Michael R. Hollander Retires After Four Decades of Helping Adolescents and Their Families

October 16, 2021

When he was still a graduate student in the 1970s, Michael Hollander’s first patient was an adolescent who was in a great deal of emotional pain.

“She was suicidal, self-injurious, and probably would have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder had we been able to do that in those days in patients under 18 years old,” Hollander said. New research now confirms that this is a disorder that can be diagnosed in adolescents.

Michael R. Hollander, PhD, who retired in September from his position as Endowed Director, Training and Consultations, at McLean’s 3East continuum, is a nationally recognized expert on borderline personality disorder (BPD) and the causation and treatment of self-injury.

In addition to his work at 3East, he was a supervisor in McLean’s mentalization-based treatment (MBT) clinic and served on the faculty of the McLean/Massachusetts General Hospital Child Psychiatry Fellowship Program, recognized as Teacher of the Year in 1996.

Since 2004, he has been a trainer for Behavior Tech, the organization founded by Marsha Linehan, the creator of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), training clinicians in this seminal treatment nationally and internationally.

From the very beginning, he said, the intense struggles of young people with BPD captured his attention. From his earliest career days, he worked with them as often as he could. He was unafraid to linger with these patients in their struggles, and to understand it from their point of view.

Early Years at McLean and Discovering DBT

Hollander received his PhD at Michigan State University and arrived at McLean in 1979 to complete his two-year post-doctoral fellowship in clinical adolescent psychology.

After his post-doc, he was hired as a staff psychologist in the hospital’s adolescent day service and was an attending clinician at the adolescent and family treatment unit.

The advent of managed care in the mid-1980s reduced the length of inpatient hospitalizations, requiring the development of alternative treatments outside of secure settings.

During this time, Hollander was part of a team that established an adolescent day program at McLean. Eventually, the hospital added a residential program, which became the first iteration of its Adolescent Residential Treatment (ART) Program, where he served as director.

Michael Hollander, PhD
Michael Hollander, PhD

In 1998, while maintaining teaching appointments and other responsibilities at McLean, he left to work at Two Brattle Center, a clinic in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was introduced to dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and implemented DBT programs for adolescents and young adults.

DBT, which combines aspects of behavior therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and mindfulness, teaches patients how to regulate emotions, tolerate stress, build interpersonal skills, manage attention, and develop self-awareness. It is the gold standard in treating borderline personality disorder.

Hollander said that when he encountered DBT for the first time, “the practicality of it really inspired me.”

He added, “What I really appreciate about DBT is that it both gives you tools to understand your behavior as well as the skill sets to change it.”

Establishing and Building 3East

In 2007, Hollander returned to McLean where he, his wife Janna Hobbs, LICSW, and psychiatrist Blaise Aguirre, MD, (who is now the Michael Hollander, PhD, Endowed Director of 3East), established 3East, McLean’s adolescent dialectical behavior therapy programs.

“This entire endeavor would not have taken off without the support of Joe Gold and Phil Levendusky,” Hollander said of the hospital’s chief medical officer and senior vice president, business development and communications, respectively.

In addition, Cynthia Kaplan, formerly associate director of child and adolescent services, was critical to the success of the program. “The opportunity to put together a program like this doesn’t happen in too many places. We were able to create 3East because the hospital supported the mission.”

The program, which started with eight residential beds for girls, has grown to include 14 girls’ beds and 14 boys’ beds, a partial hospital program, a group home, and an outpatient clinic.

In addition to providing the highest quality of care for adolescents with BPD, 3East has an important training mission. With philanthropic support, it has trained 19 post-doctoral fellows, 25 practicum students, and has begun to train child psychiatry fellows. 3East also has a new, robust research component, primarily focused on clinical outcomes.

Reflecting on a Full Career

According to Hollander, the most enjoyable aspect of his work has been the camaraderie and collaboration at 3East.

“Helping the patients is, of course, always number one,” he said. “But you can’t really help patients unless you have a community of therapists who are all working together—and not only working together, but being honest, direct, and compassionate with one another.”

He said he knows the exemplary care at 3East will continue after his departure.

“It’s been a relief to know it’s in great hands, that it will go on after I’m gone, and it allows me to do some other things outside of clinical work.” he said.

Hollander has long been interested in boxing and has a newfound appreciation of tennis. For many years, the sports served as a release from the welcome responsibility of caring for high-risk patients.

“Self-care is really having something that’s just about staying in your body, and playing sports has been that for me,” he said. “Retirement gives me an opportunity just to play.”

Hollander and Hobbs now live on an island in Casco Bay, Maine, which has two clay courts and an active tennis community.

Reflecting on his numerous positions at McLean over the years, he said, “It’s been a privilege to work at McLean. I’ve done a lot of trainings all over the world, and certainly all over the country. I have not come across a place that has the kind of depth and breadth that McLean has, and I’m really proud to have been a member of McLean Hospital.”

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