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Physician Spotlight: Felipe Amunategui PhD, UH Child Psychology

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A Candid Q&A with Dr. Amunategui

May 2021

University Hospitals joins the national movement to recognize May as Mental Health Month. We take this opportunity to celebrate the many accomplished mental health providers at UH. Felipe (Luis) Amunategui, PhD, has been with UH for nearly 19 years as a child and adolescent psychologist. He completed a B.S. in Psychology at John Carroll University, a M.A. in Clinical and Community Psychology at Cleveland State University and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Kent State University.  Dr. Amunategui is the Associate Program Director, Child Psychiatry, UH Cleveland Medical Center, and Assistant Professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Felipe Amunategui, PhDFelipe Amunategui, PhD

Q: How would you describe your particular area of focus?

A: I specialize in anything that drives parents crazy. Most of my clinical career has been focused on understanding and treating what is broadly thought of as Disruptive Behavior Disorders in children and adolescents. These problems are characterized by recurrent emotional outbursts, marked problems managing daily tasks, academic problems, defiance, self-injury and substance abuse. Also, these problems cut across most psychiatric diagnoses, so I also specialize in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders in children and adolescents.

Early in my career, I focused on understanding how learning theory and social learning translated into effective interventions for these disorders. I realized also that these treatments were mostly unavailable in community settings. Growing up in South America made me aware from a very young age how economic adversity contributes significantly to the expression of disruptive behavior disorders in a community. First as a therapist at a community mental health center, and later as the clinical director at an inner-city adolescent treatment program, I took my first steps toward disseminating evidence-based interventions to families in the inner city of Cleveland.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the children and adolescents you treat?

A: Some of my patients have been favorably impacted, while other have been adversely impacted by changes associated with the pandemic. Interestingly, some of my patients find going to school markedly aversive. For them, remote instruction has lessened the distress they experience from being in noisy social environments. For the large majority of my patients, however, the lack of structure, lack of regular social interactions and instruction delivered in environments associated with leisure activities rather than school work have presented considerable challenges.

Generally, these challenges have come in the form of Increases in parent-child conflicts, decreases in academic achievement, boredom, decreases in physical activities, and an increase in non-educational media use. Many children going for their annual physical exam are presenting evidence of mood disorders. Also, children with social anxiety disorders have lost treatment gains due to the reduced opportunities for direct social contact.

Q: What motivates you to do what you do?

A: I am privileged to spend my days doing things that I truly enjoy. I look forward to meeting with each patient, and I find teaching very stimulating and a source of ongoing learning. The improvement I see in each patient's condition is one of the main sources of motivation to look forward each day, as well as teaching fellows and finding new interventions.

Q: What are your hobbies outside of work?

A: I enjoy Hang gliding, skiing, rock climbing and mountain biking. Hang gliding, however, has been a central pursuit since my early teen years, as well as other forms of sport aviation. I volunteer as a Ski Patroller and bike everywhere I can.

You can reach Dr. Amunategui at Felipe.Amunategui@UHhospitals.org.

 

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