When speaking to ADAA members Cindy Aaronson, Stan Arkow and Michelle Pievsky, you get the feeling you could be in their dining room one night, perhaps with an after-dinner coffee or tea, just enjoying the pleasure of their company. Even on a Zoom “work” call with them one evening past typical business hours – Michelle speaking from her living room in Connecticut and Stan and Cindy from their kitchen in New York City – you sense their close, warm, and engaging nature.
Their genuine enthusiasm resonates and the fact that you’re in the company, even virtually, of a successful psychiatrist, an accomplished social worker with a PhD, and an astute young doctor of psychology with a bright future ahead of her barely registers. Three doctors in the field of psychology and psychiatry just making you feel welcome. But they are an impressive trio and what is even more remarkable is that the three of them are mother, father and daughter. And lucky for ADAA, they are ardent supporters and members whose relationship with the organization, and to each other, is a benefit not just to us, but to the field of mental health in general.
Mom Leads the Way but Dad and Daughter Find their Footing
Stan and Michelle like to joke that Cindy was the “original” member from the clan, joining ADAA in 2004 and becoming what Stan admiringly calls a “bigshot” in the organization. Cindy, a doctoral level social worker affiliated with Mount Sinai in New York, who has held positions in research, clinical practice, and teaching, served on ADAA’s Board of Directors from 2013 to 2016 and co-chaired the 2020/21 annual conference.
“I pulled Stan in and then when Michelle was a student, we brought her in,” Cindy told ADAA. Nothing like family to make you do things you wanted to do anyway!
When it comes to joining ADAA and realizing the networking potential, Michelle credits her mother for that, but she also admits she saw the appeal in what the organization had to offer.
“It was all mom!” she said, “I’ve learned a lot from her. I was very nervous as a student to go up and introduce myself to people. I didn’t feel like I had anything to say or that I had educated questions to ask. But ADAA was a very welcoming environment, and I loved the interdisciplinary nature of it.”
As a child psychologist at Lifespan in Providence, Rhode Island, Michelle works in a specialty clinic for children with neurodevelopmental disorders and in pediatric primary care, serving in an integrated capacity and working with physicians and other medical professionals. ADAA’s focus on many disciplines was in line with her own interests and work. She said she liked ADAA’s well-rounded approach and becoming a member (in 2015) just made sense.
Stan, on the other hand, took a more circuitous path towards ADAA membership. He had been accompanying Cindy for years to ADAA conferences – after all they go places together, he noted – so it was just making it official when he became a member in late 2011. The private-practice psychiatrist with a long and distinguished career at Columbia University Medical Center, where he is currently the Medical Director of CPEP and Inpatient Psychiatry, said he loved attending the conferences but usually stayed in the background, not joining any committees or groups in particular.
“I attended other conferences that were not as warm or welcoming, especially for medical doctors,” he recounted. “When I got to ADAA, I felt accepted and wanted. I got to know the members, and everyone was welcoming and happy to see a physician there. Then I wanted to find a place where I could do something more for the organization that wasn’t just in respect to what Cindy was doing.”
Fortuitously for ADAA, Stan not only joined but became very active, as well as served as a co-leader, in the Alies Muskin Career Development Leadership Program (CDLP).
Fun Family Bond Filled with Meaning, and a Little Rebellion
It’s easy to see that Cindy, Stan and Michelle make up a loving and charming family. What also comes to mind when in their company is a quote from the writer Richard Bach: “The bond that links (your true) family is not one of blood but of respect and joy in each other’s life.”
Watching these three interact you are bound to realize the pride and appreciation they have for each other as family members and professionals. But the enjoyment they each get from the other just being in their life is almost contagious. Even when they are serious, it is obvious that they have an important connection that goes beyond the biological.
Michelle concedes that psychology wasn’t her first choice of study growing up. She thought she would be more interested in politics or theatre, and her parents never pushed her, but she enjoyed all the conversations she had with them over the years about their work, the logistics of being a clinician or medical provider and the field of mental health in general.
“We always had very open conversations about thoughts, feelings and behaviors that it seemed like a natural option for me,” Michelle said. “But I guess I was a little bit of a rebel – having a social worker for a mom and a psychiatrist for a dad – I went with psychologist!”
Three Doctors Walk into ADAA…
It’s no joke the value Cindy, Stan and Michelle see in being ADAA members. As much as we find them amiable and gracious, their sincere descriptions of ADAA as “welcoming, fun, inviting, special and fantastic” were especially appreciated.
“The online literature and information are amazing,” Stan told ADAA, “I don’t think many members are aware of all ADAA has to offer. I’ve heard about it and learned through Cindy, so I’ve grown with her. I don’t even take advantage of it as much as she or Michelle do, but there is so much.”
As a clinician, Cindy finds the ADAA website and resources a value not just to her work but her patients as well. She encourages her trainees and clients to use the ADAA resources and sign up for the public and professional newsletters.
“For my patients I really like the personal stories. They get enough information on the disorders, but I want them to see that there are other people who have what they have and have gotten better,” Cindy emphasized. “The more we have of those and the more easily they are available, that would be great. And the professionals need to know that they can recommend that to their patients.”
Michelle agrees with her mother that the resources are valuable, and she also recommends the website to the families she works with. In addition, Michelle takes advantage of ADAA webinars for her own learning and growing. She says the overall “webinar market” is saturated and it can be difficult to sort through all the options, but she praised ADAA’s resources and materials.
“I’ve attended a good suicidality presentation and I’ve watched videos on selective mutism,” said Michelle, “then through ADAA I met people who specialize in selective mutism and got additional support from them for some children I was working with who suffered from it.”
Their Belief in ADAA, and ADAA’s in Them
Michelle believes ADAA is uniquely poised, with its emphasis on research, clinical work, and a public-facing side, to do a lot for the current mental health crisis, and to do it quickly. With its ability to reach a wide audience, expand beyond traditional methods, and leverage its network to speed up research to implement care faster, she thinks ADAA can use new technology to help the mental health field move to more population methods of delivering care. Like her mother and father, she has a lot of good ideas. And for that we are proud and delighted to have this family of members in the ADAA community for a long time to come.