Mishnah Berurah Tiferet
Regine Ashkenazie, a licensed family therapist, received her degree in social work. “I started out in social work because of this idealism that I had,” she says. “I wanted to make a positive impact on the world.” Regine was compelled by the social justice component – lobbying for equality, helping the poor, being a voice for populations that are underserved. As a graduate student at Columbia, she accomplished a lot of this work, interacting with the elderly as well as the teenagers of Washington Heights. Once she became pregnant with her first child, though, she found herself fascinated by family dynamics – how different elements could positively or negatively affect the unit.
She put her interest on hold as she raised her children – having five children in ten years – but she never felt that her training had gone to waste. “I was able to channel a lot of what I learned into raising my family,” she says. For a time, Regine chose to make her family her singular focus, but she always knew she would practice professionally one day. That faith in herself, regardless of time elapsed, is part of what makes her story different from those of other women we’ve interviewed. Rather than balancing schooling, careerism, and motherhood, Regine compartmentalized each in a way that left her feeling fulfilled. “If you’re raising your family while you’re working, it’s a real challenge,” she says, “but it’s also really hard to raise your kids first and work on your profession later. I don’t see the easy path.”
Because she’d been out of the field for so long, Regine had to find her way back slowly. “I took baby steps,” she relays. First, she immersed herself in a “refresher year” of sorts, where she enrolled in the Akerman Institute for the Family and received formal training and hands-on experience in family therapy. Equipped with the tools from this highly regarded program, she opened her own practice in her home and saw patients there for a few years. In September, she branched out yet again, starting work at the Gold Center for Mind Health and Wellness on the Upper East Side. Run by Jodie Gold, the Park Avenue center is a collaborative space where doctors, social workers, psychologists, and therapists consult on every case. Perhaps because of this camaraderie, Regine doesn’t feel overwhelmed by her patients’ plights – the burden of care is always diffused by a team of experienced professionals.
At the Gold Center, Regine conducts individual therapy, couples therapy, and psychotherapy. She’s trained in CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – and often implements its principles during sessions. CBT asks that a person face both the situation and his reaction to it to determine where his problem is coming from, and what can be done to cope with it. Always, Regine seeks to instill skills in the patients she sees, coping mechanisms that will allow them to become independent in dealing with life’s challenges. Her driving question to those who visit her office is: “What can you do to help yourself?” Together, Regine and the patient devise action plans, mindfulness routines, acceptance mantras, and healthy thought processes. She helps her patients tap in to the positive aspects of their lives, acknowledge what is working and utilize their strengths. On the flip side, she teaches them to recognize pre-escalation - the moments before a mental hot spot is triggered and a breakdown occurs. These techniques are effective for all sorts of people –couples experiencing marital problems, families dealing with a “problem child,” and individuals experiencing anxiety, depression or indecision. Regine advises them all – usually with satisfying results. ”Individuals come into therapy when they’re falling apart – not functioning on an optimal level,” Regine says.“But slowly there’s this upward arc. They’ll start coming in every other week. Or they’ll come in with less and less to unpack. And that’s not surprising because the goal is for them to do these things are their own. “
Family therapy sessions often prove interesting – with clients coming into discuss one problem and quickly uncovering others. “For many people it’s a lot easier to admit that their child has a problem and come in to talk. They don’t like to focus on themselves,” Regine says. But many times, this is only one aspect of a larger unburdening. The momentum spirals outward, from the child to the parents, to the family, until every cog in revealed and addressed. Regine encourages patients to recognize their own distorted thinking, or to spot cycles that take on a pattern.“Many couples have the same fight over and over again,” she says. “What’s the circle? If we can disrupt the circle at any point, it’s no longer a circle.”
Currently, Regine sees patients at the Gold Center two days a week from 10-3 and at her home in Brooklyn on Wednesdays and some Fridays. Though her children are all school-age now, she’s still raising them, and each one is at a different stage. “My youngest is four so he’s not fully independent yet; there’s still a push and pull,” she says. “I try to work only during school hours, but sometimes it extends as I get busy. Still, I’m very conscious of compartmentalizing work and home.” For Regine, working with troubled individuals on a weekly basis has put her home life in perspective. “When you see what people are facing, it makes you much more appreciative,” she says. “Things that you thought were big things become small things.”
Regine guides her patients through this very tactic – distilling a problem to its essence so that it becomes manageable enough to cope with – but she never downplays what another person is going through. “So much of mental health is genetic,” she says. Internal and preprogrammed, sometimes the issue goes beyond her scope of expertise. In that case, she’ll suggest seeking pharmacology or scheduling sessions with a psychologist. Ultimately, Regine combines knowledge, empathy, and professionalism to determine the best course of action. And when she does see her patients served well by her efforts, it is so, so rewarding.
Regine has this advice for mothers who would like to be career women. “Be kind to yourself. Recognize that there is no one answer, no right way to do this. Try to think about what makes sense, what fits into your life. Figure out what’s important to you – in terms of your career, mothering, and family life – and delegate those parts that are not important to you. This needs to be a very conscious decision, or you’re end up resenting your work or resenting your family.” Regine gently suggests that people be honest with themselves rather than burying or deferring their dreams. Though it may be tempting to simply live through our children, we need to recognize that they are entirely separate from us -- and that’s a good thing.
“What do you need to be a successful wife and mother?” Regine asks. “Some people are super-content being at home with their children, and some people feel professional accomplishment is very important. There’s no judgment either way.” However you find fulfillment and happiness – whether it is inside the home or outside of it – the important thing is to pursue it.