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Social Impact Authors: How & Why Erica Komisar Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

…I wrote these books to educate parents about child and adolescent brain development, which might be a mystery to many. I believe that prevention is the best intervention but realize that addressing mental health issues when they arise is also critical. My books help parents to raise resilient, emotionally secure, and mentally healthy children, adolescents and young adults through education, self-awareness and concrete tools to increase sensitivity and empathy towards children.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Komisar.

Erica Komisar, LCSW is a clinical social worker, psychoanalyst, and parent guidance expert who has been in private practice in New York City for over 30 years. As a psychological consultant, she brings parenting workshops to schools, clinics, corporations, and childcare settings. She is also a contributing editor for the Institute for Family Studies. She is a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News, The Washington Post and The Huffington Post.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

I read the Drama of the Gifted Child about parental narcissism and realized the issue was so prevalent in our society that it guided me towards work in this field, particularly toward treating parents and individuals who struggle with narcissism, and toward children raised by emotionally challenged parents.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I was asked to be a part of the Oxford University Debate Club in a discussion of toxic masculinity based on a Wall Street Journal piece I wrote. I asked them if they would reimburse me for my travel and a small honorarium which was normal for other engagements. They dropped me like a hot potato because I had no idea that it was culturally impolite and taboo in that culture to speak about money and particularly because it was such an honor they were bestowing upon me. I learned to inquire about cultural or institutional norms before naming my price.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

I wrote my first and second books to educate parents about the two most sensitive and critical periods of brain development, 0–3 and 9–25 (or adolescence). Parents have a vital role in helping to regulate their children’s emotions. This requires that parents are physically and emotionally present in those critical periods to be a secure base, but more importantly to process and regulate feelings. I wrote these books to educate parents about child and adolescent brain development, which might be a mystery to many. I believe that prevention is the best intervention but realize that addressing mental health issues when they arise is also critical. My books help parents to raise resilient, emotionally secure, and mentally healthy children, adolescents and young adults through education, self-awareness and concrete tools to increase sensitivity and empathy towards children.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

In my most recent book, Chicken Little the Sky Isn’t Falling: Raising Resilient Adolescents in the New Age of Anxiety, I tell the story of my own middle school years and how my experience of being bullied as an 8th grader increased my sensitivity and understanding of the struggles and adversities of adolescence. My parents, though imperfect, helped me a great deal to get through those painful years. If they had read my most recent book on raising adolescents, I believe they could have been even more helpful.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

My “aha” moment for writing both of my books was that I was always putting out fires with my patients and coming into many family conflicts late to the game. I became frustrated that as therapists we are so focused on healing families in crises but not focused enough on prevention and parent psycho-education. I felt that consulting for schools and seeing individual patients and families was not enough, so I decided to write books to reach a larger audience.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I see so many families in my practice. One family that is an example of my work would be parents who came to see me because their son was struggling socially, spending too much time alone in his room playing video games and smoking pot. The parents came to see me because they felt helpless to address their son’s social isolation and depression. Through our sessions, they learned to understand their son’s emotional and social issues without fear, defensiveness, or judgment. They learned to communicate with him on his terms and worked toward getting him the proper help he needed to address his depression and social anxiety. Through parent guidance and individual therapy for their son, his depression subsided over time and he learned to interact with his peers in a new way.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Government policies of paid maternity leave of at least one year in length so mothers may spend more time building emotional security and resilience to stress in their children is a start. In addition, advocating for more resources spent by the government on the prevention of mental health issues in children and adolescents such as increasing school social workers and increasing affordable outpatient mental health services for adolescents and families is critical. A little-known biological phenomenon called sleep phase delay means that adolescents produce melatonin later in the evening than adults and feel sleep pressure later. Parents often complain that their children go to sleep too late but have no idea that it is a real biological issue. Adolescents need to go to sleep later and wake up later. Sleep is critical to mental health so policies that promote later school start times are also important. Lastly, policies that encourage companies to offer more part-time and flexible work schedules for parents of young children and adolescents so they may be more available for their kids would be critical for the prevention of mental health issues in families.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is the ability to say the hard things that others are afraid to say. To address conflict head-on rather than avoid them to make sustainable changes to systems and cultural norms that are not working. Writing two books that are controversial but necessary to hold the mirror up to parents so they can become more self-aware and focus on their children’s emotional needs is my example.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. I wish someone had told me that you have to be on top of the marketing of your book and partner actively with your publisher rather than relying on them exclusively when I published my first book. I quickly understood but had I known in advance I would have prepared and expected less of my publisher and more of myself.
  2. I wish someone had told me that it is inevitable that you will be criticized and treated harshly on social media and that shouldn’t deter your journey of truth-telling.
  3. I wish someone had told me that all messages, no matter how truthful, are politicized. It wouldn’t have changed my presentation, but it would have helped me to better meet the challenges of people perverting my message.
  4. I wish someone had told me that pushing your message or agenda with those who cannot or will not listen is a waste of time. When a major newspaper would not cover my first book because it pushed buttons in some of the editors, I kept pushing with great frustration until The Wall Street Journal came knocking at my door and loved my message and I have been loyal to them ever since.
  5. I wish someone had told me that leadership can be lonely. It is worth it, but I am happy to have the support of my friends and family particularly when social media is unkind.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson I like to pass down to young therapists and those interested in the field of psychology is “do what you love, and success will follow you.” Worry less about what others think and more about finding meaningful work that is important to you. I remember when I chose to become a social worker as a route to becoming a psychoanalyst, many of my friends were going to get medical degrees and PhDs and I neither wanted to medicate away people’s pain nor did I want to do the research myself, although I admire others to research and use it in my writing. I wanted to help others through the most in-depth talk therapy I could and that was psychoanalytic training. I followed my drive toward what was purposeful to me, and it brought me to a magnificent place.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have breakfast with President Biden and First Lady Jill to help them understand the importance of prevention and treatment of mental health issues for children and adolescents to slow the ever-rising epidemic tide of mental illness in our country. I would also like to have breakfast with Kate Middleton in the UK, who has become an ambassador for the mental health of children, to help support her goals with research-based clinical experience.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can buy both of my books at book retailers and online. My first book, Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters, discusses the importance of ages 0–3 and of a mother’s or primary caregiver’s emotional and physical presence in this critical period of brain development. My newest book, Chicken Little the Sky Isn’t Falling: Raising Resilient Adolescents in the New Age of Anxiety, is a mental health guide for parents to become better informed, more self-aware, and more present for their adolescents to build resilience for the future. They can also sign up for my newsletter and follow me on Twitter @EricaKomisarCSW and Instagram @ericakomisar.

Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters: Komisar, Erica: 9780143109297: Amazon.com: Books

Chicken Little the Sky Isn’t Falling: Raising Resilient Adolescents in the New Age of Anxiety: Komisar, Erica: 9780757324000: Amazon.com: Books

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Authors: How & Why Erica Komisar Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.