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Featured Therapist Interview
Doreen M. DiDomenico received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from St. John’s University, New York, in 1995. She has been with Project NSTM at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, since 1989 as a Behavior Specialist, and now as Assistant Director. She provides clinical supervision and continuing education to junior-level staff on the project, as well as to doctoral students training for careers in developmental disabilities. Dr. DiDomenico provides periodic behavior management workshops to professional staff members throughout the state of New Jersey. She serves as a behavioral consultant to several agencies providing residential, vocational, and early intervention services to individuals with developmental disabilities. Dr. DiDomenico regularly presents at professional conferences on issues pertaining to behavioral intervention and parent/professional collaboration in special needs settings. She has been a clinician with the Rutgers Anxiety Disorders Clinic since 1992, and now serves as Director of the Child and Adolescent Program. She is a former chair and current member of the ABCT Clinical Directory and Referral Issues Committee.
Congratulations on being ABCT’s Featured Therapist.
First, we would like to know a little about your practice.
When did you begin your practice?
I have been with Project: Natural Setting Therapeutic Management since 1988, when, during my pre-doctoral internship, I was required to do a rotation through NSTM to obtain exposure to the field of Developmental Disability. After completing the internship, I joined the NSTM team, first as a Behavior Specialist and now as Assistant Project Director. I have been with the Rutgers Anxiety Disorders Clinic since 1992, serving as a clinician and Director of the Child and Adolescent Program.
Do you have a specialty?
I have several.
– Behavioral and psychiatric issues in Developmental Disabilities. Our work at Project NSTM focuses on increasing the behavioral competence of family members and care providers to allow them to address behavioral/psychiatric problems that occur in the natural environment. NSTM has also been an innovator with regard to incorporating cognitive-behavioral treatment into our work with developmentally disabled individuals. The primary goals are to allow individuals with developmental disabilities to enjoy full community participation and to improve the quality of life for all involved.
My personal specialty in this area is parent/professional collaboration. After working in the field of Developmental Disabilities for several years, I had a baby girl of my own who suffered a birth injury, resulting in a developmental disability (mental retardation, seizure disorder, and autistic features). A strange thing happened on the way to my office; I became the very same parent with a developmentally challenged child as all those parents I had served before. What a difference a day makes, and, oh, how my perspective changed. When I began to experience life as a parent dealing with professionals, I gained valuable insights that, in turn, benefited my professional career. I have since developed a workshop (“Insights for Professionals on the Special Parent”) that I’ve presented at conferences and staff development trainings to share these insights in the service of improving parent/professional collaboration.
– Anxiety disorders. At the Rutgers Anxiety Disorders Clinic, we treat the full range of anxiety disorders, with a specialty in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in combat veterans. Although I personally work with clients of all ages, I do have a specialty in working with children suffering from anxiety.
What are your personal strengths as a practitioner?
I have found that I am able to readily put people at ease and help them quickly get past the anxiety that often comes with beginning treatment and facing their problems. I am able to get my young patients, along with their parents, to “buy into” the program and comply with the daunting challenges associated with this treatment, especially having a parent tolerate their child experiencing the stress associated with exposure-based treatment. With regard to treatment strategies, I prefer to be flexible and creative (while remaining within a cognitive-behavioral framework) and tailor the approach to the individual.
What is one method you use to promote your practice?
ABCT Clinical Directory (Find-A-Therapist)
Offering trainings and professional development workshops to target audiences, e.g., “Behavior Management in Community Settings,” “Recognizing Anxiety in Your Students”
What “tips” can you offer to colleagues just opening a practice?
As a member of ABCT’s Clinical Directory/Referral Issues committee, I would be remiss not to recommend that colleagues make full use of the Find-A-Therapist feature on the ABCT website, especially the Practice Particulars option. It is the first place I look when asked for a referral, and the “particulars” afford me much more information about the clinician and their practice.
What self-help books do you suggest to your clients?
Both Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life by McKay, Davis, and Fanning and The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne have very user-friendly explanations of mood and behavior problems as well as numerous exercises to utilize in helping yourself overcome these challenges. I find Tamar Chansky’s books (Freeing Your Child from Anxiety; Freeing Your Child from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) to be excellent resources for parents of anxious children.
What one book do you recommend as a “must read” to improve your practice?
Anyone who works with families of people with developmental disabilities should read Families, Professionals and Exceptionality: Positive Outcomes Through Partnership and Trust by Ann & Rud Turnbull, Elizabeth Erwin, and Leslie Soodak and Nobody’s Perfect: Living and Growing with Children Who Have Special Needs by Nancy Miller (meant for parents, but perfect for professionals to gain a better understanding of “special” families).
