The Benefit of Having a Psychologist Involved: An Interview with Amy Szarkowski
Dr. Amy Szarkowski is a psychologist in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. She is also on the faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Amy has a strong interest in the socio-emotional development of Deaf and hard of hearing children and the Quality of Life outcomes of children with cochlear implants. Since she first thought of becoming a psychologist as a pre-teen, Amy knew she wanted to focus on children.
“I was interested in being both a counselor and a teacher,” she says. “I thought that becoming a psychologist would allow me to do both. I love children and always imagined that I would work with young people and their families.”
Amy recently participated in the Cochlear Implant Journey seminar, where her multi-disciplinary background and international experience made her a logical fit for Ida. She answered questions for us via email.
How does psychology help audiology?
I believe that psychology compliments audiology well for several reasons.
With regard to counseling, having professionals who understand the specific challenges faced by Deaf and hard of hearing individuals in a hearing society can make it easier to engage in a therapeutic relationship and focus on core issues, rather than having the onus on the patient to explain to a clinician about their experiences. Sometimes the counseling is related to hearing status and its implications, yet often times it is not.
If a Deaf or hard of hearing child is struggling in school and this is reported to the audiologist, it might be assumed that something is not working properly with the child’s hearing aids, FM system, or cochlear implant. However, a child’s struggles might be related to their hearing status, but not the root cause of them. Having a comprehensive assessment of a child’s skills can allow families, teachers, and other professionals working with the child to have a stronger sense of the child’s strengths and areas of need.
What sorts of patients do you see?
About 5% of the children I see are hearing, but have Deaf families (in which case, ASL is often their first language), or children who communicate via non-verbal means. The vast majority of the patients I see, approximately 95%, are children who are Deaf or hard of hearing. They may be newborns who have just been identified as having reduced hearing, all the way through young deaf or hard of hearing adults in their college years. The patients I see use a range of technologies and communication modalities, yet have reduced hearing in common.
Do you involve parents and siblings in your sessions?
Because I see patients of various ages and for different reasons, I will sometimes include family members. When I am conducting an assessment looking at the development of a toddler, parents or caregivers would nearly always be in the room. If I am talking to a pre-adolescent about trying to “fit in” when one has a cochlear implant, then family members would not be included. Sometimes counseling sessions are family-oriented, because particular needs of the whole family need to be addressed. Other times, a child or young adult simply needs a place to explore his/her emotions, whether about their hearing status or other topics.
What challenges do you face in your role?
The term “psychologist” conjures up negative images for some people. If parents are told that they must see a psychologist, they sometimes worry they will be “psycho-analyzed.” I explain clearly to families what it is that I do in my roles.
When we explain that a psychological assessment includes measuring a child’s cognitive abilities and making recommendations for their school, or their Early Intervention providers, then families have an easier time appreciating the benefit of having a psychologist involved. In some cases, I might assist a child who is anxious about an upcoming surgery to learn strategies to help them feel more comfortable.
Tell us a little about your work outside of the hospital.
I attended Gallaudet University, in Washington, DC, where I earned a PhD in Clinical Psychology. Currently, I’m an adjunct at Gallaudet University, where I teach in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infants, Toddlers and Families: Collaboration and Leadership Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate Program as an instructor for online courses, and an adjunct professor at Tufts University, teaching courses on Deaf Culture in the Eliot Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development.
I worked in Japan for three years after completing my PhD, serving on the faculty at Miyazaki International College. I taught psychology to Japanese students, through English. There, I had the opportunity to travel to and work with Deaf and hard of hearing children in different countries, including Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand.