Background & Training
When I first started college, I thought I wanted to be an English teacher. After a year of introductory classes, I found myself immersed in courses specifically focusing on teaching methodology and for some reason I didn’t seem to be enjoying myself as much as I had anticipated. In the middle of a Language Arts Instructional Methods class where I was learning how to teach students to map a sentence (you know, identify the subject, the verb, adjectives and adverbs, etc.), I had a revelation that this was NOT what I wanted to do. What I really wanted to do was to let kids know that they could be okay, even when they were really feeling like things weren’t okay – and especially when things might have been really conflictual at home. This coincided with a guest lecture in my Intro to Psychology class where we were introduced to the idea of Primary Prevention – i.e., preventing problems from occurring by providing early intervention. I was hooked on the idea that by intervening early by improving family relationships and effective parenting, I could change the lives of children and families for the better. This stayed in the background of my mind as I switched my major to Psychology, and then decided to pursue my doctorate in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis on School Psychology and Behavioral Psychology. Upon obtaining my degree and my license to practice, I spent most of the next 15 years as a school psychologist providing behavior consultation to teachers, evaluation services for learning disabilities and emotional challenges interfering with learning, and training to teachers on how to maximize positive behavior in the classroom. This experience gave me a deep knowledge of the range of childhood emotional and behavioral challenges, disabilities, and diagnoses, along with an intimate understanding of how to help kids with these issues be more successful in school. It also gave me insight into how I could be even more helpful to children and families in the scope of opening a private practice.
A pivotal moment in my career came when I was in a school meeting with the parents of a 15 year old who had chased them into their bedroom the night before, threatening to kill them with a knife that he held in his hand. The child’s long-time therapist was at that meeting, and he told the parents that they needed to focus on getting down to the child’s level and interacting with him by playing games and giving him positive attention. This seemed very problematic to me, and advice like that seemed very likely one of the reasons these poor parents were stuck in this place of being afraid of their growing teenage boy. I decided then that I would pursue starting my own private practice, so that I could offer more effective parenting advice to families struggling with their kids’ behavior – hopefully much earlier than age 15!
Very soon after going into private practice, I realized that most parents thought that therapy for kids meant individual therapy in which they were not meant to be involved. I noticed that when I met with parents and gave them some tips on parenting, this usually resulted in immediate improvements in the behaviors for which they had sought therapy. It was clear to me that if I wanted to be effective, I would have to do better helping parents understand that their involvement was the most critical ingredient to behavior change. This is a very important prerequisite to the way in which my practice has evolved – it is essential for me to make sure that parents are aware that behavior therapy will almost always start with putting into place parenting practices that motivate kids to engage in positive behavior and use critical coping skills, as well as discipline approaches that effectively discourage negative behavior. Once those are in place, we can move to skills teaching with kids – if necessary. Most importantly, there is no cookie cutter approach, and I will tailor what we do together to address any behavioral challenge – and I’ve seen some doozies!
Doing such behaviorally-oriented work meant that I needed to ensure that I had the training and credentials to support saying that I specialize as a behavior therapist. This inspired me to complete the coursework and supervised practicum experience to meet the requirements for being a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst. Several years later, I decided to add treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to my specialty treatment areas, and I received additional training in Exposure and Response Prevention therapy. I continue to work with some adults and lots of kids who struggle with this challenging disorder, both in my private practice and with members of NOCD , a leading provider of state-of-the-art teletherapy for individuals with OCD. There are so many people who grapple with anxiety, especially children, and the children with the most challenging behavior tend to be those who are anxious. To ensure that I was meeting the needs of those children as best I could, I also completed the training and became certified as a Certified Child & Adolescent Anxiety Treatment Professional (CCATP-CA). I am always looking for new ways to expand my knowledge and expertise to make the world a better place for children and families!
On a more personal level, my expertise as a therapist and a school psychologist has been augmented by my personal experiences as a parent to two wonderful (and yes, sometimes challenging!) children. In fact, the points system that I often help parents customize for their family got its start one summer when I was faced with the prospect of being home, alone, with my two children who fought constantly. It made all the world of difference for me in the peacefulness of my home environment. With a lot of tweaking and lessons learned, I have helped many other families also benefit from this systematic way of encouraging positive behavior and discouraging negative behavior – building positive self-esteem and self-concept, and happy peaceful family relationships, along the way.
I find inspiration in the incredible beauty of the countryside, preferably seen on horse-back. It may surprise some to know that horses have a lot to teach us about how to make the right thing easy (or desirable), and the wrong thing hard (or less desirable)! This is the essence of how to make positive behavior change happen, and it is so reassuring to know that we don’t need to have kids who are motivated on their own to make these changes. As parents we have a great deal of influence – if we know how to use it with intention, and remain committed to staying positive about the wonderful potential of our children.