Ormond psychologist gets national recognition


Ormond psychologist gets national recognition



Karen Samuels, Ph.D. poses in the Lotus position as she practices yoga near the ocean in Ormond Beach recently.

                                                    News-Journal/PETER BAUER  




Published: Sunday, August 10, 2014 at 5:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 10, 2014 at 11:20 p.m.

Karen Samuels, a psychologist with deep roots to the Daytona Beach area, is getting national recognition for her work on an issue with resonance for a beach community —   unhealthy obsessions with body image and weight loss.

“Making peace with your body” has been Samuels’ life work ever since a college friend developed anorexia in the mid-1970s. She has treated men and women from age “8 to 84” with eating disorders, with clients often coming to her in a “state of utter confusion.”

“We see these ads for yummy, delicious foods,”she explained. “At the same time, we (as a culture) have a focus on weight and shape and ‘Don’t eat this or don’t eat that.’”

Clients are relieved to find that “Really, it’s not just me,” but, rather they live in “a world that makes it hard to find self acceptance,” Samuels said. “So often people will exhale this sigh of relief.”

In addition to treating clients, Samuels has started a group called Community Outreach for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (COPE).

COPE’s middle school presentation, “Being a Girl in Today’s World,” has been delivered to thousands of girls in Volusia County over the past five years, Samuels said.

So warning signs are not missed, Samuels also trains local physicians on how to look for symptoms of eating disorders.

One recurring problem is physicians failing to diagnose, said Lynn Grefe, the president of the National Eating Disorders Association, based in New York City.

“The more you postpone treatment, the further along an eating disorder develops,” Grefe said. “They can be deadly. We have the highest death rate of any mental illness.”

In October, the National Eating Disorders Association will award Samuels with its Westin Family Award for Activism & Advocacy during its convention in San Antonio.

“If people all over the country were doing what she is doing, we would have a different world,” said Grefe, who recalled meeting Samuels at an annual conference 11 years ago. She has always been impressed with her humility.

“Always so modest, but clearly so effective,” Grefe said.

Samuels, who has an office in Ormond Beach, said her family, including grandfather Mack Roth and father Lou Samuels, founders of R & R Industries, a roofing and air conditioning company in Holly Hill, inspired her with a legacy of community service.

Roth was the chairman of the planning board that built the Daytona Beach Bandshell. He also was a founder of Temple Israel. Her grandmother, Estelle Roth, operated a women’s clothing store, The Princess Shop, on Beach Street in a building that is still known as the Princess building.

Samuels’ alma mater, Wellesley College near Boston, whose alumnae include Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, also stressed the value of “giving back,” she said.

Samuels, 56, was shaped by the women’s movement of the 1970s which encouraged women to take the initiative in decisions regarding health care. As a college student, Samuels volunteered at the Boston Women’s Health Collective that produced the iconic health guide,“Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

Three influential books on psychology, Carol Gilligan’s “In a Different Voice,” Jean Baker Miller’s “Towards a New Psychology of Women” and Suzie Orbach’s “Fat is a Feminist Issue” were also published while Samuels was in college.

“I remember reading all of them and thinking is what I wanted to do,” she said.

Yoga, which Samuels learned at age 12 from taking classes at the former YWCA in downtown Daytona Beach, has been an integral part of her practice. Yoga teaches a healthy mind-body awareness, she said.

“I will often send people to a good (yoga) teacher who I think will be a good match for them,” Samuels said.

Coincidentally, Samuels likes to stretch at Renew Yoga, located in the Princess building.

Yoga also teaches the value of living in the moment, she said. Samuels believes cultivating a sense of gratitude and hope.

“I absolutely believe that people get better,” Samuels said. “I see that everyday. People find relief. They find recovery.”

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