“I firmly believe that you must understand the whole body in order to understand the mind.”
What was your path to becoming a mental health professional?
As early as high school, I knew I wanted to be in the field of psychology or psychiatry. It started off when researching Freud’s first and only visit to America, which occurred in the city where I attended high school, Worcester, Massachusetts. At the time, he said he was delighted that even in “prudish America one could, at least in academic circles, treat everything that is regarded as improper in everyday life.” Indeed, that is one of the aspects of my job that I love the most. After completing my undergrad at Harvard, I worked at Children’s Hospital in Boston, coordinating research for the psychiatry department. I saw psychiatrists and therapists at different stages in their careers, which was when I decided to go back to Harvard for medical school – I wanted more tools in my repertoire to choose from. I firmly believe that you must understand the whole body in order to understand the mind. From there, I became both an inpatient and outpatient psychiatrist for adolescents. I found that I valued establishing long-term relationships with my clients, so I decided to start my own private practice.
What drew you to working with children and adolescents?
I was always very interested in emerging personality disorders, and how they often start during the adolescent period. Being able to intervene early and change an individual’s trajectory really appealed to me. I also think child psychiatry training is really good for any psychiatrist, because so much of what adults are doing has to do with behavioral patterns they established while growing up. It’s so important to understand that, but you don’t really get a lot of that training while working in a psychiatry residency for adults. When working in a child fellowship, you’re able to see the whole picture. Now I work primarily with individuals ranging from 11 to 40 years old, but I mostly see a lot of young adults in their 20s who are just trying to figure out the next steps of their life. That’s the group I enjoy working with the most.
How do you involve a young client’s family as you go about their treatment?
When people turn 18, they don’t magically become adults – particularly here in New York City. Their family is still very much in the picture, and you can’t ignore that. So I definitely take a nuanced approach. When working with teenagers, I really try to create some boundaries with their parents, because some of what they say is private and sacred and part of their growing up process. Other things, like when to start medication, will definitely need to include the involvement of their parents. In some cases, I prefer to have parents be present or on the call with the young person I’m working with. When they’re able to be there, fewer misunderstandings occur.
What role does collaboration play in your work?
My husband, Owen Muir, and Kyle McEvoy (both therapists and fellow Alma members) and I founded a group practice called Brooklyn Minds, in part because of our passion for interdisciplinary collaboration. That group has now grown to over 25 employees and we all have a very team-based approach. For example, I may see a client for medication management once a month, but they’ll also be seeing an individual therapist in our group twice a week. I might also see the same individual as a co-leader in one of our mentalization groups. As providers, we come together once a week for supervision, but we’re also constantly sharing perspectives during the day so I always know what’s going on with my patients, even if I don’t see them as often.
What advice would you give to a young person thinking about seeking therapy for the first time?
I often tell my patients that I’ve been seeing therapists myself since I was in residency, and I’ve found it very enriching. I think how much you get out if it depends on how much you put in. I’ve also seen a lot of individuals who spent years in therapy with someone they didn’t really click with or didn’t feel like it was going anywhere, so I think everyone should feel empowered to know when something isn’t the right fit for them. I’m a big advocate of taking the time to find the provider and the kind of therapy that’s best for you.
“Prospective clients should know that therapy can be incredibly rewarding for everyone, not just for people that are wrestling with some type of challenge.”
Carlene practices at Alma