Order of Canada Recipient & Daughter Share Clinical Interests, Career Paths and ADAA Benefits: In Conversation with ADAA Members Gordon Asmundson, PhD and Aleiia Asmundson, BA
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Order of Canada Recipient & Daughter Share Clinical Interests, Career Paths and ADAA Benefits: In Conversation with ADAA Members Gordon Asmundson, PhD and Aleiia Asmundson, BA

Aleiia Asmundson might just be the youngest person to have ever attended an ADAA conference. Her father, renowned Canadian psychologist and professor, Gordon J. G. Asmundson, PhD, has been a member of ADAA for over 30 years, calling it his “professional home,” and attending the annual conference for just as long. Bringing his daughter to conferences when she was a toddler may have had an impact on the young Aleiia and perhaps influenced her decision to follow in her father’s footsteps, but more likely she enjoyed taking her dad’s poster tube and running around swinging it at the adults.

Next year in Las Vegas (#ADAA2025), however, Aleiia wants to present her own poster and attend her first ADAA conference as a member and doctoral student of psychology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Currently finishing her Masters in clinical psychology in the university’s Department of Psychology Pain Affect and Cognition Lab, Aleiia is paving a way to a career in psychology similar to her father’s but also creating something of her own.

A Big Order to Fill

In 2023, Dr. Asmundson received the Order of Canada, the country’s penultimate civilian award for career achievement and contributions to Canadian society. The psychologist, professor, and Head of the Psychology Department at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan has worked endlessly and passionately to help better understand, explain, and treat various anxiety disorders. His primary focus has been on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its overlap with chronic health conditions like chronic pain.  

As Dr. Asmundson continues to work to advance the field of mental health and teach and prepare the next generation of clinicians and mental health professionals, his daughter is just beginning her journey. Aleiia admits that having a parent so well respected and revered in the Canadian world of psychology is challenging but both father and daughter feel she will be successful.

“Now that I’m pursuing psychology, it has been great having him as a mentor,” Aleiia said, “and it turned out that I am also interested in PTSD and chronic pain. I’ve tried to ensure my research is not too close to his but I can’t deny that seeing him do what he does my whole life didn’t plant a seed in my brain.”

Dr. Asmundson believes Aleiia is flourishing in her own right.  He is delighted and proud to see her blazing her own trail, including her decision to become an ADAA member this year (2024), but concedes that he has been an influence on her.  

“In 11th grade, she had an assignment related to psychology and she included my work and what I do in it,” he told ADAA. “That tweaked her interest in the field. I think she has already positioned herself nicely, pursuing a PhD, publishing her research, making contacts, and going to conferences – and even planning to apply for some ADAA trainee awards.”  

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

While growing up, Aleiia didn’t fully understand her father’s work but she was drawn to it. She enjoyed going to the lab with him and when he was in his office with a client, she would flip through books and read interviews and news articles featuring him or his work.

“Up until 4th or 5th grade, I would say my dad fixes people’s brains,” Aleiia said. “Maybe people thought he was a neurosurgeon or something but as I got older, I became more interested in what he was doing. I grew up reading those news stories, seeing him get awards, and sometimes attending the ceremonies. That drove me to psychology. And the idea of potentially getting to his level is a great motivator.”

Aleiia recalls how her father would come home from conferences, particularly ADAA events, and tell her stories. She was fascinated and wanted to have similar experiences as she grew older and began to comprehend his work and impact. Dr. Asmundson says he is thrilled she finds meaning in the same areas that he has pursued in his career and encourages her, as he does any of his graduate students, to join organizations and apply for research grants and awards.  

“When Aleiia indicated an interest in anxiety and depression related disorders, both of which occur in the context of pain conditions, I said ADAA is a place she should look at,” Dr. Asmundson explained. He added that while her last name may get her foot in the door at various organizations and facilities, Aleiia will be the one to prove her own value and worth in the field of mental health for the next generation.

Geographically Distant But Closer than Ever in Mental Healthcare for All

Father and daughter are currently quite far apart; geographically speaking a drive from where Aleiia is studying in Kingston to her family in Regina takes almost 30 hours. 

Like the US, the impact of the pandemic and the current shortage of mental health professionals have affected the state of mental healthcare in Canada. Dr. Asmundson says Canada is doing its best to fund provincial governments in order to boost clinical psychology programs at universities – including his – and increase the number of trained psychologists. 

“Being a university department head, I know that not only is there a need for clinicians, which the government recognizes, but to train them, we need more faculty members,” said Dr. Asmundson. “There are a lot of faculty positions open at Canadian university psychology departments right now.”

Under those circumstances, Aleiia will probably not have difficulty finding a job when she graduates and being the daughter of an Order of Canada recipient, psychology department head, and distinguished psychologist, she may have it easier than most but what Aleiia has for herself is integrity, passion, dedication, and a real desire to help people. 

Speaking of her current studies, Aleiia reiterates her father’s words on the need for more students. “It’s a tough program to get into but definitely valuable right now.” As for her father’s influence, Aleiia sees it as both a blessing and a curse but wouldn’t have it any other way. “Even at grad school interviews I was asked about his work. My name probably does get associated with him and it makes it tricky since I’m interested in chronic pain and PTSD too, but I love having him as a well-known dad in psychology.”

Dr. Asmundson will retire some day and who better to take his seat – or a similar one – than his daughter? Aleiia knows she is entering a field that needs her but merit and hard work on her part will take her far, or perhaps even closer to her father. 

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