Helping People Face Their Fears


Shreya Hessler, Licensed Psychologist, Bel Air

July 12, 2009|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to The Sun

Age: 34

Salary: $120 per hour

Years on job: Two

How she got started: : After attending the University of Maryland, College Park for an undergraduate degree in psychology and a graduate degree in human development with a specialization in early childhood development, Shreya Hessler went on to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology from Loyola College in Maryland. She completed her fellowship, specializing in pediatric psychology, at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins Hospital by working with children who had chronic illnesses and behavioral disorders.

She often had difficulty finding private practitioners to whom she could refer her patients and families. This prompted her to move into private practice. After working at an existing practice in Annapolis for two years, she started her own two years ago.

Typical day: : Hessler's work as a psychologist is split between therapy sessions, school visits, psychological testing and teaching.

"My days really, really vary, and that's what I love about my job," she said.

Although she specializes in treating anxiety disorders, including phobias, she also sees patients with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression.

She has a caseload of about 30 patients each week and works mostly with children.

She uses cognitive behavioral therapy, which includes teaching skills that will help patients overcome their fears. She likens this technique to giving her patients an imaginary tool belt, where each week she supplies them with a different tool to try out. By the time they leave, their belts are full of tools they can use to help themselves.

She often sees patients on a weekly basis, with the idea that they'll eventually move to every other week and slowly be weaned from therapy.

School visits include observing her patients in a classroom setting. Afterward, she might meet with teachers and administrators to address any needs on behalf of her patients. She also will sit in on individualized education plans, provided to children with documented disabilities. Here, she'll help advocate on the family's behalf for any special needs that will help her patient succeed in school.

For her ADHD patients, she'll work on strategies to increase their focus.

About once a week, Hessler works with a partner at Ed-Psych Solutions, performing private educational evaluations for students having difficulty in school. She also supervises doctoral students at Loyola's clinical centers one day a week.

Phobias: : Off-site visits are common when working with patients who experience phobias. Recently, Hessler successfully walked a patient with a fear of flying through the process of boarding a plane at BWI Marshall Airport.

When to seek help: : Fears are normal, Hessler said. But when the fear takes over, that's the sign to seek a professional.

The good: : Watching kids reach autonomy. "Seeing kids feel like they can do it makes a profound difference," Hessler said. "That's what I work for."

The bad: : "Seeing kids in pain," Hessler said. "Sometimes we don't have the answers to everything."

Philosophy on the job: : "I believe my patients and I believe in them. And I believe in their potential."

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