Q&A with Barbara Lampert

Barbara Lampert

Medical Director
Michael’s House

Barbara Lampert

Background & Credentials

Education: Undergraduate studies at American University in DC, then pre-med at Columbia and Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn. Completed an internship at Georgetown and a psych residency at UCLA.

Degrees/certifications/licenses: Board certified in psychiatry, a diplomate of the American Board of Addiction Medicine since 2011, trained in DBT and EMDR and certified in psychopharmacology.

Hometown: New York City

Question & Answer

What makes you passionate about treatment/recovery?

It’s so a part of who I am. Trying to explain it is like an eye trying to see itself, but I’ve always been very passionate as a psychiatrist. My desire to learn more, that’s how I got trained in all of these areas; treating addicts brought all of this together. I saw the trauma, the psychoanalysis, the social detachment, the sexual abuse that led to drug experimentation; and I saw the neuroscience of trauma, which I used to lecture about at UNM long before I did any work in addiction. I saw how the negative experiences affected brain evolution. So it all came together. How a person’s brain is taken over by heroin is the most astonishing thing I’ve ever tried to understand—the moral choices, the loss of values, the destruction of the soul. It’s such a soul-killer—addiction—so tragic, and yet these are brilliant, hysterically funny people. It’s unbelievable to see the courage. I’m very passionate about their courage and what they teach me.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

Being with the patients, sitting with the patients, hearing them and taking everything I’ve learned and saying, “What can I do that can really help here? What can I do in terms of exercise, literature, medicine, yoga?” I’ve had a lot of really amazing teachers in my life, and I draw on all of them. I really love teaching, too.

What would you say to families going through the process of treatment with a loved one?

What I tell parents is to keep breathing and that they need to have allies within rehab where their loved ones are. There needs to be an open dialogue. There also needs to be a lot of psychoeducation, a lot of compassion offered to these people, so they can get the help they need to understand this disease.

What’s your daily routine?

Every morning I hear about who’s coming in and what’s going on in the unit, then I start seeing patients, do psych evaluations, go to meetings, deal with programming, leadership issues and clinical meetings here on the unit for all the therapists—I’m a part of all that. I spend a lot of time with the team, meet with the other medical providers on a regular basis, and then it’s back to seeing patients. So it’s a mixture of collaboration with the team and seeing patients.

What do you do to stay energized during the day?

I start my day out with a lot of movement. I spend at least one hour at the gym or it really affects me throughout the day. I also try to get up and take a walk during the course of the day, and I enjoy sports and moving around.

What are your hobbies outside of work?

I love to travel. I play golf. I play with my dog as much as possible and take her up to Joshua Tree and hike. I also enjoy theater, art, good cuisine, cooking, going to hear good music. I love to read and even to write, but I don’t get to do it. I’m reading six books concurrently all the time, many of which I don’t finish.

If you could travel anywhere, where would it be?

I lived in Florence, Italy, before I started medical school in Brooklyn. I still orchestrate new adventures, and I’m studying Italian (again) and got to work with the recovery community in Manila last year and also recently practiced addiction psychiatry in Portland, Maine, and Santa Cruz, California. I would love to go to Sicily. I’d love to spend time in Asia and go to many other places I didn’t get to see.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only take three books, what would you choose?

Autobiography of a Yogi, which I’m reading for the 15-hundredth time. Then I would probably take something from my collection of Buddhist literature, and I would probably take an enormous work like the biography of Lincoln or The History of the World, one of those things I thought I’d always one day conquer.

How do you know when someone is “getting it” in the treatment/recovery process?

What I see humor come back—excitement, hopefulness. I see relief, and I see their desire to talk about what they’re experiencing. I see hope and a sparkle in the eye. They start to see a future. And there’s grief coming up, too—lots of that—but when people start getting healed from certain trauma, they can begin to imagine there’s a tomorrow, and that’s a huge thing.

What advice do you have for people who are entering treatment today?

I tell them the truth. It’s so important for them to know that and believe me. I tell patients that they have something treatable. I tell people that because they have so much hopelessness when they come in, and they don’t really believe that they can recover. The comorbidity is just terrible. I tell patients we know so much more now, and we’ve come so far. There are now treatments for what they have.

It’s treatable, but they need to get involved. I really encourage participation. I tell them, “It’s never going to be you sitting back and me giving you a pill. That’s never going to work.” People get so depressed when they don’t think they can get better—it’s a secondary depression. I can fan the flame of hope.

What advice do you have for people who are struggling to maintain their recovery?

We talk about medication-assisted therapies and everything that’s going on in the field right now. We want them to have the knowledge of what’s out there. So much is about, “How do I orchestrate a new life as a sober person?” It becomes a race against time. I tell them they are a work in progress, and I want them to be hooked into treatments when they leave.

How have you been inspired by people in recovery?

These patients have experiences that many of us will never fathom—the cost it took, what was stolen from them in their development—and they come back and want to get sober. They’re willing to go through this process to change, and that’s very inspiring to me.

Favorite quote or best advice you’ve ever received?

It goes back to my training at UCLA in the mid-‘80s. We were a group of 25 psych residents, and we were being given a lecture on perversion. The prof asked, “How many of you do not think that homosexuality is a perversion?” I raised my hand and only one or two other hands raised even though it had already been taken off the DSM as a mental illness. I called my supervisor Judd Mormer, who was instrumental in getting it removed, and I asked if he could come share his experience in relation to this question. He said, “What we know about homosexuality at this time is that homophobia is a treatable illness.” And the class erupted into applause.