From Classroom to Clinical Excellence and Back AgainCatalight Psychologist’s Teaching Technique at University of San Francisco Gives Students a Look into Real World Impacts

Catalight’s Vice President of Clinical Excellence Lindsey Sneed, Ph.D., BCBA-D, is already at her dream job helping individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) choose their path to wellbeing. Over the past four months, she’s been published twice – for studies showing autistic children need less hours of treatment than previously thought and on the statistical analysis of wellbeing as a treatment outcome – another dream of hers. Now, she’s using her professional experience as a psychologist to embark on another long-desired venture: adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco.  

Dr. Sneed went back to school at the start of January’s new semester to teach ‘History and the Systems of Psychology’ to doctoral students.   

“What’s serendipitous for me is, when I was in high school, I wanted to be a college history professor. So, when I enrolled, I was a history major,” Dr. Sneed said. “I took every course I could on history as a first-year student. Then, after much deliberation, I decided to change my major to clinical psychology. Now, I’m a professor teaching a course that brings the two together – history and psychology. It feels like a full circle.”  

Dr. Sneed’s deferred teaching dream was reinvigorated after conversations at professional gatherings with Dr. Alette Coble-Temple, the program director at USF and scheduled speaker at Catalight’s Enhancing Your Impact conference in March at the Bay Area non-profit’s headquarters. The opportunity blossomed for Sneed to carry her 17 years of experience into the classroom.  

“Lindsey’s success isn’t by luck. She’s a leader in the I/DD and autism field,” said Catalight’s Chief Clinical Officer Doreen Samelson, Ed.D, MSCP. “She’s prolific, accomplished and industrious. It’s no surprise she’s gaining all this recognition, creating these opportunities and using them to spread her knowledge, further make a difference, and help others.”  

Continuing her role at Catalight, Dr. Sneed assesses the effectiveness of various care options for intellectual and developmental disabled individuals and contributes to the creation of progressive person-centered care that focuses, above all else, on the wellbeing of the clients and their families. Dr. Sneed intertwines her expertise within the I/DD community with her new role as a professor as she seeks to use her real-world experience to incite thought-provoking discussions in the classroom. 

“We serve the intellectually disabled population and I try to highlight that in the history of psychology. A lot of the information I’m sharing is about how historical changes within psychology have impacted our population is very new,” said Dr. Sneed. Her lectures offer a fresh perspective on the historical context of psychology while weaving in contemporary relevance that goes beyond the textbooks. 

Recently, Dr. Sneed and her class explored the debate surrounding the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center’s use of shock therapy. Located in Canton, Mass., the facility is the only center in the United States known for its reliance on aversive techniques, including electric shock devices, to manage behaviors in individuals with developmental disabilities.  

In 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took action and issued a ban on a therapy technique involving electric shock devices. In response, the center argued that the FDA’s ban was an attempt to regulate medical practice, a power reserved for state jurisdiction. Courts ruled in favor of the center, asserting that the FDA lacked the authority to regulate the use of shock devices in medical practice.  

For Dr. Sneed, the controversial issue serves as the basis for meaningful conversation for her to integrate her practical insights into the structure of her lectures. Her ability to connect concepts with examples in her teaching technique empowers students to examine the historical context of psychological issues and raise social awareness for a specialized community.  

“The thing that makes me the most excited is applying all this I’ve been doing with these individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities for the last 17 years and showing how it plays out in real life,” Sneed said. “Positive care isn’t reserved for neurotypical people. For people who are neurodivergent and have intellectual disabilities, we can adjust our work to support them in living their best life.”  

The professorship is an opportunity for Sneed to share her passion for psychology with the next generation. Her lectures dive into the historical topics of psychology as it affects diverse populations, particularly those served by Catalight. 

During a recent lecture, Dr. Sneed integrated her practical experiences at Catalight with her lecture on Vygotsky’s Theory of Sociocultural Development to enhance students’ understanding. The theory states that cognitive development is influenced by exposure to social interactions and cultural contexts. Central to this theory is the Zone of Proximal Development, which talks about the space between what individuals can learn independently and what they can achieve with guidance from others. 

Drawing from her firsthand experience, Dr. Sneed illustrated how the development was displayed in one of her clients. She highlighted how, within the framework of the Zone of Proximal Development, the family and school played roles in nurturing the client’s developmental progress. By applying this practical insight, students gained a deeper understanding of concepts and were motivated to apply these principles in their future endeavors in clinical psychology. 

As a professional who has dedicated her career to clinical psychology, Dr. Sneed’s journey into academics is an example for those who want to bridge the gap between concept and real-life application. Her ability to apply experience and social issues at the collegiate level ushers in a relatable perspective for students. In crossing another accomplishment off her dream list, she is making a difference not just as a leader in the I/DD care field but also as a passionate educator who is able to talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk on how psychology impacts the developmental disability community.