Feature

Psychologist Tom Tyne, PhD, recently spent a workday on a Caribbean beach, teaching a group of vacationing accountants relationship skills against the backdrop of an azure bay.

Tyne's multifaceted career as a clinical private practitioner and organizational consultant on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands is testament to the opportunities that a creative approach to a psychology career can provide. Over the past 25 years he has traveled from Rhode Island to the Virgin Islands, and from a traditional academic and applied psychology career to one that incorporates a new frontier for many psychologists: business consulting.

He and his business partner, clinical psychologist Russ Grieger, PhD, market leadership seminars, management training and other services to local businesses and to stateside companies meeting in the area.

"My best workweeks," he says, "are the ones that include more 'short-pants' days than 'long-pants' days."

Conventional beginnings

Consultants' careers can begin in traditional ways. Tyne, for instance, received his doctorate from the University of Connecticut in 1975 and then took a faculty position at the University of Rhode Island. By 1980, at age 34, he was the director of the school psychology program there and was about to apply for tenure.

"I had to start thinking hard about what I wanted to do and whether I wanted to stay there for the rest of my working life," he says. He decided that the tenure track wasn't for him. He and his wife, a chef and food writer, sat down and made a list of the things that they really wanted to do.

Ultimately, they decided that they wanted to sail and travel. So they took the sailboat they owned and began running a yacht-chartering business in the Caribbean. For four years they and their dog and cat ferried guests among the islands in the Bahamas and Lesser Antilles.

But after a few years, circumstance drew Tyne back to psychology. In 1984, at a park in St. John where Tyne and his wife cleared customs between trips, he noticed a teacher with a class of special education students. At the time, there were very few services for special-needs students in the Virgin Islands, and so the teachers would just take the students to sit or play in the park all day, Tyne says. He began working with the teachers to develop programs for the students. In 1985, he and a like-minded lawyer sued the governor of the Virgin Islands for not providing services to special-needs students.

"All of a sudden," he says, "I was back in the long-pants world."

The unearthing of a niche

Tyne and his wife Barbara moved ashore on St. Thomas, and over the next 15 years he worked as an adjunct professor at the University of the Virgin Islands, helped the Federal Emergency Management Agency set up crisis counseling after Hurricanes Hugo in 1989 and Marilyn in 1995 and built up a private clinical practice, among other pursuits.

Recently, Tyne's career has taken another turn--to business consulting. Even as a school and child psychologist, he says, he was always interested in organizational systems--his thesis and early research focused on the organizational climates of classrooms and schools. In the Virgin Islands he worked as a consultant for Head Start, the Department of Education and the police department, and began to conduct workshops for a variety of government agencies. Eventually, he says, he realized businesses needed the same types of services.

In 1999, he and Grieger opened a business consulting company called Organizational Consulting Associates of the Caribbean. Grieger is from Charlottesville, Va., where he has his own consulting business called The Center for Leadership Growth. However, he splits his time with a home in the Virgin Islands because his wife grew up there.

Tyne and Grieger began by marketing workshops on various topics, from leadership training to relationship skills, to stateside companies that were holding meetings at hotels and on cruise ships in the area. Eventually, the hotels and cruise ships themselves--along with other local businesses--became clients as well.

Now, Tyne and Grieger's leadership seminars and management training workshops on topics like building motivation and responsibility in the workplace, developing supervisory skills and mastering conflict resolution attract businesses as diverse as banks, hospitals, utility companies, jewelry stores and tour operators.

"I was trained to look at the classroom and the family as a system," Tyne says, "so it's easy to start looking at businesses and organizations as a system."

There are some adjustments, Grieger says, that psychologists need to make when entering organizational consulting. "You do have to be willing to reshape your thinking," he explains, "because the end goal is productivity, not well-being; and the individual is not your client, the company is your client."

But, Tyne says, the two can be complementary as well--his consulting and clinical practices enhance and benefit each other. "I'll ask similar questions of a couple in therapy as of a bank staff merging with another bank," he says. "What are your vision, mission and strategic objectives, and how is what you're doing now helping you achieve those goals?"

Now, Grieger and Tyne say they want to help other psychologists learn to complement their clinical practices by also consulting with companies. They designed a continuing-education program to teach psychologists and other mental health professionals about organizational consulting, the mind-set shifts needed to switch from clinical to organizational consulting and the model of a healthy organization.

Last year, Grieger taught the class four times at the University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies--which lets participants earn continuing-education credits that they need to maintain their licensure--and he plans to teach it again this year. He and Tyne also plan to run a similar workshop at APA's 2005 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., Aug 18-21.

Tyne says that both he and Grieger appreciate the diversity--mental and geographical--that their careers allow them: "To me, it's just a kick--I love doing it."