Rising Through Resilience: Dr. Ahron Friedberg Of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It’s interesting that you can define specific traits that help people become more resilient and develop them. These include: taking care (e.g., good nutrition, physical activity, proper sleep), determination and grit (it’s important to keep trying!) balanced by adaptability and flexibility, a good moral compass or belief system (doing the right thing helps strengthen you), insight and understanding (learn backward, live forward), good relationships with family and friends, realistic optimism (things will work out), gratitude and, finally, hope.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ahron Friedberg.

Dr. Ahron Friedberg, M.D. is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He is a practicing psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in Manhattan. His research been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals, including The Psychoanalytic Review, The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, Neuropsychoanalysis, and Psychodynamic Psychiatry. Dr. Friedberg’s writing focuses on the treatment of anxiety and trauma, clinical technique, and the concepts of resilience, consciousness, and desire in psychoanalysis. He has received numerous awards for excellence in writing, in addition to originality and scholarship.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I’ve been a psychiatrist in private practice for around 30 years. My background was in English literature and philosophy at Dartmouth College. The opportunity to work with words and ideas in healing ways along with medications and other techniques was appealing to me. I’ve been privileged to become a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai and to teach and supervise many talented young clinicians.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

As Director of the Park Avenue Center, I’ve been privileged with a career full of interesting stories — the ins and outs of people’s professional and personal lives. Since early 2020, I’ve been especially focused on helping people cope with issues related to the pandemic, and changes that it’s brought to many of our lives. One recent story, concerning leadership, involves a woman who lost her job in banking due to cutbacks. Rather than give up or get demoralized, she used it as an opportunity to start an online business in fashion, which she had always wanted to pursue. It has already become successful through her entrepreneurship and now employs numerous people. I thought it was neat that she was able to turn a crisis into an opportunity, nd use it to pursue a career she had always wanted for herself.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The Park Avenue Center has 3 components: leadership, mentorship, and health and wellness. It stands out for the individualized and tailored approach it takes to helping each person to do his or her best, and succeed at their career or in some endeavor. The model is one of psychologically-informed business consulting. Often, it’s negative thinking or conflicts within ourselves (some that we might not even be aware of) that hold us back. One attorney I was working with, kept tripping up his advancement at the firm because of competitive issues with his supervisors. Over time, we discussed how rather than seeing them in negatively competitive terms — as he had tended to see his relationship with his father, who was also an attorney — he came to view the work relationships with supervisors more in terms of their wanting to help him succeed. After all, his success at work benefitted them as well. Dealing with the psychology of clients often benefits them, both professionally and personally. So, the Park Avenue Center stands out in terms of how it applies personal psychology to business situations.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve had the good fortune to have excellent teachers and mentors along the way. Dr. Dennis Charney, President for Academic Affairs, at the Icahn School of Medicine, particularly helped me to come into my own professionally. He is a leader in the science of resilience and wrote a classic book on the subject. I was able to incorporate those principles first into my practice as a psychodynamic psychiatrist and then into my work with at the Park Avenue Center.

I first met him at a meeting at Mount Sinai over a decade ago. After speaking for a while about his work and contributions (he’s a research psychiatrist and a founding father of the field of resilience), he invited me to be part of his lab meetings and research group. I thought that was generous and openminded of him. I was grateful for the opportunity, and resilience became integral to my own work and writings.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It’s interesting that you can define specific traits that help people become more resilient and develop them. These include: taking care (e.g., good nutrition, physical activity, proper sleep), determination and grit (it’s important to keep trying!) balanced by adaptability and flexibility, a good moral compass or belief system (doing the right thing helps strengthen you), insight and understanding (learn backward, live forward), good relationships with family and friends, realistic optimism (things will work out), gratitude and, finally, hope.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

My father is a terrific example of resilience. During the pandemic, he had a serious fall and injured himself. He needed surgery and for awhile was unable to even walk. But he has a strong spirit, clear mind, and motivation to get better. I admire his determination and grit. The progress has been slow and incremental. But he is always realistically optimistic and hopeful — and grateful for our family and daily life. I’m always learning from his example.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