Are you involved in other types of professional activities in addition to your private practice?
- Consultation and training for families, teachers, direct support professionals
- Training and supervising doctoral students at Rutgers
- Annual continuing education with school nurses as part of the Johnson & Johnson School Nurse Training Program
- Professional conference presentations
- Staff developmental training
Next, we are interested in your continuing education activities.
How do you stay current with new research or advances in the field as applied to your practice?
The University of ABCT! My mentor Mike Petronko coined this name in his work with the organization to promote the continuing education benefits of the annual conference! There is no other place as valuable as the annual meeting to gain current knowledge, share your own work, and meet like-minded professionals.
We would also like to know a little about you personally.
Who was your mentor?
Michael Petronko, Ph.D., ABPP, FAIDD,FAClinP, Founder and Executive Director of Project: Natural Setting Therapeutic Management, whom I consider a pioneer in the field of developmental disabilities. Mike is also the Executive Director of the Rutgers Anxiety Disorders Clinic, wherein he has established a Readjustment Counseling Service for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and has trained hundreds of graduate students in cognitive-behavioral therapy.
What is the last book you read?
The Hour I First Believed, the latest from my favorite author, Wally Lamb. It’s a fictional account of a couple’s first-hand experience with the Columbine school shootings and the impact on their lives thereafter. The book provided an in-depth look at Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the widespread and long-lasting effects of trauma on not only the witness’ life, but on those surrounding him/her. Wally Lamb has also done work teaching writing classes to female inmates (whose stories inspired another book of his Couldn’t Keep it To Myself) and incorporated an inside look into a women’s correctional facility within this book among several sub-plots.
How do you avoid burn out?
It can be avoided? Seriously, I think that balance is important, so no one area of your life overwhelms the others. Being part of an agency and clinic allows me to seek consultation and supervision from wise and experienced colleagues so I never feel alone with professional challenges. I enjoy the diversity of performing different types of clinical work (psychotherapy, consultation, training, etc.) with different populations, and I think that this variety helps keep me fresh within my professional life. Spending time with my family reminds me of what’s most important in life.
When not practicing CBT, what do you do for fun?
I don’t know if I would label it fun, per se, but I’ve been serving in local political office for the past few years. I cut back a bit on my psychology activities four years ago to run for the office of county legislator (referred to as ‘Freeholder’ in NJ). I’ve found that my psychology training has served me very well in this capacity with regard to the ability to listen to my constituents and colleagues, to productively problem-solve issues, and to communicate my ideas effectively. I consider my work in government as another type of ‘helping profession,’ and it’s certainly been an interesting new path! The more ‘fun’ things would be anything I’m able to do with my husband and 10- and 17-year-old daughters: traveling, park outings, going to the theater, or watching my younger daughter perform in dance recitals or musical theater. I enjoy my volunteer work for a local organization that serves the developmentally disabled citizens in our community. ‘Free time’ is not an abundant commodity, but when I do get a little, I enjoy reading, puzzles, word games, and helping my husband indulge his favorite hobby, teaching classes on cooking skills and wine appreciation.
We are also interested in some of your views of CBT.
What do you think is the single most important thing CBT can do for your clients?
Empowerment! Probably the most debilitating aspect of most mental health issues is the feeling of helplessness and lack of control that individuals endure. I find that the beauty of CBT is giving people the ability to begin actively helping themselves. The self-esteem and mastery that this engenders cannot be underestimated in the recovery process.
How do you use the local media to educate your community on the benefits of cbt?
I was particularly involved with the local media after the events of 9/11, especially given our proximity in the New York metropolitan area. My colleagues and I were asked to do several interviews, both television and radio, concerning the impact of this tragedy on those directly involved and on the general public. Personally, my media contacts at that time were predominantly about the potential effects on children, i.e., how to identify atypical reactions and the importance of seeking CBT as a critical intervention.
Finally, we would like to know your opinions about ABCT.
How long have you been a member of ABCT?
About 12 years
How has ABCT helped you professionally? What services do you consider the most valuable from ABCT?
I honestly make use of all of ABCT’s services and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. As I said earlier, the annual conference is a terrific resource for learning, sharing ideas, and networking with colleagues. I look forward to receiving my periodicals and often assign readings to my staff as part of our continuing education. I belong to the ABCT List Serve and enjoy the exchange of information. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for ‘electronic peer supervision,’ in the ability to pose clinical challenges or inquiries and to receive responses from so many colleagues. Again, I can’t underestimate the importance of the online Clinical Directory in finding colleagues and making referrals. My only request of my colleagues is that they update their listings frequently and include as much geographical information as possible so we can find you!
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.