October 22, 2014

From the Editor

David SendlerHere we are with our annual Feel Good issue, and I’m just wondering about those who don’t always feel so good and the kind of help we can give them. My curiosity led me to Marlene Steinberg, M.D., a Naples psychiatrist.

Dr. Steinberg is actually here in Southwest Florida because of a fractured toe. This graduate of Albert Einstein School of Medicine and the Yale School of Medicine (and the author of The Stranger in the Mirror) was in private practice in Northampton, Mass., when she suffered her injury and couldn’t face an upcoming winter in open-toed shoes. She came down here to heal and loved it so much she decided to move her practice—and life—to sunny Naples.

Dr. Steinberg specializes in treating post-traumatic stress issues (family dysfunction, alcohol, accidents, childhood abuse and other traumas). We asked her to share some real-life cases showing how common problems can be helped. (Names and identifying details are made up to protect the patients’ privacy.)

Steve

Steve, 61, is married, a former CEO of an multinational company and came from out of state seeking help for worsening depression, anxiety and his increased drinking problem. He’d lived his whole life with a certain level of anxiety and muscle tension and coped by working harder and harder. He was retired now, but couldn’t relax or feel any joy. Just before seeing Dr. Steinberg, he began experiencing crippling body pain he thought might be fibromyalgia.

"We worked in therapy together three hours a day, four to five times a week for four weeks," says Dr. Steinberg. "It came out that, as a child, he had suffered frequent beatings from an alcoholic parent. He had never dealt with the sadness, anger, depression and helplessness he felt. It was so good for him to release his feelings and not believe that he had been bad in any way. His siblings joined us and helped by saying how helpless they had felt at the time and that they had always loved him."

A month later, he reported that the muscle tension and body pain had eased and that he was starting to socialize again. "My life is transformed," he said to Dr. Steinberg. And, it turns out, he had fallen in love with Naples and plans to buy a place here as a second home.
 

Barbara

Barbara, a Naples resident, is 45, married and has one child. She had been experiencing stress in her marriage and was drinking every night. She was going to Alcoholics Anonymous, but one month before seeing Dr. Steinberg she was convicted of driving under the influence. "She was disengaged from her husband and couldn’t communicate her feelings to him," says Dr. Steinberg. "I started her on an antidepressant, and we talked about ways to empower her so she’d feel confident in expressing her feelings. She did work up to telling her husband that she needed more support from him, more time together with him—he was working too many hours." He agreed to make some changes and, sure enough, the relationship improved. Barbara now reports she has been without alcohol for six months and feels the depression going away.

Debbie

Debbie, 45, married and a Naples resident, came to Dr. Steinberg with what she said had been diagnosed as a bipolar problem. She had mood swings, trouble concentrating and often felt her thoughts racing. She was on several medications and said they weren’t working.

"After taking a complete history, I felt she had a post-traumatic disorder and was not bipolar." says Dr. Steinberg. "We went for psychotherapy and less medication. We focused on stressful events and working to reduce painful childhood memories. We talked about distinguishing past experiences from her current non-traumatic life." After a year and a half, Debbie now reports she’s off most of her medications, is more alert and successful in a new job, and is far more active socially. For the first time, she says, she feels more in control of her emotions and her life.

The bottom line—and it’s one that fits right in with our Feel Good issue: "People," says Dr. Steinberg, "can get better and enjoy meaningful lives." Dr. Steinberg herself, after two years in Naples, says she’s thrilled to be living here. "There’s all the culture, no snow and cold, and it’s just a great place for talented people to enjoy a wonderful, relaxed lifestyle." That’s the feel-good spirit, and she’s got her fractured toe to thank for it.

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