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Featured Therapist Interview
Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco, Ph.D., received her B.A. in psychology from Yale University and her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Rutgers University, under the mentorship of Terry Wilson. She received her clinical training at the NYSPI/Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, Rutgers Eating Disorders Clinic, Rutgers Anxiety Disorders Clinic, and Montefiore Medical Center. Prior to starting her private practice, she served as the Director of Eating and Weight Disorders at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy and as an Assistant Director of the Rutgers Anxiety Disorders Clinic.
Currently, Dr. Dobrow DiMarco directs the North Jersey Center for Anxiety and Stress Management in Summit, NJ. Dr. Dobrow DiMarco treats adults with a variety of anxiety and mood disorders. Dr. Dobrow DiMarco has a sub-specialty in the treatment of mothers with parenthood-related anxiety. Dr. Dobrow DiMarco writes extensively about this topic, both for her own blog and for popular websites (Scary Mommy, PopSugar, Motherwell). She also maintains an active presence on Facebook and Twitter (@DrCBTMom).
First, we would like to know a little about your practice.
What are your personal strengths as a practitioner?
I try to present CBT concepts in a warm, accessible, humorous manner. We CBT therapists ask patients to do really difficult work. So I strive to help patients feel comfortable and validated and understood even as they are facing their greatest fears. I think humor is so critical in exposure therapy. Anxiety feels much less threatening when you can laugh at it a little bit.
What tips can you offer to colleagues just opening a practice?
Don’t get discouraged! It can take several years for a practice to really take off. It helps if you can define a specialty area, as opposed to telling people that you specialize in CBT more generally. When I started out, I was seeing “all-comers,” which was a mistake; I was getting overwhelmed by all of the different issues with which people presented and didn’t feel like I had the ability to keep myself informed about everything. It was also tough to market myself as a generalist. Once I started specializing in anxiety, and then sub-specializing in helping parents with anxiety, marketing myself and keeping up with the research became much more manageable.
How do you remind your patients of their strengths during the therapy process?
When I first meet new patients, I emphasize that they possess everything they need to successfully manage their anxiety. Yes, I’m teaching them the skills, but they are the ones who are using them in their everyday lives. I do a lot of cheerleading, particularly throughout the exposure process. I have patients keep records of their exposure experiences and frequently have them look back at those records, to remind them of their successes.
Are you involved in other types of professional activities in addition to your private practice?
I write about CBT for popular parenthood websites, such as Scary Mommy, Motherwell, and PopSugar. I also write for my own blog, drcbtmom.com, and post on Twitter (@drcbtmom.com) and on Facebook. I devote a substantial amount of time each week to writing. My focus is not on parenting, but on moms and dads themselves and how they can use CBT strategies to manage stress.
I also do a bi-weekly peer supervision group with Drs. Carrie Spindel Bashoff, Yvonne Hansen, and Erica Lander Miller, which has been an invaluable source of information and support for me. I give talks to neighborhood organizations about CBT for parenting-related anxiety. I have young children (ages 3 and 6) so it’s been hard in recent years to do much professional work that doesn’t directly involve my practice. I’m hoping that will change soon!
We would also like to know a little about you personally.
Who was your mentor?
Dr. Terry Wilson, at the Ph.D. program at Rutgers. The absolute best. I was tremendously fortunate to have a top-notch researcher like Terry as my mentor. Also, beneath his accomplished, academic façade, Terry is a lot of fun. He loves when his students play practical jokes on him. Just ask him.
My clinical mentor was Dr. Michael Petronko at the Rutgers Anxiety Disorders Clinic. An incredible clinician and teacher. Also a jokester with a ridiculous sense of humor.
When not practicing CBT, what do you do for fun?
I have two little boys, so I spend a lot of my time at pools and parks and bounce houses. My passion is singing and theater, something I hope to get back to someday…in the meantime, I talk to my patients a lot about Hamilton. I also love to travel with my husband…something I also hope to get back to someday! I love to read (contemporary fiction, mostly) and spend time with my extended family.
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?
I think the key is proving to clients that they have the tools to manage their own anxiety and mood issues. No CBT treatment, no matter how successful, is going to protect clients from future mood and anxiety episodes. What successful CBT does do is help clients learn to recognize early signs of anxiety or mood issues and to immediately apply strategies to nip them in the bud. Once people are confident that they can manage their anxiety/mood issues on their own, anxiety/mood symptoms become much less threatening to them.
Where do you see the field of the behavioral therapies going over the next 3-5 years?
I think Michelle Craske’s inhibitory learning approach to exposure is going to continue to change the way we perform exposure work. I also think we will continue to think more in transdiagnostic terms. As an anxiety specialist, I can’t tell you the number of people I treat who don’t fit neatly into one anxiety diagnosis, but rather have bits and pieces of many of them, and benefit from a transdiagnostic treatment approach. Finally, my hope is that we will stop seeing the different evidence-based treatments as separate entities, and rather recognize that a combination of different sorts of strategies can work for specific patients.
How do you use the local or social media to educate your community on the benefits of CBT?
As I mentioned above, I write about CBT for popular parenthood websites, such as Scary Mommy, Motherwell, and PopSugar. I also write for my own blog, drcbtmom.com, and post on Twitter (@drcbtmom.com) and on Facebook. I devote a substantial amount of my time each week to writing. My focus is not on parenting, but on moms and dads themselves and how they can use CBT strategies to manage stress.
Finally, we would like to know your opinions about ABCT.
How long have you been a member of ABCT?
Since 2003, my first year of graduate school at Rutgers.
How has ABCT helped you professionally?
Immeasurably! The ABCT conference, as well as the ABCT publications, keep me up to date on cutting-edge research findings, which I then apply in my practice. The ABCT conference is a terrific networking opportunity, a place to share ideas and build collaborative relationships with professionals all across the country. I often direct patients to the ABCT website, where they can read short descriptions of different diagnoses and treatments and see which self-help books are recommended. Also, a number of people have found my practice through the Find-A-Therapist service.
What services do you consider the most valuable from ABCT?
As I mentioned, the annual conference and ABCT publications are critical for keeping me up-to-date on research.
What service(s) are missing from ABCT in your role as a practitioner?
I get frustrated when the practice side of things gets short shrift at the ABCT conference. Don’t get me wrong, I benefit tremendously from all of the research presentations at the conference; they inform my practice. But as someone who was once on the research side and is now on the practice side, I’ve found that there are not as many panels/posters/etc that speak to issues we practitioners face on a daily basis (i.e. how to use social media, how to translate treatment protocols from the lab to the office). I hope that changes.