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Meet Karen Wilson of West LA Neuropsychology

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Wilson.

Karen, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
When I was nine years old, I declared that I was going to be a doctor but by the time I was completing my undergraduate degree, my interest had shifted to an interest in the brain and behavior. To my delight, I found that that there was a subspecialty in psychology-neuropsychology. I took my first course in Brain and Behavior and never looked back! I went on to complete a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology and specialized in Neuropsychology. I initially completed a great deal of training in dementia and when completing my internship in Florida, I did a rotation in pediatrics and I realized, very quickly, that this was the area where I wanted to continue to work. I later went on to complete a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA and continued to see a lot of pediatric cases. When I was deciding my next move, one of my supervisors invited me to join her group practice and I worked with her for seven years, seeing primarily children. What I knew when I saw my first pediatric case became clearer, year after year – that the work that I do is incredibly important because it changes lives.

What started out as a career choice became my passion – to help kids and families understand why a child is struggling and then develop a plan that helps that child reach his/her full potential. The journey to that realization would not have occurred without a supportive family, fantastic teachers, professors, mentors and opportunities that gave me exposure to this important field.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It has been smooth in the sense that it has been a natural progression from completing a degree, training, working within a group practice and then branching out to private practice work in clinical neuropsychology with an emphasis on children and adolescents. The biggest struggle has probably been balancing work, which also includes teaching, research, mentoring and supervision of students and postdoctoral fellows, with family life and other interests. This continues to be my primary struggle and it became more pronounced when I got married and then had two children of my own! I used to work all the time and one day, my daughter looked at my open laptop and said, “Mommy, don’t work!” That was a turning point. I realized that I needed to be more present and protect their time, our family time. That’s not to say that I still don’t work on weekends.  When I need to finish up a report or prepare for a Monday morning lecture on a weekend, I do it at home; however, I don’t do assessments or meet with families on weekends. I also start work later, because I want to be able to drop both my kids off at school in the morning. So, I like to think that I am doing a better job of balancing – better, but I definitely have not perfected it. I have to work at it every day.

I think part of the struggle is my difficulty with saying “no” when people need help. When a student is looking for a faculty mentor because she wants to get into neuropsychology or when a frantic parent calls and tells me that her daughter is struggling in school, seems very depressed and she has no idea how to help her, my knee-jerk reaction is to say ‘yes, I can help’. I will help.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about West LA Neuropsychology – what should we know?
My business is West LA Neuropsychology. I conduct specialized assessments, neuropsychological evaluations, that assist with identifying neurological, psychological and/or neurodevelopmental factors that affect a child’s ability to succeed academically and socially. The evaluation provides a broad understanding of brain-behavior relationships, as they relate to daily functioning and the results provide a profile of a child’s strengths and weaknesses. The exam includes an assessment of intellectual development, attention, executive functions (e.g., planning, organization), language processing, learning and memory, motor skills, and social and emotional functioning. At the end of the process, I meet with families to review results, and I make recommendations for treatment planning; the verbal feedback and the written report I provide explain how difficulties identified relate to a child’s problems at school, home or with peers. I will also re-evaluate kids who have been assessed in the past to help evaluate the effectiveness of treatment interventions, assess progress over time, and assist with determining when new or alternative strategies need to be employed.

I am most proud of the fact that the work that I do can have a significant impact on a child’s life. It can result in an “aha” moment for many parents, who gain a better understanding of why their child has been struggling and experience relief that they now have a plan moving forward. I feel the most pride when I get calls from parents who are sending children I tested (when they were in elementary school) off to college or I get news that a child I worked with has now graduated from college!

I work very hard to make sure that the assessments I do are thorough, comprehensive and helpful to families and others who work with a child. I am always looking for ways to improve, and more recently that has come from collaborating and sharing information with other professionals who work with children and adolescents. I am in the process of developing a web platform that will foster collaboration between professionals, educate parents and provide them with access to professionals in the fields of child and adolescent mental health and educational support services. This “labor of love” is my way of reaching more families – for those families who cannot do a full evaluation, the site would provide information about issues related to neurodevelopment disorders, processing difficulties and social-emotional functioning in children and adolescents.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I have had GREAT mentors! There are many of them and I cannot name them all but, Dr. Alfonso Campbell (at Howard University), Dr. Jason Brandt (at Johns Hopkins Hospital), Drs. Duane Dede and Eileen Fennell (at the University of Florida Health Science Center) and Drs. Charlie Hinkin, Lorie Humphrey and Susan Bookheimer (at UCLA). All of these individuals were instrumental in shaping my career in neuropsychology.

My first and biggest cheerleaders have been my parents and over the past fourteen years my cheer-leading section has expanded to include my husband, who often gets the short end of the stick during my busy times, but who cheers me on, supports me, and encourages me to “go for it” when I want to try something new.

My inspiration for the work that I do – all the children and adolescents to struggle, yet persist, those kids who are screaming on the inside because they know that they are smart, want to learn and make friends, but experience difficulties that undermine their efforts. I continue to be inspired by the wonder of childhood, especially as I look at the world through the eyes of my own children.

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  1. Tracey Kenard

    March 8, 2018 at 23:09

    What a beautiful tribute featuring one BEAUTIFUL woman!!! I’m so proud and happy.

    • Joan`Iarussi

      March 11, 2018 at 19:39

      Awesome article! Wishing you much continued success as you change lives for the better!
      Joan Iarussi

      • Karen Wilson

        March 16, 2018 at 05:38

        Thank you Joan! All the best to you as well.

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