What’s one thing Dr. Elle Brennan hopes to fulfill on her bucket list? Parasailing! The idea of gliding through the wind, feeling the powerful tug of a boat carrying her along, while enjoying incredible, waterfront views, is exhilarating to her.
But whether Dr. Brennan ever accomplishes that dream, the thrill of parasailing doesn’t compare to the adrenaline rush she gets when treating kids and teens with Tic & Tourette syndrome or feeding disorders as Akron Children’s newest pediatric psychologist in our NeuroDevelopmental Science Center (NDSC). In her new role as an exposure therapist, where she “exposes” patients to the problem source, she is passionate about helping kids identify and master their fears, anxiety, disruptive habits and more.
To Dr. Brennan, it’s incredibly fulfilling and impactful work to be able to coach families through the process of learning new skills to change old habits. That’s why this thrill-seeking adventure at Akron Children’s is one she’s most excited about accomplishing.
Why did you choose to come to Akron Children’s Hospital?
There were several reasons why I chose to join the NDSC team at Akron Children’s. First and foremost, it quickly became clear during my interviews that everyone here is truly dedicated to improving the lives of children and families. Even better, everyone seemed enthusiastic about the care they provide and the families they serve!
Secondarily, it was apparent that the team itself exists as a sort of family, and one that is supportive and collaborative, to boot. Akron Children’s quickly presented itself as the sort of setting and the type of people that I wanted to start and build my career around.
Describe your role at Akron Children’s and what you hope to accomplish.
I am a licensed pediatric clinical psychologist and will be helping to expand the Tic & Tourette and feeding disorders service lines. I am excited to continue to strengthen my skills in these areas, while working with families from the area. In addition, I look forward to training and supervising behavioral health and medical learners, who are interested in gaining skills in evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapies.
What’s more, I am excited to be able to provide evidence-based care for youth experiencing clinical anxiety and OCD, in addition to the neurological concerns that initially brought them to the NDSC. Again, I’m also eager to help train learners in the art of exposure therapy.
What is your area of expertise and why did you choose it?
I am an exposure therapist from head-to-toe. I love helping kids identify the things that scare them most, and then helping them approach and master those fears. It is exciting and impactful work. Being able to coach families through the process of learning new skills and changing old habits is incredibly fulfilling for me.
Additionally, the behavior-based methodology that I love (i.e., exposures) has translated well into other areas of dexterity to help round me out as a clinician (e.g., habit-reversal training, behavioral parenting, feeding therapy, etc.).
Do you have a favorite instructor or mentor?
I’m very fortunate to have had several exceptional instructors and mentors throughout my training. One particular faculty member from my undergraduate institution comes to mind as an early example. He inspired me greatly, not necessarily because he was especially prolific in his area of the field (though he certainly is), but rather because he was always fully authentic in his teaching, and his enthusiasm for the work he does was genuine and contagious.
I have always aspired to be as present, honest and dedicated to my passions as he was during classes and other interactions. I try to bring a similar energy to my clinical work, clinical training and supervision, and academic teaching and mentorship.
When did you decide to become a provider and why?
I’ve known I wanted to work with kids in some helping capacity since I was a kid myself, but I first knew I wanted to go into psychiatry or psychology during a high school chemistry class. It was Valentine’s Day and my teacher did a special lecture on the effects that eating dark chocolate and falling in love have on the chemistry of the brain. I was instantly hooked.
During undergrad, my interests became directed more towards clinical child psychology as I learned more about the brain and how behavioral changes can impact brain functioning and emotional well-being. I was drawn towards anxiety-related practice and research early on and have carved my way towards an expertise in the area through my graduate and post-doctoral training.
What impression do you hope to leave with your patients each day?
I hope that each family, and especially each child, leaves my care feeling that they have been heard and seen, and their perspectives matter. The dark side of increasing efficiency due to technological advancements is that lives have collectively gotten busier and busier, resulting in fewer opportunities and time for genuine human connection (not to mention the pitfalls of false reality presented by social media). I hope to create a space for each family that I work with where they can feel they are the focus and their needs are the priority.
How does your personality fit your role?
I like to think that I am a fairly friendly and social person. I can also be pretty silly and love to have fun in the moment, which I have embraced more and more in adulthood as I have settled into myself as a child psychologist. This has served me quite well in my professional identity as a clinician because interacting with and connecting with kids and families where they are at is soooo important!
What would you most like to change about health care today?
In a few words: access to care. But, of course, there are many intertwining factors that go into poor access (e.g., mistrust of health systems, financial burden, etc.) that also need to be addressed in the process of reducing barriers to care. I hope that we, as a broad health care system, can continue to put significant effort into improving families’ understanding of, trust in and access to convenient routes for health and behavioral health services.
Where did you grow up?
I am a born Clevelander! I grew up on the West Side, but completed my undergraduate degree and later worked on the East Side, giving me a solid appreciation for the breadth of the city. It’s been really cool getting to see the area grow and change throughout my life.
I love the easy access to the lake, Metroparks and different neighborhoods on the West Side, as well as the vibrant culture and museums on the East Side, not to mention the fabulous food all around the city!
Who makes up your family, including pets and their names?
My current household includes myself, my partner and our 2 dogs (and about a million plants). My partner and I have been together since undergrad and have been able to grow together, while still establishing our independent identities. He is funny and creative, and best of all, happily cooks most of our meals! Our dogs are both rescues and their names are Goose (5) and Ducky (6). They are both the light and bane of our lives, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
What’s one thing on your bucket list?
Parasailing. I love the idea of the wind and power of a boat carrying me along, while providing me with an incredible view over really any body of water.
What’s your favorite quote?
“Begin at the beginning and go on ‘til you come to the end: then stop.” – Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)
What advice would you give your younger self?
That it is OK (and even good) to fail. Failure is an opportunity for learning and growth, not a cause for shame. I hope to encourage others to strive for effort and simply trying, in the hopes that they can escape the clutches of perfectionism.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
I brush my teeth! There is nothing that I associate more with waking up and getting my day started than the coolness of a minty fresh mouth.