Clinical psychologist, Dr. Karolina Pekala, specializes in eating disorders, anxiety, depression, sexual health, and family relational patterns. She has a keen focus on how unconscious processes influence feelings and complex behaviors, and she utilizes hypnosis to access and harness the unconscious in a positive way to help clients reveal and grow inner strengths. Dr. Pekala’s extensive training allows for personalized treatment, with integration of dialectical behavioral techniques, psychodynamic principles, and acceptance therapy. She takes a holistic approach to therapy with hypnosis playing a pivotal role in helping her clients achieve their goals.
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Dr. Karolina Pekala began her training in psychology as an undergraduate at New York University, where she researched young children’s views of the world. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, graduating with High Honors, and a Bachelor of Arts in Politics, giving her insight into how various systems impact individuals on a personal level.
She began her clinical training as a certified crisis counselor and domestic violence advocate in New York City emergency rooms. While volunteering with the Crime Victims Treatment Center, she helped patients navigate the hospital system with SAFE Examiners, medical staff, police, and support systems. She provided advocacy, empathy, and information about treatment options, and she aided individuals, who displayed great resilience and immense strength, at the beginning of their journey following a traumatic experience.
Dr. Pekala continued her training at Columbia University, Teachers College, where she earned her Master of Arts in Psychology, with a specialization in Personality and Psychopathology. She wrote her project on an encompassing perspective of obesity in America, which included evaluating the intersections of social variables, such as class, race, gender, social groups, socioeconomic status, and political policies.
While at Columbia University, Teachers College, Dr. Pekala’s interest in health psychology grew; she took specialized classes in women’s health and focused on hypertension while working at the Manhattan VA. During this time, she earned a certification in Comprehensive Motivational Interventions.
Dr. Pekala entered her doctoral program at Long Island University’s Post Campus, where she learned both Psychodynamic and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies and began to develop an integrative and client-centered approach. During her externships, she provided psychological services within an integrated health practice, which included primary care, pediatric, and OB/GYN services through Nassau University Medical Center. Dr. Pekala supported individuals in managing their health conditions, reducing anxiety around medical procedures, and understanding mental and physical health in a holistic way.
During her externship at Manhattan Psychiatric Center, Dr. Pekala worked with clients with serious mental illness, including psychosis, trauma, depression, and personality disorders. She also co-led several groups helping individuals voice their needs, increase emotional expression and connection with others, and foster feelings of self-worth. While working with individuals experiencing extreme states, Dr. Pekala learned how authentic emotional connection, attunement to needs, and establishing long-term trust can promote lasting change, including successful discharge from high levels of care.
Her compassion and advocacy for those with serious mental illness was showcased at the annual National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy conference, where she and other like-minded doctoral students presented a workshop entitled, “Graduate students' experiences of advocating for humane treatment in a biomedical education system.” She is a past president of Psychology Students for Social Responsibility.
Dr. Pekala specializes in eating disorders, anxiety, depression, family systems, sexual health and relationship issues. Her interests solidified during her predoctoral internship at Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center, where she completed a year-long Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) rotation. Her interest in family therapy flourished, and she helped expectant mothers while on her OB rotation. In this position, she provided family therapy and parent psychoeducation sessions, as well as building her expertise in family dynamics by working with children, adolescents, adults, and extended family systems.
Dr. Pekala has worked extensively with anxiety, depression, trauma, psychosis, pain conditions, as well as with family adjustments, such as divorce and parental absence or loss. She has guided individuals from high levels of care to outpatient settings, celebrating their successes and progress. Her concentration in serious mental illness and family therapy focus at Long Island University further informed her clinical work.
She completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Eating Disorder Center (CEDC), where she offered group and individual therapy. She worked collaboratively with clients to craft positive and goal-oriented treatment plans and helped them learn how to communicate effectively with their families and support systems. In addition to providing techniques to combat eating disordered behaviors, she helped her clients unearth the dynamics of their family relationships and to better understand one of the most important relationships in their lives — the relationship with food and their bodies.
Through family therapy, Dr. Pekala helped to improve communication between family members, increase emotional expression, and facilitate discussion of difficult topics. She continued her interdisciplinary work as she consulted with schools, psychiatry, primary care, and other specialists. Dr. Pekala also addressed co-occurring diagnoses such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As she observed how eating disorders impact physical health, her appreciation of health psychology grew, and she became aware of the unique challenges faced by those with eating disorders when contemplating pregnancy, such as fertility and body image.
Dr. Pekala completed her training in hypnosis with the Milton H. Erickson Foundation. After witnessing hypnosis in action, she recognized how immensely beneficial the technique could be for clients in her areas of expertise, especially those with eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and pain conditions. Hypnosis allows clients with eating disorders to connect with their emotions, intuition, and selves in a safe and supported environment. Dr. Pekala also uses hypnosis to facilitate pain management, decrease unwanted behaviors, and foster self-confidence; she finds it especially effective when paired with mindfulness, acceptance, and relaxation techniques.
Dr. Pekala also provides adjunctive family and couples’ therapy to complement individual therapy for eating disorders and gynecological pain disorders. These sessions offer extensive psychoeducation and help clients and their significant others to express their needs in a supported atmosphere. These sessions also foster improved relationships and communication skills and allow participants to address previously avoided topics. Additional benefits are found in a significant reduction in symptoms, increased well-being, and strengthened relational bonds.
Client-centered, collaborative care is at the core of Dr. Pekala’s work, and she tailors treatment to each client’s unique needs. Hypnosis is an integral part of treatment that provides relief while helping clients on their road to recovery, healing, and self-actualization. She is also committed to lifelong learning, and she remains current on the latest scientific research. Lastly, she approaches therapy with compassion, understanding, and curiosity, and she believes in an egalitarian model of therapy in which psychologist and client work together to illuminate a unique path in treatment.