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Reflections on Alumni Reunion: An Interview with Dr. Andrew Gerber

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by Darylle Sheehan

Andrew Gerber, MD, PhD, Medical Director/CEO, Austen Riggs CenterIn preparation for the upcoming Alumni Reunion, newly appointed Medical Director/CEO Dr. Andrew Gerber recently sat down with reunion co-chairs Elizabeth Mangiaracina and Dr. Paul Lippmann to discuss his vision for Riggs, his background and the value he sees in cultivating a strong alumni community.

“I’ve never been to a place that does something like this,” he says of the Alumni Reunion, “and I take very seriously wanting to put together something that is meaningful to the whole community. We build these relationships, and these relationships continue to matter even after people leave.” 

Though he has been in his position for less than a year, Dr. Gerber is no stranger to the unique qualities that make Riggs “Riggs.” 

“In how many places in the world do you get interviewed by the patients when applying for a job?” he says, smiling. “They let me know why this place is special and what they want in a medical director.”

What originally drew Dr. Gerber to the Austen Riggs Center was its distinguished history and a vision of collaboration.

“When you solve hard problems, seemingly impossible problems in the mind, it’s not a hierarchy that accomplishes that. It’s a team of collaborators,” he explains. “When things get tough, we don’t revert to old hierarchies. I’ve never seen another place like this.”

Dr. Gerber also admits to a certain sense of awe. “Erik Erikson’s presence is everywhere. And this was Robert Knight’s desk,” he says, gesturing toward a large, ornately carved wooden desk. Indeed, portraits of both men (drawn by Norman Rockwell, no less) watch over all of his comings and goings from the building. “What can I add to that legacy?”

He hopes to add quite a bit. Dr. Gerber has a vision that will expand Riggs’ impact far beyond the idyllic cluster of buildings in Stockbridge. 

“We do a great job with 65 patients and the system is built for that. What’s hard is spreading that outside our community. We’ve struck a devil’s bargain of providing excellent care, but at very high costs. I think we can work to bring this [type of care] to more people.”

He appears to be exactly the right person to bring this vision about. Dr. Gerber grew up very close to Brooklyn College and his parents, physicians with academic ties, would take him to the college’s free library on Saturdays. It was there he learned that you could be academic and still work with the community. “There was a tolerance and pride at Brooklyn College, where drastically different people could work together. It’s that great, old mosaic idea,” he says.

He went on to study and achieve prominence in both psychoanalysis and academic research, two fields that don’t overlap much, at least on the surface.

He notes that as the wider mental health field has moved more toward medication and the brain in recent years, Riggs has become more isolated. “Our best thinkers aren’t known outside our community, and vice versa. I think I can be a good matchmaker.”

Dr. Gerber believes alumni are vital to his vision, and what better place to start than Alumni Reunion 2016. 

“I’d love to have feedback and input from anyone who comes to the reunion,” he says. “I want to learn. You’re the experts; I’m the newcomer. There is so much great energy here and I would like help thinking of how to harness that.”

This year the theme of the Austen Riggs 2016 Alumni Reunion is “Life Journeys.” We hope that you will join us on September 30-October 2, 2016 for Alumni Reunion 2016 and join in this important conversation. 

Please register for Alumni Community (open to former patients, former staff and former Board members) to get the latest information on Alumni Reunion 2016.

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