Top Docs Q&A: Paula Rauch

Rauch works with the Red Sox Foundation and Mass General to provide emotional support for military families.

This post is part of our Top Docs Q&A series where we ask a physician who was selected as one of our Top Docs questions about their field, life as a doctor, and practicing in the Greater Boston area. 

Name: Paula Rauch 

Hospital Affiliation: Massachusetts General Hospital

Title: Family Team Program Director for the Home Base Program; Director of the Marjorie E. Korff PACT Program at MGH 

Field: Psychiatry

Specialty: Child resilience in military families, parent guidance in parental cancer and illnesses

Paula Rauch created the PACT program (Parenting at a Challenging Time) to help parents with life-threatening illnesses provide emotional support to their children. Rauch has applied that same model to help military families involved in the Home Base Program, which provides clinical care for individuals in the military and their families. 

Why did you decide to go into child psychiatry?

When I was in medical school, I spent a summer working at a wilderness camp for children with psychological issues. I then became fascinated with the emotional challenges in a child’s development. I had gone to medical school wanting to be a pediatrician, but through this experience I found that psychiatry was a better fit for my curiosity and temperament.

What do you love most about the field?

I love seeing the potential in every child, and I find kids to be endlessly compelling. I also feel like a child’s resilience really depends on the important adults in that child’s life. Therefore, I am inspired by the opportunity to provide that kind of support and to help children become themselves in the most positive way.

In the time you’ve been practicing how have you seen the field of child psychiatry change?

A big change has been neuroimaging, like functional MRIs and CT scans. It’s not just about understanding the architecture of the brain but also about how the brain functions. 

What are the latest advancements happening in the field now?

The Humane Genome Project, neuroimaging, and medication trials are all examples of very exciting advancements in this arena. However, the biggest challenge I think is that many people have preconceived notions about psychiatric illnesses in children and the use of medication. There are places where the dialogue seems less about medical research and more about opinions. Through fantastic research that’s happening now, professionals are working to change that dialogue, but it will take time.

What do you hope to see for the future of your field?

I hope to see the medical community and society in general put as much of their time, energy, and financial support into the foundations of a child’s development as they do with the foundation of a large building. After all, children are the future. 

How did you become interested in helping children of military families?

I started a program, called the Marjorie E. Korff PACT program, to help parents with life threatening illnesses support the emotional health and wellbeing of their children. I also co-wrote a book on this topic as well. Then I was contacted by leadership in the military, who found this book to be helpful for families that were coping with the challenges of the deployment cycle. When Mass General and the Red Sox Foundation had the opportunity to create the Home Base program, I had already been worked with military families, so I became part of the initial group developing this program.

How does the PACT model work for both parents with life-threatening illnesses and military-connected families ?

For both parents with illness and military parents, we [the medical team] use our expertise of child development and psychology, along with the parents expertise of their children, to come up with an individualized support plan for each child. Specifically for Home Base though, we provide support to the whole family, whether it be the parents, significant other, siblings, or children. That’s because when one member of the family serves in the military, every family member is drafted in a way.

What has the experience of working with veterans and military families been like for you?

It’s been an incredible honor to recognize the strength and capacities of the individuals that have served in the armed forces and their families. The people who serve in the U.S. military are a remarkably capable and impressive group of people, so when I work with them they really take our input and amplify it in all sorts of positive of ways.

What results have you seen from the Home Base Program?

When faced with really difficult circumstances, like a serious illness or the military, it’s really important that parents have the communication skills and family support skills in order to to keep their children emotionally healthy and resilient through certain transitions. I’ve found that if parents recognize this, then for the majority of children who didn’t previously have mental health issues, these challenges don’t turn into trauma.  

What do you hope for the future of Home Base program?

I would like to see us expanding in the number of families that we serve. I also hope that we create a model for serving veterans and their families that can be borrowed for other communities throughout the United States.