Specific experiences in the suburban Detroit neighborhood where I grew up fostered an interest in understanding what makes each of us travel the path that we travel. I wondered how some became disenchanted and perceived life as an unending chain of events from which they suffered, and how others seemed to grow from life’s adversity. I wondered what human strengths promoted a life of authentic happiness, and whether there was a way to nurture those strengths in myself and in others.
As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, I sought experiences for research; the first was a chart review to gather data to support the assertion that panic disorder can exist in children; this is something that is now widely accepted. Later, my interest in research and a work-study award fortuitously collided, and I began mapping dopamine receptors in the brain; I participated in the collection of scientific information that contributed to our understanding of brain development and psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and ADHD.
My interest in child and adolescent psychiatry was fortified by clinical rotations in medical school at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. There I identified patients whose unrecognized psychiatric illnesses affected the health problems for which they sought treatment. The challenge of providing care and advocacy for patients who were stigmatized for their medical illnesses, and helping them to maximize their quality of life despite medically and socially imposed restrictions made psychiatry especially appealing. Pediatrics was also extremely rewarding, where I particularly enjoyed seeing developmentally delayed children at their school and working with children and their families at a chronic illness clinic.
My training in general psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine gave me a broad base of expertise in brain development, psychotherapy, and neuropsychopharmacology. I also learned about the link between affective states and brain changes, and I continue to seek ways to integrate the principles of psychodynamics and neurodevelopment, which I have accomplished through my work with children and families as a psychiatrist.
I completed my child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at the University of Chicago where I worked with adolescents struggling with their identity formation, and I helped them navigate the developmental task of separation from their parents in a safe and healthy to would allow them to develop their own identity as individuals. While at the University of Chicago, I had the unique opportunity to provide intensive psychotherapy to children in a residential facility, up to 3 hours weekly. I am indebted to the parents who trusted me there, who taught me how to explain my thinking and interventions, who provided me with feedback both positive and negative about the things that I said to them, and who taught me about how frightening it can be when one loves one’s child greatly and finds it necessary to place them in a residential setting. I am also indebted to the children that I worked with there, especially J, who taught me so very much and who I remain in contact with to this day. It was such a privilege to be a part of his life, and to learn through doing therapy with him about focusing on a child’s strengths to overcome his vulnerabilities.
Practicing child and adolescent psychiatry has been an incredibly enriching profession for me, and my own parenting and life experiences have provided me with a valuable perspective, and a keen sense of empathy and compassion when working with children, families, and young parents. I worked in the reproductive psychiatry clinic during my residency, where I began to work with a number of young women and new mothers. Some of the new mothers I worked with were experiencing post partum depression or anxiety. Others were ambivalent about their new role of mother as they struggled with the increased demands and responsibilities, or as they reflected on how their own parenting compared to the parenting of their own mothers. I have continued my work in reproductive psychiatry, trying to bring education and awareness to other physicians, and to assist the women I work with to manage Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (a severe form of PMS), and mental health issues related to pregnancy and postpartum.
I was fortunate to grow up in a place where girls were able to register to play soccer, and I grew up playing and loving the sport. I now have a keen interest in helping athletes at all levels of competition develop their strengths and skills, maintain balance between the demands of their sport and the rest of their lives, and train in way that facilitates lifelong health and activity. Since I’ve witnessed the effects of overtraining, or training inappropriately, I am now active with the female athlete triad coalition in this regard. I am also a member of the International Society of Sports Psychiatry, and I see athletes, teams, coaches and parents.
I remain very aware of how the social, political, and cultural climate impact the development, implementation, and success of new policies and programs at the local, state and national levels. So, I have become locally active within the county where I reside. I am involved at the state level with the Wisconsin Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry as a delegate to the national assembly for AACAP (the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry). For the past 4 years, my family and I have traveled to Washington DC for AACAP’s mental health advocacy day, to lobby for better health legislation. I am a member of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL) and provide forensic psychiatry consultation for civil, juvenile and criminal, and family law cases. At the national level, I am a chair of the AACAP’s Member Credentials Committee, I work with the AACAP’s Committee on Child Abuse, the Committee on Media, and the Juvenile Justice Committee. I am active with the Rights and Legal Matters Committee, Rural Psychiatry Committee, Media Committee, and Telepsychiatry Committee, and I was Founding Chair of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Committee.
It amazes me how a few decisions can significantly alter the course of our lives. I am increasingly aware of how awareness of our own human strengths can empower us to identify the many opportunities and paths that each of us finds ourselves on. I remain committed to nurturing those strengths, both within myself, and within the people whose life stories I am fortunate enough to be a part of, whether as a parent, in my profession of child and adolescent psychiatry, or as any of the many other identities that make me who I am.