Dr. Lieberman, psychiatrist, 3-time Emmy honored and bestselling award author of the book, “Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror”, shares informative and interactive ways to help children feel safe in a time of dismay. From her years of working in New York during ghastly times, explains that medicine alone is not enough and how we need to help patients heal starting at the root of every problem.
Thank you so much for your time! I know you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what early experiences brought you to choosing a career in the medical profession?
When I was 8 years old, I read the story of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman physician in America, and it inspired me to become a physician myself. When I was a teenager, I read Sigmund Freud’s book, Interpretation of Dreams, and I was excited to connect with his ideas. As an only child, who was constantly trying to understand the minds of other children, Freud’s words gave me a more elegant way to put my early impressions into meaningful concepts. So, naturally, I then decided to become a psychiatrist. This aspect of medicine called to me more than any other.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you in your career as a doctor?
I went to Medical School at the Universite de Louvain in Belgium. Everything was in French: the classroom lectures, the books, the tests – oral and written. The school curriculum was 7 years: 5 1/2 years of classes, labs and clinics and 1 1/2 years as a rotating sub-intern. I did the sub-internship at a hospital in Connecticut, rotating through medicine, pediatrics, surgery and ob-gyn. Then I spent 1 year at the N.Y. Infirmary doing straight medicine. When I first entered the N.Y. Infirmary, what do you think was waiting for me in the lobby? A huge statue of Elizabeth Blackwell! It was as if the universe was telling me that all my hard work and my circuitous route was well worth it!
Next, I got my dream residency in psychiatry: NYU-Bellevue. The patients who came to Bellevue were the most interesting psychiatric patients in the world. They were the ones brought in by police or sent over from other N.Y. hospitals who didn’t think they had the wherewithal to treat them. It was fascinating! To top it off, in my last year of residency, I went to London to study with Anna Freud – coming full circle from my teenage ‘love affair’ with her dad. It made me feel like I was ‘dreaming’!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting out on your career? What lesson did you learn from that?
When I was first back from Belgium (and Paris where I lived the last 2 1/2 years and commuted to school), I was working as a sub-intern. I felt somewhat lost. I was now expected to take on responsibility for someone’s life. Yes, there was an intern and a resident who were supposed to supervise me, but they weren’t at the bedside when I had to make some important decisions. I’ll never forget walking into my first patient’s room, who I was supposed to do the admitting history and physical on, and wondering how I was going to pull this off myself, when the song “I Love Paris” came on the hospital’s streaming Muzak. I had to chuckle to myself, wondering whether this was a sign. Did I have too much fun enjoying Paris (and Europe in general) and not enough time studying? But, then I reminded myself that the Universite de Louvain was one tough school, I got good grades, and they would never have given me a diploma if they thought I would be an embarrassment.
To #DareToCare means to survive and thrive in today’s medical world. How do you take care of yourself? What’s the routine you must do to thrive every day?
To thrive every day, I try to get enough sleep, take vitamins and supplements, eat healthy food, and so on. But, most of all, I ride my horse and train for horse competitions. I have to admit, it’s hard to leave my computer and other work, when my to do list is only half done, but I give myself permission to go out in the fresh air, exercise and enjoy my horse.
I write a series of letters to my God-daughter in my latest book. In that same vein, what are 5 things you would tell your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to never give up on your dreams and to keep hanging on until you make your dreams a reality. I would also tell her that “A dream without a plan is just a wish.” This is a quote from Antoine de Saint Exupery’s Little Prince. I would tell her to take time to travel to a new country every year and to leave enough time and space in your life for love.
How can medical professionals reclaim heart-based healing amid pandemic, political, and other pressures?
Medical professionals were already under political and economic pressures, before the pandemic, where they were forced to spend too little time with their patients. The pandemic made this a lot worse. Even before the pandemic, psychiatrists surrendered to insurance companies and gave up doing psychotherapy with their patients, in order to do ‘med visits’. Med visits are 15-30 minute sessions, once every one to three months, where psychiatrists discuss symptoms and side effects – without delving into their patients’ backgrounds or childhood. Insurance companies figured out that they could save money by only paying family therapists, social workers, psychologists to do therapy and paying psychiatrists to do these brief med visits-instead of paying psychiatrists to do the longer therapy sessions, as well. I refuse to do med visits because patients need psychotherapy to get to the root of their problems. Medicine alone doesn’t cure anything.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your work as a healthcare professional? Can you explain?
All books by Sigmund Freud and his daughter, Anna Freud, are key to understanding the human heart and mind.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence in the healthcare community. If you could inspire other doctors and nurses to bring change to affect the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Said another way, what difference do you see needs to be made for our collective future?
To reclaim heart-based healing amid pandemic pressure, medical professionals can start by offering patients this anagram that I developed and have been campaigning about: H-E-A-L M-Y-S-E-L-F. Each letter provides daily steps for people to strengthen their immune system and stay mentally and physically healthy: Healthy nutritious food, Exercise, Aromatherapy, Laughter, Meditation or music, Your choice of vitamins and supplements, Sleep, Engage with friends and family, Limit intake of gloom and doom, Follow your passion.
How can people connect with you?
People can connect with me through social media, such as LinkedIn or through my websites: