Get to know psychologist and associate professor Dr. Simon Rego.
There are so many approaches to treatment in psychology. Why did you decide to focus on cognitive behavioral therapy?
Good question! What made cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) so appealing to me is the fact that it has a great deal of research supporting its effectiveness in the treatment of so many different psychological disorders. It also “fits” nicely with people who like shorter-term, more here-and-now, skills-based approaches and in most cases can be easily combined with pharmacological (i.e., medication) treatments.
You specialize in so many interesting areas of psychology: panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias, depression, insomnia, and body focused repetitive behaviors. Is there something about treating PTSD that stands out from treating other illnesses?
I don’t think I am partial to any particular diagnosis. Each has a person behind the diagnosis who is suffering, and I derive great value and satisfaction in collaborating with people to help reduce their suffering and improve their quality of life. I suppose for PTSD patients, the real challenge is to have them come to terms that they cannot “erase” the memory of whatever happened – it is part of their story – but they can get to a place where the memory is no longer dictating how they should live their lives. And with CBT, this can be accomplished relatively quickly (e.g., 10-20 weekly sessions), even if the trauma(s) took place years ago.
Are you researching anything that you’d like to share with us?
At the moment, I am just putting the finishing touches on my first book, which will be published by Guilford Press and is a treatment planner for therapists who work with patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I am also in the midst of drafting my second book, which will be published by Hogrefe and is a treatment guide for therapists working with patients with Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia.
Why is it that some people suffer from PTSD from an event while others are totally unaffected by the very same event?
We think this is due to a combination of biological and psychological factors. It appears that certain individuals are biologically and psychologically predisposed to be more at-risk of developing PTSD after a traumatic event occurs, in part because of the way their brains work, in part because of their early learning experiences, and in part because of what they do (and don’t do) after the event. For example, those who avoid talking about the event and/or change their lives as a result of the event (e.g., stop working or socializing, etc.) tend to be more likely to develop PTSD.
As Director of Psychology Training and Director of the CBT Training Program at Montefiore Medical Center, you split your time between doing research and clinical work. What part of your work gives you the most satisfaction?
These days I do much more clinical work and training (i.e., teaching and supervising interns, residents, and fellows) than research. That combination works well for me, as in the end I find it very rewarding in helping patients to achieve change in their lives, and to train the next generation of psychiatrists and psychologists, so they can continue to disseminate CBT to those who need it.
Do you think that, in general, first responders are properly trained to handle the increased risk of PTSD in their jobs?
Unfortunately, not always, but I think it’s getting better as more and more data has emerged on the mental health risks associated with being a first responder. Often, the biggest hurdle is to help people recognize the signs and symptoms of the disorder and then overcome their hesitation to seek mental health treatment.
What motivates you on a day to day basis?
In a word: people. In my work, I am constantly motivated to help the people I work with learn something new – be it a student trying to learn about how to do CBT or a patient trying to learn a new way to think or act in order to achieve a better life – and feel energized when they start to get it. In my personal life, I really value the relationships I have with my family and friends and always feel recharged after spending quality time with them.
If you weren’t doing what you are doing, what would you like to do instead?
I can’t imagine doing anything other than I am doing! That being said, I’ve really developed an appreciation for fine dining as I’ve grown older and, at the moment, am particularly intrigued by the molecular gastronomy movement. So, I’ve always toyed with the idea of being an “uneducated” food critic (and in fact, registered the domain www.iatethere.com four years before Yelp was founded!).
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
That’s easy: the birth of my son (and with it, parenting/husbanding)!
What is your favorite past time?
I am a bit of a football (NFL) fanatic and can often be found on Sundays in front of the television cheering on my team (the Tennessee Titans) or better yet, zipping down to Nashville to catch a game live (I am a season ticket holder!). Did I mention I was a fanatic?! Fortunately, to counter-balance my couch potato tendencies, I also love to run (clears the mind) and have now completed 4 marathons (3 of which were last year!).