Laurie Leventhal-Belfer is founder and director of The Friends Program, a therapeutic group program for high functioning young children – adolescents on the autism spectrum. She also has a private practice and is adjunct assistant clinical professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, Division of Child Psychiatry.
Leventhal-Belfer’s experience with high-functioning children on the autism spectrum has expanded her interest in their families, adults with these characteristics and what it is like for partners of men with Asperger’s. Leventhal-Belfer also enjoys working with children with anxiety disorders, medical issues and coping with the stresses experienced by children and adolescents today.
Leventhal-Belfer holds a doctorate degree from UC Berkeley, a master’s from University of Chicago and a bachelor’s Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University. Her honors thesis was presented on “The Role of the Hospital Playroom as a Diagnostic Setting.”
What are the scope and responsibilities of your current role?
“I hire and train colleagues and practicum graduate students who work in my program for one to two years. I am the primary therapist for the parents’ group that takes place at the same time as the children’s group. Parents must attend the group. I teach courses on HFA/ Asperger’s to mental health providers, graduate students and psychiatry residents and supervise Child Psychiatry Fellows. In my private practice, I see a wide range of clients from preschoolers to adults, couples and families.”
What is your favorite part of your daily duties?
“[My favorite part of my day is] providing a safe and supportive setting in which parents are able to feel comfortable to talk about the challenges that they are experiencing, provide support to a fellow parent and ask about new treatment and research models that are seen in the daily press. It is also a place where visiting grandparents are welcomed and supported. I also love working on a clinical team which not only sheds insight about a case but provides a priceless source of support for each other.”
Do you feel your education prepared you for your current role?
“Attending a private high school where I had the opportunity to develop a close relationship with my professors had a lasting influence on me. I explored the development of the city, socio-economic inequality and the arts. In college, I created my own major and independent studies; but most important was the opportunity I had to work in Boston Children’s Hospital and the Judge Baker Center. In the 70s, I listened to pediatric oncology patients who knew they were going to die, but their parents forbid their doctors or nurses to talk with them about it.”
Do you have any advice for people who desire to pursue a similar career?
“My advice is to be flexible in terms of what your areas of interest are and go out of your way to find clinicians and supportive researchers who are studying an area of interest and show interest in your work and personal goals.”
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