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Profile of the Week: Dr. Pilar Galiana Abal

By Bruna Pacheco
On January 17, 2020

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Pilar Galiana Abal

Dr. Pilar Galiana Abal is not your average psychology professor. She’s a badass. 


“I was born during a difficult political context. I always felt misunderstood in my own country. Because of my ethnic origins, when travelling outside my region, I used to be stereotyped. I often felt excluded. It was quite difficult to live with that reality. The good thing is that it opened my heart to cultural diversity,” said Dr. Galiana Abal. 

She was born in Basque Country, Spain. It’s right next to the French border which gave her a head start on speaking three languages: Spanish, French and “Euskara” (the Basque native language). As an adolescent, she moved to France where she started her first of many college degrees. 

Dr. Galiana Abal is the Lead Faculty for the Bachelor of Science in Applied Psychology, a new major that she brought in once she joined OU’s faculty two and a half years ago.

However, the Western European native did not jump straight into psychology. She studied a lot, experienced even more, and then decided that it was time to become a psychologist. Today, she has a Doctorate in anthropology and another doctorate in clinical psychology with two specializations in forensic psychology and neuropsychology. She also speaks nine languages fluently. 

After earning five Bachelors’ degrees in different Asian languages her passion for languages kept growing. The love for the culture led her to travel to Japan so she could learn more about the language. That was when the desire to become an anthropologist appeared. 

Pakistan was her next destination, where she spent nearly two years studying rituals, especially death rites and wedding rituals.

“I loved it! It was the most fascinating of cultures,” she said. 

Jo Ann Gibson-Lucas, the OU Graduate Assistant Coordinator is an admirer of her work.

“I wish I could see her brain into a microscope lighting up,” said Prof. Gibson-Lucas.

In 2001, politically speaking things became too much tense, in Pakistan. To continue her ethnographic studies, Dr. Galiana Abal switched to the closest culture possible going to the North of India (Rajasthan, Maharashtra). She spent seven years there doing ethnographic work and from that research came up questions of a clinical nature. 

Dr. Galiana Abal realized these questions were impossible to answer within the field of anthropology and she decided what she really needed to study was the human mind. 

“I started thinking what these rituals are doing to people, why people come for the healer in the village with a ‘possession case’—I put this between quotation marks because I’m not one of the people who believe in that kind of supernatural realities. But after all, wouldn’t they believe in it?” Dr. Galiana Abal said. “I asked myself: Is that a placebo? A cultural way to express the consequences of traumatic experiences? Is that really something that happens in the mind?” 

She not only got accepted into the psychology program with an international perspective but went for her PhD afterwards.

She calls herself a “compulsive, addicted student.” 

When asked how she got to OU, she recalls a few years ago when she was working as a forensic neuropsychologist in Paris. She met with her husband in a professional context and they realized they wanted to be together, but she did not choose marriage right away. 

“Because I am an independent woman, I was like, let's see if I can get a job in the US,” stated Dr. Galiana Abal.

She found a job in Texas A&M and taught Psychology for two years, something that she described as a fantastic opportunity. Soon after, she and her husband got married, which brought her to Kansas.

Nowadays, Dr. Galiana Abal still travels back and forth to France to continue doing her clinical work and her research projects.  

Prior to her arrival at OU, she had not entirely understood that OU was an athletic school. The day that she saw that nobody was wearing “normal” clothes, she confessed she thought it was the “cool” fashion in this town. 

She explained that arriving to OU was the first time for her that she had been at a school where people don’t necessarily choose for academic reasons, which she saw as a challenge. 

She then decided to work to engage students. 

“It was a challenge, but I somewhat like the discomfort of a challenge because it always renews you … it brings you new avenues of thinking,” she says. 

Not only she engaged students but grabbed colleagues’ attention as well. As Ryan Louis, the Lead Faculty and Associate Professor of Communication Studies calls her a “passionate, and dedicated dear colleague.”

“She did our first ground bag lunch which is a talk that faculty members give about the work that they are currently doing and hers was about some really intense and amazing studies. When she came in, to see her light up so much talking about these concepts that I never heard before, and to be able to communicate so effectively and so interestingly made me profoundly aware of her influence in her field and how great that is to have that here at Ottawa,” stated Prof. Louis.

She seems particularly passionate about her clinical classes because “she lives every second of that class” and has an extra level of enthusiasm and excitement. She also enjoys the classes with freshmen students. 

Dr. Galiana Abal certainly found a way to involve students, as sophomore Tiffany Iurato says, “She is like the Google of psychology.” 

Her favorite movie is “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam” (The Master’s Wife and the Servant) original from India; her favorite books are all Neurobiology books and Psychiatric Manuals; she loves classical music. 

As a fun fact, she won first place in two French dance competitions and dance auditions with her best friend Michel Javier Drada from Colombia. They even danced together for a music video.

Dr. Galiana Abal loves all animals and she owns two dogs and four cats. She calls herself a “not-so-crazy-cat-lady.” 

One of her dream places to go is Tahiti with her best friends. ”The exotic, most beautiful landscape in the world and the outstanding sea food and the company of her best friends makes the perfect combination,” said Dr. Galiana Abal.


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