Hello Traverse City! There’s a new Child Psychologist in town!
Hello Traverse City! I’m Dr. Rebecca Swenson and I am a child psychologist. I am so excited to have recently opened my private practice at the Grand Traverse Commons. In this first blog post, I want to tell you a little bit about myself and why I decided to open a practice in the middle of a pandemic.
A Little About Myself
I am a Ph.D.-level Licensed Clinical Psychologist who works with children, adolescents, young adults, and their families, providing individual and family therapy. I provide evidence-based treatments for anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, and other emotional/behavioral health issues. I also have specialized training in pediatric psychology, and provide therapy to youth with co-occurring psychological and medical problems. This includes issues such as coping with chronic illness or medical procedures (think pill swallowing difficulty, needle phobia, or fear of an upcoming surgery). It also includes providing support to children with a loved one who has been affected by a serious illness. Additionally, I offer parent coaching for concerns ranging from promoting the social and emotional development of a new infant to decreasing your teen’s substance use. If there is anything you think I can help your family with, I encourage you to contact me and ask!
Why Did I Open My Practice Now, In the Middle of a Pandemic?
Fresh out of postdoc, I enjoyed a successful academic career as an Assistant Professor of Research in the Department of Psychiatry at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. I was the Principal Investigator of an NIH grant and had nearly 20 publications in peer-reviewed journals. I was really loving my research gig until… I had children. And then, like many new parents, my attention dramatically shifted, and I felt a great desire to be home with them. It could have been my husband’s job that kept him away 4-5 nights at a stretch every week and my resulting sleep deprivation, or it could have been those magical pregnancy hormones promoting intense bonding. Whatever it was, I never imagined it happening to me. After all, I was a highly-motivated, career woman who had already sacrificed too much to get where I was. Reducing my hours to part-time to increase my life-work balance didn’t help, I still felt like I was missing out on too much at home. Around this time an opportunity came along for my husband to take a 3-year contract in beautiful Hangzhou, China and – despite my serious misgivings about leaving my high-achieving job in academia (or perhaps in light of my sleep deprivation with 2 under 2) – we decided to give it a go and flew off to China.
For the next several years, I got to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, spending every day with my young children, living in China and learning a new language and culture, making a diverse group of international expat friends from too many countries to count, taking my kids for swimming and music and art lessons with their Chinese classmates, showing my children the world (Australia, Dubai, Cambodia, and Thailand to name a few places), and all-around having an amazing life experience. It was incredible and eye-opening for all of us, and I’ll never regret it. Of course, there was the question of what to do when it ended. Academia is notoriously unforgiving of mothers who take time off to raise their children, and I knew I would probably need to find a different type of job when I got home.
In 2019, the China contract over, we finally returned to raise our family in my birthplace (Traverse City). As soon as the dust of moving had settled, I began to consider returning to work. However, there were a few things standing in my way and – let’s be honest – opening a small-business as a sole proprietor is a little scary! The number one thing in my way, though, was a fairly major orthopedic surgery with a lengthy recovery period. I had this surgery in January of 2020… a great start to an amazing year!!! <sarcasm font> While recovering, I had a lot of “down time” to think about my future and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. My faculty position at Brown included an appointment as Staff Psychologist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Providing psychological evaluations and therapy to children and families had always been one of the more fulfilling and inspiring parts of my job there so I knew that if I returned to work, I would want to be a therapist. It was also during this time that the covid-19 pandemic broke out in America and I felt called back to my helping profession even more strongly.
Worldwide, we have been dealing with the covid-19 pandemic since it’s outbreak in December of 2019. On Friday the 13th of March 2020, our children were abruptly sent home from school for a long 6 months of isolation, uncertainty, and unprecedented parental stress. They were sent home to learn on laptops and iPads when some of them could barely read or write independently yet (my kindergartener), much less type. They were sent home to parents who were also trying to work from home while making sure their children attended lengthy Zoom sessions and completed all their assigned work, not to mention understood it (my second grader). I’m not going to lie – it was rough for many of us. But we powered through and made the best of it. We mastered Zoom, we discovered hidden talents for teaching arts and crafts (or PE or science experiments), we enjoyed eavesdropping on our children’s virtual class meetings, hearing all the funny comments from their classmates, admiring their teachers’ positive attitudes and patience. We attended Zoom drama classes and ballet. We gathered outdoors for nature hikes and spread out at the beach. We had groceries delivered and picked up take-out from our favorite restaurants. And we wore masks and social distanced and washed hands, and six months later most of our children were able to return to face-to-face school if they chose to. But with no vaccine available yet and colder temperatures driving families indoors, it was unclear how long that precious return to in-person school would last.
It was in this bleak climate that I decided, in earnest, to return to my profession as a child psychologist. Before the pandemic, every time I told someone what I use to do for work, I kept hearing how there was so much need for high-quality, expert mental health treatment for children in this little corner of Northern Michigan. And now, with covid-19, it became clear that need was even bigger and growing due to increased isolation and fear. For those children who have been attending virtual school since March 2020, they have been isolated from peers and positive social interactions for a really long time. They may be lonely and sad, or angry and uncertain. They may be developing unhealthy habits in the solitude of their bedrooms with little corrective social influence to balance them. For those who have been attending in-person school, there are fears of catching the virus and bringing it home. Worry and anxiety can take hold, and contagion fears like those seen in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can start to seem logical. And so, while I worked hard at my PT sessions to recover from my surgery and learn how to walk properly again, I found myself also renting office space, signing up for a telehealth platform, opening a business bank account, and making plans for safe childcare in the event that face-to-face school would need go online again. And, in September 2020 I opened my (virtual) doors.
I’m here, and I’m ready to help!
Traverse City, I cannot tell you how happy I am to be here. Opening my own private practice has been better than I ever imagined. Yes, starting a new business during a pandemic is scary… but it is also thrilling. Each time that phone rings or a new email inquiry pops up, I get as excited as a brand-new psychology intern (only with much better, more ingrained clinical skills). This work is my passion, and I’m really eager to share it. So, if you haven’t already, take a look through my About and Services pages. If you have a child, adolescent, or young adult in your life that needs support right now, please call. These are especially challenging times for children and families. Coronavirus doesn’t care about our kids’ hopes and dreams, or their social needs. It just wants to find a living host to reproduce in. Sadly, we continue to see it spread through our community despite many of our best efforts to mask up, wash up, and spread out. And, as predicted would happen when the weather got cold and we moved indoors (and brought coronavirus with us), things are beginning to shut down again. Most pertinent to parents and kids, Traverse City Area Public Schools are preparing to go fully virtual again tomorrow, Wednesday, November 18. I know there are a lot of mixed feelings about this, and – while I firmly believe that safety comes first – this ongoing pandemic continues to create stress and contribute to big emotions in our kids. So, if you find that your child or family needs more support during this extra difficult time, remember, I offer teletherapy (it’s awesome) and I am ready to help. You just need to contact me.