MW | Tell us more about yourself and your background.
Barbara KH. | My name is Dr. Barbara Koltuska-Haskin and I am a Clinical Neuropsychologist in a private practice in New Mexico, which is a southern part of the USA. I have over thirty years of clinical experience and I have a research and academic teaching background. I am also a classically trained mezzo-soprano (please see my musical biography on my website: www.drkoltuska.com.) I believe that classical music goes very well together with brain sciences. I love living in New Mexico for its sunshine, beautiful nature, and the hospitality of the people. I love walking New Mexico’s trails and the climate of the high desert cultivates my passion for organic gardening.
MW | What inspired you to become a neuropsychologist?
Barbara KH. | I was always fascinated with the brain, the very unique part of our body, we absolutely cannot live without. Even a small dysfunction of it can cause people a lot of trouble and especially a lot of anxiety.
I must say, that not all of the brain’s dysfunctions are permanent and result in a loss of quality of life. Most are treatable and/or manageable, so the patient still can have a good quality of life. Neuropsychology can be seen as a bridge between medicine and psychology. In fact, to become a neuropsychologist, one has to have a good background in both clinical psychology and medical sciences, such as neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neurology. Also, knowledge about common illnesses that affect brain functioning, such as anemia or thyroid disease, is helpful. The more medical knowledge a neuropsychologist has, the better he or she can serve patients because most of them, especially the elderly, come with complicated medical problems that do affect their brain functioning.
MW | What is your top tip for a positive and successful morning?
Barbara KH. | It is good to start a day with something nice, like a cup of warm, good coffee with real honey from a neighborhood beekeeper. It tastes great! Take time for yourself in the morning, by doing something nice. Find out what will bring a smile to your face at the start of your day. If you live in a mild climate, drink your warm coffee outside and look at the beautiful nature around you. If it is too cold to be outside, sit by the window that has your favorite view. For me, it is a view of my garden starting to grow in the Spring, but it can be anything that brings peace and some joy to your heart.
MW | Many of us seem to be suffering from covid 19 brain fog – is it a real thing, why is this happening and how can we overcome it?
Barbara KH. | This is a very complex questions. Brain Fog is not a medical term. It is used by Covid-19 survivors to describe trouble thinking clearly. Brain Fog can mean different things to different people. It can be problems with memory, concentration, slow thinking process, difficulty finding words or difficulty competing tasks. We still do not know why some Covid-19 survivors have it for weeks or months and some don’t. If you are experiencing it, try to find a neuropsychologist in your community that is a provider for your insurance and schedule an appointment to find out which brain functions have been affected and what to do to get them better.
MW | You’re very passionate about gardening. Would you say this contributes positively to your wellness?
Barbara KH. | I call gardening the “food for body, mind and spirit”, because it truly is. It exercises your body, feeds it well with fresh and organic food and gives you joy. There is nothing more rewarding for me than to see my garden growing and my beautiful flowers and roses blooming all around me. It is my best therapy.
MW | Music is an amazing healing tool for the spirit and mind – how does this help you and or your patients in your practice.
Barbara KH. | I always loved music, especially classical music. I have many years of formal musical education in piano and voice. I am a classically trained mezzo-soprano. I have a CD titled "Old Masters Love Songs” which is available now on Apple Music with 17th and 18th century and mostly Italian music. The style is very beautiful and extremely relaxing. I've had a lot of praise for it.
I strongly believe that studying music for many years gives the person very specific sensitivity training. You need to be able to recognize and feel the emotions that the composer placed in his masterpiece and be able to run them thorough your emotional channels and perform them in such a way that the audience can feel them as well. The music you perform needs to emotionally 'speak' to them. This very specific sensitivity training that I had for many years made me very sensitive to other people’s emotional presence. I can quickly sense what may be going on emotionally with them. It also helps me to establish a good rapport with my patients and makes them feel at ease in my office. It is a very important tool when working with patients.
MW | Were there any doors that were harder to open being a woman in your field? How did you break them down?
Barbara KH. | I experienced that when I was a young brain researcher and also a wife and mother. It was very difficult. What always helped me in my life was a clear focus on my life goals. I knew what I wanted to do and if there was an obstacle, I did not dwell on it, I just tried to find a solution. Negative comments about a woman’s abilities as a brain researcher did not make me cry, but made me think about what I needed to do to get ahead without having much to do with any jerks. There is this very good saying that “behind every successful man is a woman and behind every successful woman is herself.” I truly believe in it and I am a prime example of it.
MW | If you were not a neuropsychologist, what other career path would you have chosen?
Barbara KH. | I probably would have been an opera singer or a voice teacher. I absolutely love classical music.
MW | You have accomplished a lot within your professional role. What would you say has helped you achieve so much?
Barbara KH. | I am very persistent and well organized, but most importantly, I do not dwell on failures, but try to learn from them and move on. I believe that failures can teach us much more than success.
MW | What keeps you motivated?
Barbara KH. | My patients, I cannot fail them, so I have to constantly educate myself on how to serve them better. Now I see in my office the 3rd generation of my patients and they say that they only trust me as their doctor and it is my greatest reward to hear that.