LEAH KESSELMAN, PsyD
Leah leads Prana's New Mamas Support Group every Wednesday.
I grew up in the Boston area and attended college at Syracuse University. I moved to New York City after graduate school. Like many, I was a “pandemic mover” and found myself ready for a change of scenery, calling Westchester home.
My education and training...
After graduating from Syracuse University with a major in Psychology and Child and Family Studies, I attended the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology where I earned my Doctorate of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology. My graduate studies and professional endeavors have always included working with children and families. I’ve especially always been drawn to working with children, particularly the birth-to five population.
I have worked in a variety of settings, including schools, community mental health centers, hospitals, primary care pediatrics and the NICU. I have implemented and trained others in a nationally recognized screening and consultation model, providing enhanced mental health care in primary care pediatrics. Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of my work has been facilitating a group care program within an urban hospital setting.
The group care model incorporated routine well care and postpartum support for the mother-baby dyad for the first year of life. After the first cycle of the group completed, every mom requested to continue, describing how valuable it was to have the support of the of one another, while discussing the changes within themselves and with their babies. I always felt so grateful and appreciative, watching moms I had worked with provide guidance, support and camaraderie to one another. I’ve found nobody really “gets it” quite like someone else navigating the same life stages.
My experience as a psychologist in pediatric primary care had led me to pursue a deeper understanding of early childhood psychological development and maternal health, specifically the complex nature of early parent-child relationships. As such, I have sought out various specialized training opportunities, including a post-doctoral certificate in dyadic infant-parent psychotherapy through Columbia’s advanced training program, interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) for perinatal women, and advanced training
through Postpartum Support International. I also have specialized training in Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT, for children 2-7 years old) and Parent Child Interaction Therapy for Toddlers (PCIT-T). These interventions focus on teaching parents the skills to improve their child's emotional and behavioral functioning, reduce problematic behaviors, enhance their child's language, encourage young children to follow directions, and improve the parent-child relationship.
I’ve found that most of us parent based on our own life experiences. It’s kind of like building a house, and the “blueprint” might be your childhood home (or earliest experiences). Maybe in your childhood home, the bathroom was right when you walked in, and that made a lot of sense. Or maybe, it was all the way across the house and that didn’t feel like where it should be. Becoming a parent is an opportunity to build your own house. Perhaps you liked the way your home was, and you only want to make a few small adjustments. Or maybe, you’ve decided you want to tear down the memory of that childhood house and build an entirely new one. And possibly you haven’t even thought
of embarking on a new remodel. All are okay.
As a new mom myself, I remember feeling this strange shift that happened once my baby was born. For the duration of the pregnancy, the focus is on the mom-to-be and then suddenly, the dynamic changes: mom-to-be transitions instantly into motherhood. Given this experience, my approach to understanding families has shifted as well. Seeing caregivers with their new babies and experiencing that “newness” has been so humbling. I’ve found it doesn’t matter if it’s your first child, your second child, or your fifth child— it’s always new. A brand new parenting journey on which you are embarking. A
brand new addition to the house. And the more I worked with children, the more I have grown interested in understanding the pull to work with mothers, and families. Thus, I expanded my focus and training to include maternal mental health and working with the perinatal population.
I’ve also become very interested in all the ingredients that come together to create a family: the intersection of culture, language, background, internal and external experiences and relationships. All of these things influence how we parent and have a profound impact on our children and ourselves.
I love being a psychologist because...
I love being playful and creative. It’s important to remember we were all once children, too. Supporting parents and helping them understand what aspects of their childhood they bring to their parenting journey is both challenging and rewarding. It’s a privilege to help individuals think critically and deeply about their own internal experiences, relationships, histories and culture, and how these factors influence one another and lead to change and growth in their individual lives and as parents.
I truly appreciate each individual’s willingness to allow me to be a part of their journey. Parenting is exciting, vulnerable, challenging, and rewarding
My work style...
Collaborative, insight and action oriented. Incorporating elements from dynamic, cognitive-behavioral, strength-based and solution-focused modalities, my goals are always to address an individual’s needs and goals. Working with families is dynamic! I am constantly thinking aloud and critically with my clients. And, as a perinatal and infant mental health specialist, I am often toggling between the parent and child. Having the experience working dyadically is a delicate balance, AND this lens allows the relationship and family to be the client.
I’m also a strong proponent of “slowing down” and working deliberately to highlight moments of growth and change.
When I am not working, I am...
Spending time with family and friends. I love to get messy, do art projects, bake and cook. I enjoy exercising and moving my body. Nothing pumps me up more than a good throwback playlist and some heavy weights!