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“Children Don’t Come with a Training Manual”

How Child Psychologist Dr. Marta M. Shinn is Building a New Private Practice

Better works with Variations Psychology, a new group therapy practice based in Newport Beach, CA. Its founder, Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D. is a specialist in child and educational psychology and, after establishing her reputation in the public sector, Variations is her first step into private practice. We spoke to her about her journey, her practice, her colleagues, and how Better helps her clients.

The Sink or Swim Modality

When Marta started school in Brooklyn she only spoke Spanish, and in her own words, the way the New York City Public School System taught non-English speakers was “sink or swim”. Marta swam but she’s never forgotten that many of her contemporaries weren’t so fortunate.

“I’m an immigrant who came to the United States when I was three from the Dominican Republic. I found my way because I had the right combination of cognitive abilities and language skills to succeed academically that I was able to do it, but a lot of my friends and family were in a similar situation and struggled. That played a role in why I feel the public sector is important to me because I’m a product of the public sector.”

Her mom was a seamstress in the garment industry in (the now extremely gentrified) Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her father worked as a butcher on the Lower West Side in the Meatpacking District. As a first generation college student, she didn’t have a path laid out by her parents, so she made her own path. She went through high school in two years, already knowing she wanted to be a child psychologist. She graduated college with a bachelors in psychology, completed her master’s degree in child and school psychology, and transitioned to a PhD in educational and clinical psychology. Her mom kept all her school reports and Marta can look back at her younger self with a professional eye.

“I would say now, this is a little bit of an over-achiever, a person who is going though things a little bit quickly, and could benefit from slowing down and enjoying high school. But I had such a desire to get this done. I was very driven so that was very apparent in my personality structure. I’ve always been a thinker of human behavior, so the idea of being a psychologist, analyzing human behavior, analyzing it critically, and trying to predict it and make good choices, was exactly what I wanted to do.”

The Public Sector

Marta worked for the public sector in New York, Florida and now in California, as a school psychologist. Outside the school system, she is a clinical child psychologist at an outpatient clinic in Santa Ana, California and trains masters and doctoral students in psychology.

“When you work as a school psychologist in a district, your job is to figure out which kids need extra support and which kids need special education resources. But when you work in a clinical setting your job is to diagnose and provide clinical support.”

She deals with all the issues that burden children and young adults.

“Everything in the diagnostic manual, from adjustment disorders related to life changes like to divorce and moving schools, to more significant chronic diagnoses like autism, major depression, generalized anxiety, suicidal ideation, and the full spectrum of diagnoses, and everything from testing and identifying to providing treatment.”

Outside her role as a child psychologist, she teaches. To give some idea of her range, she trains clinicians and trainers in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy for UC Davis, is an adjunct professor at CSU Fullerton where many of the students are first generation students, like herself, and also researches child obesity at the Child Guidance Center.

“In Southern California, there are a lot of people who are immigrants, it's filled with people assimilating and that’s part of my experience too, adjusting and acculturating to being in a new place. That place can be a physical space, or it can be a new job or a child who is becoming an adolescent. My adjustment growing up was that of an immigrant adjusting to a new country and language. For other people the change is more traumatic like experiencing abuse or going through a divorce, deployment in the military and being a military child. My work is about helping people effectively adjust and make those transitions.”

What is Variations?

Dr. Shinn launched Variations as a different kind of group practice.

“I picked the name to truly encapsulate what we’re doing. All human difference is about variance from the average. All diagnoses, whether they be psychological or physiological are about exceptions to normality (in its statistical sense). That variance is what creates exceptionality and I wanted a practice that addressed those exceptionalities in a highly specialized way. Look at the structure. Instead of having a whole bunch of therapists that see children, adolescents and adults, I have carefully selected specialists in particular areas of psychology.”

She has experts in psychological testing (Dr. Aaron Montgomery), parenting and child therapy (Cynthia Johnson, LMFT), young adults and college adjustment (Dr. Jill Kapil), men’s issues (Dr. Christopher Sample) and women’s issues (Dr. Daniella A. Davis). This enables Variations to provide expert level care for their patients.

One area that is a particular focus is dealing not just with children or adolescents but the parents.

“Parenting is something that produces a lot of insecurity for parents. Children don’t come with a training manual, no onboarding course, you just get them. That brings with it a lot of anxiety and doubt. Parents have hopes and dreams that their child will be one thing, but now they have a diagnosis, so there’s a sense of loss. Everyone who has a child wants that child to be perfect in every way, but when a doctor tells you something is not perfect, that’s devastating. We help with acceptance, help with the parental anxiety and stress, and also moving past acceptance to getting parents to advocate for their kids.”

The Challenge of Private Pay

Variations takes no insurance and Marta is finding that parents are willing to pay out-of-pocket for treatment. In fact, many choose health insurance that allows them to be reimbursed.

“Clients select specific health insurance plans that offer out-of-network benefits so they can access specialists like myself.”

However, she’s aware that it can be difficult to get reimbursed. In fact, it was personal experience that led her to use Better.

“I had one claim from last year that I ended up submitting three times, and we’re talking over $700. I was struggling to get paid back. I was one hundred percent covered for that $700 and I can’t get the money back. Then, I submitted it to Better who are processing the claim, and when I get the check, I’ll get $702, that’s worth it to me.”

Like so many therapists and group practices, Dr. Shinn is very happy to introduce her clients to Better.

“I’ve mentioned Better to several clients already, giving them brochures. Now we’re going to incorporate Better’s information with a direct link onto our payments page so we can onboard clients with Better right from the beginning.”

Variations is a new, growing practice and Marta has a simple ambition for the practice and her colleagues.

“I believe in quality over quantity so my aim is to develop a quality practice in the area. I see myself more dedicated to the practice, building on that to support others. My vision for Variations is as a space where we can really serve clients but also continue to foster more clinicians.”

Better is really excited to be working with Dr. Shinn and her colleagues at Variations Psychology to help their patients get more access to mental wellness treatment.

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