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Swedish psychologist got her start at UNF


Mistakes in the workplace usually result in consequences, but some mistakes have more dire consequences than others.           


In some cases, mistakes in judgment can result in consequences affecting an entire community, like prematurely releasing incarcerated criminals suffering from mental illness – or keeping them incarcerated too long.


Such is the risk faced by Karolina Christesson Ringby, a UNF-educated licensed psychologist who is responsible for evaluating the mental state and predicting the future behavior of patients at a forensic psychiatric clinic in Hassleholm, Sweden.


“I work with people who have committed crimes under the influence of a mental illness and have been sentenced to care,” Ringby said. “My responsibilities are conducting cognitive therapy with patients, doing psychological testing and managing a relapse prevention program for substance abusers.”


Ringby also serves as a mental-health resource for nurses and other personnel who care for patients — and she conducts risk assessments to determine the likelihood of future violence.


“There’s always an element of uncertainty and you can never be completely confident you’ve made the correct decision when it comes to predicting human behavior,” she said. Fortunately Ringby is part of a team of professionals who work together to conduct risk assessments, and it’s the court system that ultimately makes decisions about patients’ release.


“We always do assessments with a colleague and our work follows a standard procedure using an instrument for assessing the risk of future violence,” Ringby said. “And the court reviews the material we provide before releasing patients.”


Originally from Malmo, Sweden, Ringby and her husband, Per-Ole, moved to Jacksonville 15 years ago with their 6-year-old daughter, Emma. She began studying psychology at UNF purely by coincidence.


“We were a host family for another Swedish girl who came to study psychology at UNF and she stayed with us for a week,” she said. “She got me interested in the subject, so I took an Intro to Psychology course to see if it was something for me. I got completely hooked.”


Ringby spent the next four years working toward her B.A. in Psychology, participating in the Honors Program under the tutelage of her mentor and psychology professor, Dr. Susana Urbina.


“I have a reputation of being a very picky and tough professor because my profession requires it, so I don’t agree to work with just anyone,” Urbina said. “But Karolina was a very special and excellent student who I was honored to have working with me.”


Under Urbina’s guidance, Ringby completed her honors thesis, which the duo later presented at an American Psychiatric Association convention — quite an accomplishment for an undergrad.


Shortly after graduating from the University in May of 2000, Ringby and her family returned to Sweden, where she continued her education at Lund University and became a licensed psychologist.


“My education at UNF gave me a good theoretical base of psychological knowledge that has been of great value to me in my subsequent studies and career. My work with Dr. Urbina gave me hands-on experience and valuable knowledge for conducting research and writing my thesis in my academic career.”


What Ringby enjoys most about her job is the variety, working with both individuals and groups and performing various tasks. “I work with a diversified patient group and I like to think that I am not only helping the patients but also society,” she said. “The downside is the immense responsibility. It’s a challenging patient group and sometimes I’m drained of all energy. At times like that, it’s a blessing to have a family to hug and kiss.”


Ringby’s family now includes her 8-year-old son, Emil. Emma, now 21, is studying to become a veterinarian. They live just outside Malmo on a small farm with horses, hens, a goat, pig, dogs and cats.


Ringby will soon transfer to a clinic in Malmo to be closer to home. She also recently completed an advanced risk-assessment course and plans to earn a clinical degree in forensic psychiatry or neuropsychology, which will allow her to conduct more in-depth psychological testing.


Ringby said she’s never been the type of person who takes the easy path when given a choice. Since her days at the University, she’s always sought new challenges to keep her mind active.


“At UNF I learned that discipline, hard work, curiosity and the desire to learn could take me far,” Ringby said. “I think my time at UNF boosted my confidence and it was a receipt of what I could achieve if I set my mind to it.”