Kim Dobson’s mindful focus
“Mindfulness is really about moment-to-moment awareness, without judgment.”
Kim Dobson has a calming, reassuring presence, seemingly just the right demeanor for her role as a psychiatrist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Women and Children’s Hospital, and assistant professor of psychiatry in UB’s Department of Psychiatry.
This engaging presence extends to her extensive experience as a yoga teacher and instructor of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses. Her latest MBSR program is a stress reduction course for health care professionals that will be offered on eight consecutive Monday evenings, beginning Jan. 23, in the Biomedical Education Building on the South Campus. Information or enrollment may be obtained by calling 716-898-4857, or contacting Dobson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Designed as a continuing medical education course, Dobson says the January course is basically the same program she first taught at UB in 2008, with some modifications based on an MBSR study released last January from Massachusetts General Hospital.
“What’s intriguing is the results of the study. The findings suggest that MBSR can actually alter brain structure. They’ve seen this cortical thickening in areas of your brain that are involved in memory and mood regulation and empathy,” she explains. “The research shows benefits with regard to neuroplasticity for participants—that there can actually be changes structurally in the brain in areas that are related to attention, memory, empathy and mood regulation.”
Dobson notes that MBSR has been well studied over the past 30 years, attracting the attention of many basic scientists. She first encountered MBSR when she became pregnant and learned of its usefulness in mindful parenting. She subsequently participated in a workshop for professionals led by MBSR developer Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine. Kabat-Zinn often is credited with bringing mindfulness to medicine.
The upcoming UB course is open to all health care providers who deal regularly with patients and are interested in a systematic, educational approach to the management of stress reduction and burnout. “All they need to bring is an open mind,” Dobson observes. “Mindfulness is really about moment-to-moment awareness, without judgment. The meditative practices are the process, but what you’re moving toward is a state of being. That’s not intended to be an esoteric, transcendental state of being. It’s just a state of alert awareness of your experience.”
Mind-body integration always has been of paramount interest to Dobson. She became a yoga practitioner in the mid-’90s after becoming an attending psychiatrist. “I found that yoga was powerful. It can help you to self-regulate,” she says. “To be alert to what you’re feeling and then using that alertness to tune into your own wisdom and utilize a sense of clarity.”
With no intention of teaching, she took an introductory yoga course and then began to use what she learned in small snippets in her clinical work. After a period of time when yoga and MBSR became accepted evidence-based clinical interventions, she began teaching yoga and meditation separately from her clinical work, as well as incorporating it into her clinical work.
Dobson taught a modified MBSR course that was yoga-based to adolescent males in a detention center. “It was meant to be experiential for the youth for them to see ways that they could access calm self-regulation that didn’t involve some of the more mal-adaptive attempts that they had made toward self-regulation outside of the facility,” she says. “I did a focus group and asked them if they heard of yoga. Their response initially was as if they thought I was going to put them in a pink tutu. They thought yoga was just for girls, but then we did some talking about sports figures who utilized mindfulness in yoga, including Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) and Kobe (Bryant) and lot of the Lakers players. We put together a program that felt more accessible. After the program concluded, one young man said that he didn’t think he could ever be that calm without getting high, which is exactly what I had hoped might have been part of the experience.”
Dobson also found martial arts to be another way of experiencing mind-body integration. “It was very much the yang of yoga practice,” she describes. Deciding to take a self-defense course after her home was burglarized, Dobson embraced the program to such a degree for reasons other than self-defense that she earned a first-degree black belt in tae kwon do. “For me, tae kwon do and yoga have a complementary yin/yang relationship.”
A native of Queens, N.Y., Dobson came to UB at age 17 and received her BA in biology in 1983 and MD in 1988. “I always had an interest in child psychiatry and once I was exposed to it, I found that it was right for me,” she says. She treats children ages 2 to 21, as well as adults. She also considers supervising child psychiatry residents to be very gratifying. “You get to see young people all the time who are fresh to the field and they bring that energy and excitement into wanting to learn,” she says.
Dobson lives in the city with her 7½-year-old daughter, Grace. Does her parental perspective play a role in her work? She smiles and nods. “You don’t have to be a parent to be a child psychiatrist, but even if you’re both, there’s always a lot to learn.”