Cynthia Arnold ’97
Taking a holistic view toward mental health
When Cynthia Arnold ’97 completed her residency in clinical psychology, people told her she couldn’t go straight from school into private practice, but she didn’t let that change her plans. “I do things other people don’t do,” she said. Arnold and her husband, Michael Fredericks, opened New Leaves Holistic Mental Healthcare Clinic in Beaverton, Oregon, in 2004.
Arnold, who graduated from Transylvania with majors in psychology and sociology, earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto, Calif. She completed her post-doctoral internship and residency at the Child Development and Rehabilitation Center at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon.
“I loved being trained in hospitals,” she said. “Because of that, I understand so much better about multi-disciplinary care, but in that model, you have to push people through the system.” And that, Arnold believes, inhibited her from giving the sort of care her patients deserved.
The New Leaves approach includes family, community, spiritual, and medical resources and is based on the idea that every person has the capacity for growth. Combining scientific research with a variety of modalities, Arnold looks at sleep, hygiene, and nutrition, and she’s likely to advise her patients to practice yoga. “I send people to naturopaths probably more often than to typical medical doctors,” she said, reflecting her preference for the use of natural substances in healing as opposed to medicines and drugs.
She explained that typical mental healthcare follows a medical model. In her practice, she respects both the psychological and medical models. “We’re far more clinical than most psychologists,” she said. “We don’t think of what we do as counseling—we want to be mental health surgeons. Our goal is to not see people, and the best way to do that is to give them tools.”
For this approach to work, the patient must be interested in his or her own well-being. “I’m not doing therapy to a person,” she said. “I hear people say, ‘Oh, I saw somebody for two years,’ and that gives me heart failure because that person wasn’t on the journey.”
Arnold sees the journey as discovering the correct environment for her patients. “We’re all different kinds of animals, and if you mess up one animal’s habitat, it gets anxious and depressed. That’s not a problem, it’s a warning sign that’s telling you your environment is wrong and you need to change it.”
The first step, Arnold said, is to learn through science what kind of animal you are. “Then we have to look at you holistically and say, all right, how do we make the best habitat possible for you to make your anxiety and sadness go away?”
Arnold’s views were influenced by one of her Transy teachers, Philip Points ’57, professor emeritus of religion. “He was directive without being stoic,” she said. “He wouldn’t allow you to get off topic by hiding behind some belief that you couldn’t back up. He really helped me look at an article and assess it.”
It’s an understanding she carries into her practice today as she considers potential treatments. “There are so many treatments out there, and some don’t work,” she said, “but I won’t discount anything that will make someone feel better.”
This holistic view isn’t the only difference between Arnold and typical psychologists. Most are trained to do either assessment or treatment, but Arnold stayed longer in school so that she could do both. “I can understand people a lot better through testing, but be a true human with them in treating the problem,” she said.
One of her specialties is working with autistic children, and when parents ask her about her approach, she answers, “I speak autism. It’s a language.”
Arnold’s interest in autism was sparked while she was a student at Transy. She volunteered to make calls during the alumni phonathon, and requested to be given a list of psychology alumni to call. “I asked them what they did when they were at Transy to get into grad school,” she said, “and one of them told me she had worked with this amazing mom with an autistic child, and I thought that sounded great. I ended up working with the same mom.”
The two became good friends and organized a non-profit in Lexington—Project Future Hope. “We filled auditoriums,” Arnold said, “teaching families about autism. There was no treatment for autism in Lexington, so families would get together and fly practitioners in.”
Arnold’s work with autism led her to work with children with behavior problems, as well. Because of her knowledge of cognitive and behavior disorders, she now works with the adoption community and volunteers for adoption organizations, teaching families about cognitive development.
Arnold, who also considers her job one of her primary hobbies, said, “I live my passion, and that’s what makes me successful. To be the pivotal person, to change someone’s life, makes me a better person and mom.”
Arnold and her husband have two sons, Knight, 2, and Talon, 5 months.