3/7/2014
Kenneth Gorfinkle, PhD
The Psychological Side of Diabetes

Dr. Kenneth Gorfinkle, the Berrie Center psychologist, has had an interest in improving the mental health of people with chronic illness for most of his professional career. While studying for his PhD at the New School in New York City, he developed his interest into an expertise by working with patients from Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He turned the 5 years of research he did at Sloan Kettering on kids with cancer into his doctoral dissertation on the role parenting style plays in the lives of children coping with painful medical procedures.

Since 1992, Dr. Gorfinkle has been an Assistant Clinical Professor at Columbia and a consulting psychologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital to various departments including pediatric oncology, pediatric pain, cardiothoracic surgery, palliative care, craniofacial surgery and rehabilitation services. In 2008 he joined the Berrie Center as a consulting psychologist and has been working with people with diabetes ever since.

Said Dr. Gorfinkle, “I am interested in the nuts and bolts of what upsets people with diabetes and then helping them work through it. What is it like to go to school with diabetes, take your SATs with diabetes, work with diabetes, fall in love with diabetes, take care of your children and live your daily life with diabetes? I’m available to help with whatever people with diabetes struggle with, at any point in their lives.”

He works with parents and caregivers as well as kids, teens and adults with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. “The most common problem I deal with,” said Dr. Gorfinkle, “is what we call diabetes distress. It’s a herculean task, a 24/7 responsibility to check your blood sugar and take medicine, often insulin, for the rest of your life with no end until there’s a cure. I see people who become avoidant of the day-to day rigors of managing themselves. Looking at blood sugar numbers can make them feel terrible, and they’re at risk for complications. I try to dig in and figure out what’s going on in their lives right now that makes it so difficult to focus on the details of managing their diabetes, and then try to help them restructure their days and their lives so they can reintegrate diabetes care into it.”

Dr. Gorfinkle serves as an adjunct lecturer and supervisor for the Pediatric Consultation Liaison Psychiatry Service at Columbia, where he lectures on diabetes, pain management and palliative care. Since coming to Columbia he has helped train psychiatry residents how to evaluate psychological complications that can result from chronic illness at the bedside of patients in the hospital.

Dr. Gorfinkle has written a book called Soothing Your Child’s Pain and he maintains a clinical psychology practice on the Upper Westside with his wife, psychologist Doris Ullendorff, PhD.