Dr. Catalina Belean is the new Director of Psychiatry Residency Training and an Assistant Professor with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at St. Louis University School of Medicine. She has a passion for treating patients, training the next generation of residents, and mentoring medical students. She has been working with the St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute and a member of their faculty, Dr. Robin Turner, for two years. Both are excited to build a stronger bond between the Institute and Saint Louis University and a deeper understanding of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis.
Dr. Belean is dedicated to addressing the needs of the inner-city population: homelessness, barriers to access to mental health services, and medication compliance. She has worked with victims of trauma, abuse, neglect, and vulnerable populations like minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ, etc.
Having a background in Family Medicine in Romania, Dr. Belean was always intrigued by psychotherapy and how it could be used in her work.
“I did my residency training in St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington D.C. where there was emphasis on psychotherapy, including psychodynamic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. This was a significant interest of mine from the residency,” Dr. Belean said.
Dr. Belean began her educational career in Romania, eventually moving to Canada where she studied and passed her USMLE exams. She was accepted and started her Psychiatry Residency training with Saint Elisabeths Hospital in Washington D.C.
“In Romania, I was doing my residency in Family Medicine. The patients were usually seen by a Family Practitioner for their psychiatric care. I realized that this was an area that I would have loved to have more in depth training. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to pursue my dream after being accepted for residency in the States.”
Dr. Belean moved to St. Louis in 2013, after finishing her residency.
“One of the reasons that I started working at St. Louis University was because of the connection with the STL Psychoanalytic Institute.”
Dr. Belean said that the collaboration with the STL. Psychoanalytic Institute was something she looked forward as she recognized the work Dr. Turner has put into the Gathering program for the residents. The Gathering was started in 2008 by Dr. Turner to deepen the bridge already built in the early 1960s between The St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute and The Department of Psychiatry, St. Louis University.
“That is actually a very important part of training – learning about psychotherapy in a socialized setting,” Dr. Belean said.
The Institute with Dr. Turner, in conjunction with the residency training director of Psychiatry at ST. Louis University, Dr. Belean, host five-six evenings per academic year in which over a supper, psychodynamic psychotherapy is discussed through the use of film. The discussions center on different aspects of psychodynamic psychotherapy brought to light in each film. “During the past four years, Washington University Department of Psychiatry has also been brought into the evenings with us.”
Currently, “We are watching various episodes of the series, In Treatment, on HBO, we choose the episodes, and the residents host the night and lead the discussion. Dr. Turner and myself are there to moderate,” Dr. Belean said. “In April, there were 30 people working together in the group, interacting, and learning from each other. It was an enlivened and exciting discussion.”
Dr. Belean mentioned that the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, Dr. Messias, is also very interested in strengthening the partnership with the Institute. “We are excited to see where this partnership will go in the future.”
“This is just the beginning,” Dr. Belean said. “We are looking into developing a relationship with the Institute. In the past, there has always been a presence, and we are looking forward to new opportunities that can strengthen that relationship.”
In addition to the Gatherings, Dr. Belean fills many roles at St. Louis University. She works with residents and supervises their training, as well as working in the hospital and the clinic.
Dr. Belean explained that there is more than one way to teach the residents. “There are different needs because there are different stages of training,” Dr. Belean said. “We all work well together like a team, and we rely on each other. After we interview the patient, we discuss what we have seen and experienced and it becomes a learning presentation. The most important thing for me is for the residents to be passionate about what they are doing, to be excited about seeing patients and learning.”
Dr. Belean loves the work she does with her patients. “I feel privileged when the patients share their life with us, when they trust us enough to open up and allow us to listen to their stories”.
Dr. Belean said that the Coronavirus showed her that the connection goes beyond work.
“One thing I always tell my students and my residents is that it is always good to know yourself, know your strengths and what you are passionate about. We are constantly learning about ourselves.”
In addition, she noted that staying positive is the key. “Psychiatry can be very difficult, so be kind to yourself. Be positive and optimistic. Pay attention to the people around you.”
Dr. Belean shared that being attentive and observant is also something she does while treating patients, either in the hospital or in the clinic. “Look at your patient’s face, their eyes… There is a lot of information you can collect just by paying attention to their body language.”
Dr. Belean recognizes that Psychiatry takes a deeper understanding of the patient’s life and environment; the assessment and treatment follow the bio-psycho-social formulation. She noted that in Family Medicine, there is not enough time to focus on all of these aspects. She likes to use psychotherapy in her treatment approach. “The way you can actually help improve a patient’s life – it is not only about the medication,” Dr. Belean said. “We use a combination of medication management and psychotherapy; we talk about how important it is to appreciate and understand a patient`s early development. We always go back to that with our patients and try to identify themes.”
In her line of work, it can be beneficial to know the different types of therapy and understand how to best utilize them for the benefit of the patient. This is called Individualized treatment. “Each patient is unique. Psychotherapy gives me more than one way I can work with my patients.”
For Dr. Belean, Psychiatry is a calling.
“It is an art, the way we work with our patients, we have to build that rapport. For us to be able to establish that connection, we really must listen, must be patient and present to create a safe space – a safe environment for them to be able to open up and share their innermost thoughts and feelings.”