Throughout the decades that I have spent in the mental health field, but particularly since establishing a private practice in Westchester in 2003, there has been a great deal of diversity in my practice and in the people I have worked with. But there are three areas of specialty that I have developed over the years and have published on two of them. The common thread running through the three has to do with the welfare of children and youth, and related difficulties within “the system”, including the field of family law.
College Mental Health
For most teens, the college years are the first time they have separated from home and have to make decisions and choices on their own. Issues of concern include:
- Anxiety in social situations, difficulty talking in class and other forms of performance anxiety
- A habit of making comparisons with others who seem to have so many more advantages, talents, academic success, etc., resulting in loss of self-esteem
- Struggles around feeling intimidated by peers, teachers, deans
- Disturbing and sometimes overwhelming feelings of anxiety, panic states, fears, and phobias
- Prolonged sad or depressed mood that interferes with normal activities; sometimes these moods can become disabling, such as loss of interest in usual things, loss of appetite, loss of concentration, difficulty sleeping, social isolation
- Difficulty controlling emotions and behaviors that get them into trouble Inability to change patterns of procrastination, impasses in being able to make decisions
- Struggles to understand patterns in their social relationships, and to disengage from those that are dysfunctional or “toxic”
- Confusion around sexuality and/or earlier trauma
- Conflict having to straddle two different worlds with respect to poverty/wealth, race, culture, achievement, family values and expectations
- Worries about changes in the family, such as death or divorce
Consulting a psychotherapist usually clarifies the student’s concerns and goals for making changes and finding solutions, finding relief from symptoms, etc. It is a strength when the student can take advantage of professional help. In fact, consulting a therapist or being in treatment has become pretty much a routine part of campus life.
I was a psychotherapist for 35 yrs on the campus of Columbia University, treating both undergraduate and graduate students. I welcome both local students and those who may be home on leave of absence. I am always guided by what the student wants her/his treatment to accomplish for her/him. (See FAQ) I also specialize in evaluating students at high risk, such as being potentially a danger to themselves or others, and in assisting deans when they are concerned about a student’s welfare.
The Psychology of the Adopted Person
The adoption field has focused on the young adoptive family, primarily from the perspective of the adoptive parents while the needs of the adopted person throughout the life-cycle have been, for the most part, neglected. Without in any way minimizing the importance of the adoptive parents and the birthparents (“first parents”), I take the unique (for the adoption field) position that most fundamentally, adoption is first and foremost about the relinquished child who grows up, i.e., the adopted person (rather than “adoptee”) throughout life. Additionally, adoption overall is not primarily about adopted children and their families but, rather, includes the vast majority of adopted people who are adolescents and adults. This is when the full impact of being adopted is experienced.
Click here to download the paper entitled “Observations on the Unique Developmental and Treatment Complexities of Adopted Patients.”
High-Conflict Divorce and Child Custody Litigation
Within the last decade in matrimonial law, there have been rapid changes in developing options for conflict resolution that avoid protracted and bitter battle between divorcing adults. Three of these options are mediation, collaborative divorce*, and occasionally arbitration. If there are underage children in the family the decisions become much more complicated and most parents struggle to balance what they believe to be the needs of each child with their own needs and priorities. The period of ambiguity when there is so much uncertainty how the conflict will play out, and how all the pieces will fall into place, creates an enormous amount of anxiety for parents and children and, usually, their extended families as well.
Most people considering or planning divorce come to the task with a complicated and often painful mixture of feelings, memories, circumstances, and anxiety about the future. In addition to the normal stresses involved, these changes may also become associated subconsciously with earlier difficult life experiences, only complicating and delaying the person’s adjustment to the ending of the marriage.
For example, many people feel especially vulnerable around such concerns as
- separation and loss regarding important people in their lives
- anxiety relating to the impact of their own parents’ divorce
- the complex psychological meanings of money
- paralysis in making decisions
- stress from discovering a spouse’s ‘dark side’
- survival under adverse circumstances such as neglect or abuse in childhood
I have evolved my own model for working psychotherapeutically with adolescents and adults involved in custody litigation. I clarify from the beginning that I provide only psychotherapy and will not testify in court. I ask them to sign a contract to this effect and to give it to their lawyer. This is because – in my view – any threat to the confidentiality of the person’s treatment automatically changes and impairs the kind of treatment I practice.
However with my client’s consent, I can share information with the forensic evaluator and even with an attorney, for instance the Attorney for the Child, if I have serious concerns about the child they are representing. Also, if I am treating a parent, I let them know at the outset that the needs of the child, if I have reason to believe the child is at great risk, will become an active part of the work I do with the parent as we consider any actions that need to be taken on the child’s behalf. (This would be regardless of whether the circumstances meet the full criteria for mandated reporting.)
While my treatment of the litigating parent is interactive and focused, it also explores and integrates the earlier roots of the feelings and behaviors that have left them “stuck.” I work with litigating parents in both my Irvington and White Plains offices.
*Collaborative divorce is a form of divorce negotiation through which, as in mediation, the parties agree not to litigate. Rather than having one individual serving as mediator, the parties and their respective attorneys meet together to negotiate the terms of the divorce. Increasingly collaborative divorce is expanding into a team approach involving the attorneys, financial consultants, parenting coaches or coordinators, and child consultants (usually mental health professionals).