NHCL psychologist named best in the Navy

28 Jan 2011 | Lance Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

From Sigmund Freud to Carl Jung and Erich Fromm, the field of human psychological analysis has grown substantially over the past two centuries. Examining the meanings of dreams and piercing the hidden surface of the sub-conscious are just a few examples of how psychological study has advanced many modern practices; for example, that of treating service members with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD is one of the many types of cases that Dr. Michael Cooney, clinical psychologist with the Mental Health Clinic at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, may deal with on any given day. That, plus his multitude of other career accomplishments, is what made him the Department of the Navy’s Civilian Psychologist of the Year for 2009.

“This award gives me a great sense of pride in that it tells me I’m respected by my professional peers even after they’ve (permanently changed duty stations),” said Cooney. “It shows that the work and effort I’ve put into being here aboard (Marine Corps Base) Camp Lejeune hasn’t gone unappreciated.”

Out of the countless psychologists, both active-duty and civilian in the DoN, three are chosen each year by Navy Clinical Psychology that best represent and promote the profession; the Civilian, Active-Duty Senior and Active-Duty Junior Psychologists of the Year.

Cooney’s career ambition was not originally that of psychology, but of history and anthropology, yet he fell into a job in the early 1970s working with juvenile offenders, having only a basic introduction to psychology.

“As you can imagine, there wasn’t many opportunities for anthropological digs in North Carolina,” said Cooney. “However, Johnson’s presidency and the war on poverty opened up a lot of community centers for children with problems, and after working with them for a few years, I found it to be rewarding.”

However, during the wave of Nixon’s presidency, a lot of the funding for such programs were cut, forcing Cooney into geriatrics, the health care of elderly people, until 1977 when he finished his master’s degree in psychology. After returning to college in 1983 and acquiring his doctorate after working with substance abuse cases, he opened up a private practice in Greenville, N.C.

“For the next few years I was operating my own practice until CHAMPUS, the Department of Defense health care carrier before TRICARE, initiated a drive to save money and better serve the active duty population by hiring more civilian psychologists rather than referring patients to outside help,” said Cooney. “For the past 17 years, I’ve been working as a psychologist for the naval hospital here.”

In those 17 years, Cooney has carried the responsibilities a staff psychologist as well as a supervisor for junior active-duty psychologists that come to NHCL, having overseen and coached nearly two dozen by this point.

“This is pretty much a front-line hospital short of being deployed,” said Cooney. “For Navy psychologists, there is no better training facility and population than here aboard Camp Lejeune. It’s pretty much a baptism-by-fire, but the caliber of professionals coming to this hospital has been top-notch.”

Even with all his career successes and personal accomplished goals, Cooney remains humble as to his lauding of his award.

“For one to stand out among many, that’s a reflection of the group as a whole rather that one person’s accomplishments,” said Cooney. “Without the contribution from all the providers working as a team, I wouldn’t have been able to work as well as I have.”

While Cooney has no immediate plans for the future of his career in psychology, many are able to benefit from his experience and tenure at the naval hospital – wouldn’t you feel better being seen by an award winner?