09:24 AM

'Still have a ton to learn': For UHCL graduate, age is no barrier

At age 70, Paul Feiler might be the oldest student to cross the stage at the fall 2021 University of Houston-Clear Lake's Commencement ceremony on Dec. 12. He's a "non-traditional" student to say the least — and he is perfectly happy with that label.

Feiler, who received training in business from Harvard Business School and already holds a doctorate in theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, has had a lengthy career as a Presbyterian minister, a business strategist and life coach. He has no specific need for another degree. Yet at age 62, he began asking himself what he would like to do in his 70s to remain relevant and keep contributing to his ultimate mission, which is to help others thrive.

"No man or woman is defined by their job; we're defined by our mission. What makes you relevant is how you serve," Feiler said. "My time learning about theology and business was very important for what I'm doing now, because that's where I developed a love for working with others; most importantly, how to achieve their objectives to become their best self."

Feiler said that throughout his career, the insights of psychology have helped him personally and in his work with others. "To have the opportunity to come to UHCL and focus specifically on this discipline is a capstone for my lifelong mission," he said.

During a course focusing on anxiety, he began doing research on a topic that has become the focus of his research and future work.

"My research focused on the idea that insomnia is not just the symptom of anxiety, but that coexisting anxiety and insomnia are bidirectionally causative and exacerbating. This extends to other mental illnesses, particularly depression" he said. "This means that if a therapist treats a client or patient who presents with depression, anxiety or insomnia, both disorders should be treated. I thought this might be a good way to spend my 70s — helping people with sleep issues, particularly when co-morbid with anxiety and depression. Being invited to work with people in moments like this is a great privilege."

(Professor of Psychology) Chris Ward, said Feiler, was instrumental in helping him pursue this topic, as was (Assistant Professor of Psychology) Angela Kelling, who was also the chair of his thesis committee.

"I have studied at great schools, but in terms of attentiveness and engagement with students, UHCL was a fantastic experience for me," he said. "There were times when I had other work-related assignments that took me around the world, and I needed to lay off my studies, but the Psychology Department was consistently accommodating, twice readmitting me so that I could continue this work."

He said he's met others along the way who want to pursue academic interests during their retirement years, and he has consistently pointed them toward UHCL.

His next steps into a new career in sleep psychology could take any one of a number of directions, including creating a business plan to start a series of clinics to treat clients and train therapists in how to treat insomnia, or perhaps working in one-on-one consultations with people with personal or business challenges.

"This is my focus for the next decade," he said. "I want to continue learning every day. We'll see what I decide to do in my 80s."

For more information about UHCL's Master of Science in Psychology, go online.