Professor Profiles


Derek Truscott, PhD, RPsych

Professor, Director of Counselling Training


Educational Psychology

About Me

I earned my doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Windsor in 1989, and practiced in hospital, community, group home, rehabilitation, and private settings prior to joining the University of Alberta in 1997. I am a Registered Psychologist with the College of Alberta Psychologists and member of the Canadian Psychological Association.

Theoretical Orientation to Practice

Because all theoretical orientations to psychotherapy are equally effective and interventions are effective only if client and therapist believe them to be so, I practice from a theoretically integrative, technically eclectic orientation. I work with each client to find a common understanding of their problem, drawing from many orientations in an integrative, rather than internecine, manner. I then propose solutions consistent with our shared understanding, drawing from many interventions in an eclectic, rather than exclusive, manner. Because no theoretical orientation deserves to be privileged over the others and therapist allegiance is central to being effective, in my teaching I strive to help students find their own theoretical orientation and learn how to adapt it in the service of their clients.


    I am interested in answering the question of what it takes to be a good psychologist. By “good” I mean one who is effective, helpful, influential, and impactful – who is sought out by people suffering from personal problems and to whom other psychologists refer or seek out themselves. I also mean “good” in the sense of one who is ethical, principled, virtuous, and moral – who knows how to do and does the right thing and is sought out by others wanting to do likewise.

    It often seems to me that the secret to becoming a good psychologist lays buried under mounds of facts and opinions. No wonder most of us pursue either research or practice and pay scant attention to the other. Producing more research findings or proposing more practice approaches isn’t going to remedy this situation, and might be making it worse. Having grown up on the Alberta prairies, my response has been to think of myself as a refinery rather than as a pump-jack, synthesizing knowledge from existing research to fuel professional practice.

    I am currently working on two new books, The Effective Psychotherapist: On being more helpful more often and Feedback: A therapist’s guide to getting better (with William Hanson).


    I base my approach to teaching on the premise that students attend university expecting to learn from experts providing instruction in their area of expertise. My role as a professor, therefore, is to be an expert in my field of professional psychology and to effectively teach students what they need to learn to become psychologists. While the former is one of my life’s passions and the reason I joined the academy, the latter has challenged me to practice reflectively in order to ensure that I am facilitating learning.

    Learning is a process of either assimilating information and thereby buttressing what we already know, or accommodating information and thereby restructuring existing knowledge. For learning to take place, therefore, new information must be sufficiently familiar to be comprehensible, yet sufficiently unfamiliar to provoke change. Not all information is given equal consideration, however. When we encounter information that is irrelevant to our concerns—even if it is new to us—we are indifferent at best, bored at worst. When presented with information that is novel and can be put to use to further our goals, we are enlivened, engaged and motivated to learn.

    The interpersonal environment is also crucial to the process of learning. Because human beings are inherently loss-aversive, when under threat we cling to what we know in order to avoid the negative consequences of making an error. Only when the potential benefit of trying something new significantly outweighs the risk of the loss that would result from being wrong, are we willing to consider new information and ideas. When we feel safe to consider new ideas we are open to learning.

    Thus, I approach teaching by: a) continuously developing my scholarly expertise; b) developing novel learning objectives congruent with students’ goals; c) establishing a positive interpersonal climate conducive to learning; and d) teaching reflectively in order to be able to foster learning.

    Graduate Student Supervision

    I have supervised 17 doctoral and 20 Master’s students to successful completion of their degrees. Given my intention to retire in 2022 and the fact that it takes 5.5 years on average to complete a doctoral degree, I will not be taking-on the supervision of any new doctoral students. For the 2018-2019 academic year I will consider working with a Master’s student if there is a very close match between the student’s research interests and mine.