CHOC wants its patients and families to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Micaela Thordarson, lead psychologist, ASPIRE® (After School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education) Intensive Outpatient Program at CHOC.
What is your education and training?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychobiology from UCLA with a minor in Spanish. I earned my PhD and master’s degree in clinical psychology from Palo Alto University with a specialization in children, adolescents and families. I completed my pre-doctoral internship with Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and my post-doctoral fellowship with Geisinger Health Systems in Pennsylvania.
What are your special clinical interests?
I am particularly passionate about working with high-risk pediatric patients. I have done a great deal of work with suicidal and self-harming youth and their families. As a bilingual clinician in Spanish and English, I am also very interested in the interactions between mental health and cultural identities, for example, race/ethnicity, gender, religion and age.
How long have you been on staff at CHOC?
I joined CHOC in October 2017.
What are your most common diagnoses?
Depression, anxiety, and major life stressors are the most common difficulties our patients face.
What would you most like community/referring providers to know about the ASPIRE® Intensive Outpatient Program at CHOC?
Our eight-week intensive outpatient mental health treatment program – the only pediatric-dedicated one of its kind in Orange County — is designed to serve a broad range of emotional and behavioral difficulties for high-school aged teens 13-18. It includes individual and family sessions, and crisis support as needed. If the teens and families you serve could possibly benefit from an intensive program, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Additionally, we aim to collaborate closely with all the important stakeholders in our patients’ lives. This includes primary care physicians, psychiatrists, therapists, educators and coaches.
What would you most like patients and families to know about ASPIRE®?
While our program is hard work, it’s pretty fun to be a part of! The daily after-school programming for teens and their families is all interactive, including art and other expressive therapies, and designed to teach and practice new skills in fun ways.
What excites you most about the program?
I am so excited to be able to offer a very important service to teens and families who are in crisis and need extra support. The program we offer is guided by research and has been carefully constructed to generate the best outcomes possible.
What inspires you most about the care being delivered at CHOC?
I have worked with a number of different organizations and teams since I began my career in the mental health field. The team at CHOC is unparalleled in its enthusiastic dedication to innovation and excellence in the care of children.
Why did you decide to become a psychologist?
I fell in love with the field of psychology immediately after taking my first job at a crisis shelter for teens. Getting to witness, and even participate in, the incredible changes these youths made in their lives in a few short weeks was inspirational. I knew that was work I wanted to be a part of for the rest of my career.
If you weren’t a psychologist, what would you be and why?
Either a zookeeper, so I could spend time with cool animals every day, or a Disney princess at one of the theme parks so I could wear awesome costumes and play with kids all day.
What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?
I love spending time with my family, hiking with my dog, and eating delicious food. I have a huge family and we have a lot of fun together!
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The mental health team at CHOC curated the following resources on mental health topics common to kids and teens, such as depression, anxiety, suicide prevention and more.