During the pandemic, I was told that it wouldn’t be possible to both treat patients — so many people needed help — and record my experiences at the same time. But I felt it was important to do so because, as a psychiatrist working through telepsychiatry, I had a unique window into people’s lives and suffering. So, I teamed up with my co-author Sandra Sherman, who is a brilliant writer, and we succeeded in publishing Through a Screen Darkly: Psychoanalytic Reflections During the Pandemic. It’s kind of a real-time time capsule of this most difficult period, which we’ve all lived through. I often felt tired from long days of trying to help people cope, and bolster their resilience. But together we made a contribution that’s been highly acclaimed and, hopefully, will help others learn from these challenging times.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

I was once rejected from a very traditional professional organization that I had worked hard to become part of. I realized afterward that the work I practiced was different from what they preached in terms of classical psychoanalysis. So, I tried to learn from their rejection, and use it to further examine and consider my own practices and approaches. This led me to integrate resilience work as well as cognitive behavioral approaches and psychopharmacology into my work as a psychodynamic psychiatrist.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

Well, my mother was fairly ambitious for me growing up. When I took up baseball, she decided I should be a pitcher. When we were getting my first mitt, she asked the salesman what arm the best pitchers threw with. He seemed a little befuddled, but explained that since most batters are right-handed, left-handed pitchers had some advantage. But I was a righty! So, I had to adapt and be flexible, and learn a new way of throwing. It wasn’t easy because, as studies have shown, children have difficulty doing major tasks with one hand when the other is dominant. But I persevered, even when some of my team-mates made fun at first. I knew it was important, not least to my self-esteem, so I overcame the challenge. I became a left-handed pitcher, and a pretty good one.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become ore resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Taking care: self-care is basic, especially during stressful times. Life is more of a marathon than a sprint. So, pace yourself. You don’t have to train as an Ironman. But getting in your steps each day with some sun and fresh air is health-promoting, and helps with endurance and going the distance.

Determination and flexibility: obviously determination is an important factor in resilience. It’s important to keep trying to do better. But people forget how being flexible and adaptable can make you stronger and enable you to make contributions. One doctor I was working with decided that he was feeling burned out because of emergency room work. He transitioned into primary care medicine. He found this strengthened his resolve to continue to help people and his commitment to practice medicine.

Mentorship: it’s very satisfying to help the next generation of people in your field, be it business, law, medicine or some other profession. It’s easy for forget that the younger generation has a lot to teach us. One example was a young psychiatrist who found a new application for a medication. Because he was less fixed in his mindset, he was able to see possibilities that the rest of us missed. This elevated the work of the whole group and opened up a new area of study. We then organized a multidisciplinary study group, which met regularly to discuss collaborative opportunities. So mentorship can go in both directions overtime.

Learning: one of the most important ways to become more resilient is to learn, both from your mistakes and your successes. You don’t have to go out of your way to make mistakes — they’re inevitable, and we all do — but you can learn invaluable lessons from them. One example was of an attorney who made a significant mistake and lost his job at a corporate law firm. But he owned his error and learned from it. He determined to be much more careful. When he was hired by his next firm, he was able to excel and eventually became a partner there.

Gratitude: it’s important to be grateful for opportunities, and your own successes. That allows you to make the most of them. I was very appreciative of the first book I wrote with Sandra Sherman, Two Minds in a Mirror: Psychotherapy and Personal Change. That shared accomplishment allowed us to undertake Through a Screen Darkly. Now we’re writing a book on leadership. Success is more satisfying when it’s shared with others. That kind of collaboration, and appreciation of it, helps you to be better and stronger in your endeavors, and more likely to succeed.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It’s always been an article of faith of mine to pursue peace. Human nature necessarily has conflict and strife in it. But we don’t have to live out those issues in negative ways in the world. During the pandemic, my children and family started a charity called Seeds for Change (seeds-for-change.org). The model is one of making small contributions that add up and grow into larger solutions. We hope it will bring about some good over time. Good deeds can grow in unexpected ways.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I admire the entrepreneurship of Elon Musk. He’s a visionary who puts foundations under his dreams. He’s terrific at building teams and having them work toward common and achievable goals. Musk is also very motivated and determined — and shows true grit.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Rising Through Resilience: Dr Ahron Friedberg Of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai On The Fiv was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Recommended Posts