Faculty Spotlight: Linda Sobell


Psychology professor Linda Sobell’s initial interest in the subject she now teaches at NSU also happens to be the beginning of a true love story.

At age 19, during her pre-med undergraduate studies at the University of California, Sobell was struggling in a human learning course when her professor suggested that she meet with a graduate psychology student for tutoring. She heeded her professor’s advice, but her first tutoring session with the student took an unexpected turn. They talked through the entire night and into the early morning about everything – everything except her psychology assignment. Before she left that night, the graduate student, Mark Sobell, asked her to marry him.

“It was very much a love-at-first-sight thing,” Sobell said. “I told him yes the next day.”

Sobell also changed her major to psychology soon after, and in both her career path and in love, she never looked back.

She went on to earn a master’s degree in social sciences and a Ph.D. in psychology, both from the University of California where her husband also completed his studies. Sobell is a licensed psychologist, and her work focuses on addictive behaviors, such as drinking, smoking and gambling. She and her husband direct NSU’s Guided Self-Change Clinic, a specialty program at the Psychological Services Center. The Sobells established this unique method of “motivational cognitive-behavioral treatment” in 1984 and implement it at the clinic to help students manage their addictions.

“At first, we used to see a lot of down and out folks and adult problem-drinkers,” Sobell said. “But now we see more young students who have binge-drinking problems who didn’t realize they had such a big problem.”

She said she also sees students setting and achieving goals for everything from improving bad sleep habits to reducing excessive Internet use, which are seldom considered unhealthy habits in a college setting.

Sobell is also associate director of clinical training at NSU’s Center for Psychological Studies and has written eight books on various topics in psychology. Her favorite publication is her most recent one: “Group Therapy with Substance Use Disorders: A Motivational Cognitive-Behavioral Approach.”

“It’s a more clinical, hands-on book telling people how to run groups, which are daunting because it’s not just one person you’re trying to help — it’s six or eight people, and you have to manage all the parts and personalities,” Sobell said. “I used to hate groups, but after writing the book, I love them.”

Sobell never intended to write so many books and publish more than 280 papers and articles; research and medical practice were her initial career goals.

She said, “I never wanted to be a writer, and I actually had to take extra English courses in college because my writing wasn’t very good.”

But after her first research article went through 36 revisions, she learned to embrace the editing process, and she enjoys the work leading up to the final product.

Because of her many achievements, Sobell was awarded the President’s Distinguished Professor Award of Excellence in 2014 for her significant contributions to research, scholarship and instruction. Some of her other awards include the Betty Ford Award, awards from Cambridge Hospital and Harvard Medical School and the Shepard Science Award for the most outstanding peer-reviewed research paper on prevention and control.

In addition to researching, writing, teaching and directing the clinic at NSU, Sobell and her husband do everything together, including playing racquetball, raising orchids and bonsai trees at home, taking gourmet cooking classes and spending time with their daughters.

Both of Sobell’s children work in the health industry; one is a pediatrician specializing in obesity, and the other works in public health promoting healthy eating. Because of this, she’s had the opportunity to work professionally with her daughters, who also happen to be her best friends.

Sobell and her husband have both been accused of being workaholics, but because she loves her chosen field, she doesn’t envision retirement any time soon.

“All these years haven’t felt like work,” Sobell said. “If it became work, I think I would stop.”


Photo Credit: Courtesy of L. Sobell