Elizabeth Mitchell Altmaier, a native New Yorker, was born in 1952 to a father who was an engineer and a mother who was a homemaker. Unlike her brothers, for whom working careers were simply an expected eventuality, Altmaier was encouraged by the urgings she received during her educational experiences to explore her potential as a student and professional and to do so beyond the limited traditional venues open to women at that time—teaching and nursing.
Ironically, Altmaier came, quite literally, by way of chance to a career in psychology, selecting this area of study at random from a list of possible majors she found interesting. During her collegiate years, she found a fine match with the faculty in the psychology department at Wheaton College, and her mentor there persuaded her to pursue graduate studies in psychology. After collecting her B.A. in 1973 with honors from Wheaton College, she went on to earn a Ph.D. in 1977 in counseling psychology from Ohio State University.
It was at OSU that Altmaier found her feet as a scholar and developed her preference to view her research and professional efforts in an unfettered manner, away from what would be considered by others as “traditional” areas for interest and work in counseling psychology. This willingness to venture off the beaten path proved to be an important doorway for her in eventually pursuing her now well-established interest in health psychology (again, broadly defined). Following her clinical internship at the OSU Counseling and Consultation Service, she accepted her first academic post at the University of Florida in 1977. From there she moved, in 1980, to the University of Iowa where she is today.
Altmaier is truly a pioneer in counseling psychology; she was among the first to fully explore the potential avenues for research and applied education and training efforts in various areas of health psychology and its interface with medicine. Her initial, highly successful work in anxiety management for oncology patients receiving chemotherapy blossomed and extended over the years into National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded research on coping strategies for stress and pain management with various oncology patient populations. Altmaier also made significant contributions to the research literature and medical care practices concerning patients who suffer from chronic low back pain. Finally, she has made a highly successful foray into helping medical school admission committees and training sites assess the suitability and potential success of applicants to their programs and has helped to improve the quality of physician-patient interactions in medical practice. In total, Altmaier has participated in more than $1.5 million worth of grant-funded research efforts in these areas as well as in the general area of education and training in psychology. For this body of work, she received the 2003 Dorothy Booz Black Award for Outstanding Achievement in Health Psychology from Division 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology) of the American Psychological Association (APA).
For over 25 years, Altmaier has been a core faculty member in the APA-accredited program in counseling psychology at the University of Iowa. She also holds a secondary faculty appointment in the College of Public Health. She has enjoyed great favor and appreciation as a doctoral advisor to those fortunate students who have earned their doctoral degrees under her tutelage. Altmaier has held numerous administrative positions within the university, including department chairperson, associate dean, and associate provost for faculty personnel and development. Illustrating her penchant for unique foci in her work, Altmaier has also been involved with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), serving at the national level as a member of the Academics, Eligibility and Compliance Cabinet and the Study Group for the Use of Athletes’ Names and Likenesses and at the local level on the University of Iowa’s NCAA Certification Committee. Altmaier also serves on several other committees at the University of Iowa; she is its Big 10 and NCAA faculty athletics representative and is a member of its Board of Control of Athletics, its Presidential Committee on Athletics, and its Athletics Advisory Council. Finally, she has served on the search committees for several key sports administration positions at the University of Iowa, including the director of athletics, head coach for men’s basketball, and head coach for football. In 2005, Altmaier was awarded the Michael J. Brody Award by the Faculty Senate at Iowa for her tireless contributions and service to the university.
Altmaier has also served the general psychology community in many capacities. For the APA, she chaired the Committee on Accreditation (ushering in the fully reformed accreditation standards and procedures in use today), was a member of the Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology, and served as a panel consultant for the Initiative on Women in Science and Technology. She has also served in governance roles for the Society of Counseling Psychology and the Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs (CCPTP). Locally, she is a licensed psychologist in the state of Iowa and has served as chair of the Iowa Psychological Association’s Ethics Board.
As a scholar, Altmaier’s productivity is impressive; she has produced over 200 works to date, including 6 books, 14 book chapters, over 90 refereed articles, and over 80 research presentations. She has served in several editorial roles, including tours as editor of APA’s Clinician’s Research Digest and as associate editor of The Counseling Psychologist, Journal of Counseling Psychology, and Contemporary Psychology. Altmaier’s efforts and accomplishments as a scientist have been nationally recognized. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and a charter fellow of the American Psychological Society (now the Association of Psychological Science), and she was the 1994 recipient of the American Psychological Association’s prestigious Award for Distinguished Contribution to Education and Training in Psychology.
Most important and admirable given all she has accomplished, Altmaier has always been, and remains, very dedicated to her family—her husband Michael, her daughter Kathryn, and her son Greg. Those who have the good fortune to know Altmaier personally are aware of how much she enjoys her family and the experiences they share.
In reviewing her own career, Altmaier wrote, “In reflecting on the roads taken to date, and considering roads ahead . . . for me, uncommon choices . . . had in common a sense of excitement and the opportunity to work with others in a collaborative way. I look forward to more of these roads ahead” (1998, p. 103). Those who have had the good fortune to work with Altmaier have greatly appreciated her excitement, her willingness to collaborate, and the opportunity to share the road with her.
- Altmaier, E. M. (1998). Reflections on choices: The road not taken. In L. T. Hoshmand (Ed.), Creativity and moral vision in psychology: Narratives on identity and commitment in a postmodern age (pp. 91-105). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Altmaier, E. M. (Ed.). (2003). Setting standards in graduate education: Psychology’s commitment to excellence in accreditation. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Altmaier, E. M., Ewell, M., McQuellon, R., Geller, N., Carter, S., Henslee-Downey, J., et al. (2006). The effect of unrelated-donor marrow transplantation on health-related quality of life: A report of the unrelated donor marrow transplantation trial (T Cell Depletion Trial). Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation, 12, 648-655.
- Altmaier, E. M., Fraley, S. S., Homaifar, B. Y., Maloney, R., Rippentrop, E. A. B., & Rasheed, S. (2003). Health counseling: Assessment and intervention. In M. Kopala & M. Keitel (Eds.), Handbook for counseling women (pp. 323-344). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.