentor. She has been supportive as I’ve navigated a career in psychology. She’s always been my biggest cheerleader, and I look to her for support and perspective.”

Hutcheson returned to campus this past spring to guest lecture on obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in Dr. McArthur’s Abnormal Psychology class.

“I learned the basics of OCD at Hillsdale, but I gained a lot more knowledge about it at Brown that I was excited to share,” Hutcheson said.

Ahead of graduation, Hutcheson knew that she didn’t want to jump right into a Ph.D. program. Instead, she was accepted into Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School two-year research assistantship program.

“I wanted to cultivate my interests and figure out who I am,” she said. “There’s a lot of pressure to get into an academic program right out of undergrad. It can be hard going up against people who have had years of experience.”

As a research assistant at Brown, she studied different subtypes of OCD and their relationship to other disorders, specifically anxiety, trauma, and obsessive-compulsive-related disorders.

“The study I worked for was spearheaded by Dr. Steve Rasmussen, chair of the department of psychiatry and human behavior,” said Hutcheson. “He helped develop one of the gold standard scales for measuring OCD symptoms and severity, the Y-BOCS.”

Last year, Hutcheson started a clinical psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Toledo. She is now studying anxiety, OCD, social media, and the use of phones to cope with stress and mental health symptoms.

“In the future, I would love to see myself disseminating what we know about psychology and mental health as a professor, clinician, or researcher,” she said. “I am also very interested in advocacy and community outreach to implement evidence-based mental health practices.”

On the side, Hutcheson creates art – mostly acrylic and oil paintings – that can catch the eye of almost anyone. She describes herself as a cheerful, colorful, and maximalist artist. She said her portrait painting class with Professor Julio Suarez inspired her to work with color. Her art is available for purchase at Handmade Toledo, an artist co-op and local makers show. You can also view her art on her Instagram page at @elyse.france.

Although she loved her Hillsdale experience, Hutcheson said Hillsdale can be a stressful environment and a lot of changes at once can cause depression – especially those with OCD. “Stress can be a real trigger for people with OCD,” she said. “It’s OK to get help, and that can look different for people. You are not weak or less of a person to reach out for help.”

Her advice to current students? Be mindful and aware of taking advantage of the present moment.

“I worked very hard,” she said. “I wish that I had slowed down and clarified my principles and what was important to me. It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s important to connect with yourself and do things that aren’t school-related; get more sleep and take a walk outside. It’s important to understand what’s realistic with the expectations we set for ourselves.”

Hutcheson emphasized that she is very willing to chat with and mentor current Hillsdale students. “My Hillsdale experience helped me develop intellectual curiosity and taught me how to communicate empathetically and effectively with virtually anyone,” she said. Feel free to reach out to her at [email protected]

Stephanie Gordon, a lifelong Hillsdale native, is the Managing Editor of the Student Stories Blog. She is married to chiropractor, Dr. Matt Gordon, and has three children – Eloise, Flora, and Jack. When she has a spare moment, she enjoys paleo baking, floating on Baw Beese Lake, and breaking a sweat at the gym.

Published in June 2021