May 29, 2024

GREAT MINDS: Richardson Talks Psych, Pain and Passing the Torch

It’s true that one college class can shape your entire future — in Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Richardson’s case, it was an introduction to psychology course. While the Florence native didn’t start out as a psychology major, her interest sparked when learning about the physical side of the subject.

“There was one chapter that we covered about the biology associated with it, and I remember being really fascinated with that,” said Richardson, associate professor of psychology. “I loved understanding human behavior, but I really nerded out over linking it to what our brain does.”

More classes and undergraduate research led Richardson to fully commit to the field. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Birmingham-Southern College in 2000, a Master of Arts in Medical Psychology from The University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2006 and a Ph.D. in Medical/ Clinical Psychology from UAB in 2009.

Teaching, as she puts it, is something that Richardson sort of fell into. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship in rehabilitation psychology at UAB, she transitioned to an assistant professor position in the School of Medicine. There, she had a chance to mentor graduate students while conducting clinical research in spinal cord injury and chronic pain.

“I had some time where I left UAB and went and worked for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Birmingham,” Richardson said. “My area of research is pain and pain management, and they were starting a comprehensive pain management program for veterans in the midst of the escalating opioid epidemic. It was a great opportunity, but it was purely implementing a clinical program and I missed teaching.”

Richardson briefly taught an introduction to psychology course at BSC, then seized an opportunity to become an adjunct professor at Montevallo in 2016.

“I was teaching biological psychology, which was right up my alley,” Richardson said. “I loved the students and the other psychology faculty. Montevallo is such a special place where you truly feel important, cared for and like you belong.”

Richardson officially joined the Department of Behavioral & Social Sciences faculty in 2018. She teaches foundations in psychology, forensic psychology, psychology of pain, psychopathology, biological psychology and more. She has published several articles on and continues to conduct research in the area of pain perception, chronic pain and psychological treatments for pain. In 2023, she was named University Scholar, which recognizes one faculty member who has shown exemplary strides in creativity, research and scholarship. She was formally honored at Founders’ Day on Oct. 12, 2023.

“It is such an honor, and it truly is humbling because I have lots of colleagues who have done amazing things,” Richardson said. “I’ve seen other people named University Scholar and have been awed by their work. The awesome thing about a liberal arts university is that it really broadened my horizons to accomplishments in other fields. You’re not siloed in your field.”

One of the most rewarding things for Richardson is getting to see graduates go on to accomplish good things in their fields.

To her, a major goal in science is getting future generations to continue the work and research.

“We have one alum who is now at UAB working in a pain lab and completing her doctorate in neuroscience,” she said. “We did research together, and I couldn’t be more proud. It makes me feel hopeful as a human being to see that there are people working on some really important problems to help humanity, but it also makes me thankful as a teacher to see those doors open.”

Richardson lives in Birmingham with her spouse, Leslie, and their 8-year-old son, Nate. In her free time, she likes building Legos with him, going to the lake and spending quality time with family.