Conversation with Dr. Michelle Maidenberg, Ph.D., MPH, LCSW-R, CGP, Co-Founder and President, Thru My Eyes Foundation
Video Legacies & Forever Memories
November 7, 2018
1. What is your business?
I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), and Family Systems, and I created a group therapy center called Westchester Group Works. I am also the co-founder of a non-profit organization, Thru My Eyes, that offers free clinical guided videotaping for chronically medically ill individuals who want to leave a video legacy for their children and loved ones.
We send licensed mental health professionals to people’s homes to interview the ill family member and create a video legacy. If the person lives too far away for us to visit them in person, we will conduct the interview online. When people realize they are chronically medically ill, they often want to leave a living legacy. They are compelled to teach their children certain life lessons, coach them through difficult developmental moments, instill values, and share momentous family memories.
We have a list of over 200 questions from which to choose from, so we make sure individuals are comfortable with the questions they are answering. We also provide them with a flip camera where they can record family interactions for a month before editing. People take footage of themselves reading to or playing with their children and we edit that into the video as well.
The final version is the conversation of the interviewee discussing his or her life. We have also followed different formats which is up to the discretion of the person being videotaped. The videotape is then fully edited. It is wonderful to be able to look back on a video of a mom or dad lovingly interacting with their children.
Families appreciate receiving a video of their beloved family member. They often say, “I would never even think to do this or would know how to” or “How wonderful that we have this memory of my mother that I have forever.” In the past four years, we proudly created more than 150 videos for families.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
The video service was born when I was talking to a woman at my gym who was battling breast cancer for the second time. She was 36 years with a nine-year-old daughter, and when she realized she was chronically medically ill, she wanted to create a something that would be around to teach her daughter life lessons after she passed away. She wanted to create a video for her daughter but didn’t know how do go about doing it, so I assisted her.
The hospital she received treatment from offered these videos, but a patient had to directly ask for the service, there’s a substantial cost attached to making it, it’s created at the hospital, and the person speaks directly into a camera. The whole process did not effectively take into account the person’s emotional state and their fundamental emotional needs. It came across as cold and a bit lonely. I felt that I could improve on the service they were offering by making the organization a non-profit. My vision was to offer the video at no cost to the individual, film in the comfort of the person’s home, and have an interviewer be nurturing while asking direct questions that are developmentally appropriate for the person who receives the video.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
When I brought the idea to others, they readily embraced it. It really gelled when I conducted my first video. The level of gratitude and honor I feel that people are willing to candidly share intimate details of their life is indescribable. Every individual’s story is unique and incredible. I get to see frailty, strength, love, gratitude, and a variety of different thoughts and emotions which are elicited in this process.
It was so thrilling to see the mission being carried out and we were able to empower those with life-threatening illnesses with the peace and knowledge in knowing that they will be remembered by those whom they loved the most. They are given the tools to say all that needs to be said, and therefore, may be remembered for generations to come.
4. Is funding/cost a challenge to maintaining your organization?
Securing funding is challenging right now. Every year we have a fundraiser, but it’s time-consuming and there is a lot to coordinate. Additionally, creating the videos are expensive–with the videographer and editing, they each cost $1,500. We keep the videographer on staff because we need to have open access to him. Because of the nature of what we do, we need to coordinate and provide our services ASAP. We often get urgent calls of individuals desiring to film, unfortunately, they don’t have the luxury of waiting because of their compromising health condition. People often have difficulty facing their longevity, so we tend to get time-sensitive calls. Families often donate to Thru My Eyes after receiving a video, but those donations, unfortunately, aren’t usually enough to cover our daily operating expenses.
5. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
The gratitude from families is beyond amazing. Listening to people’s personal stories is such an honor and a gift. I walk away from these interviews with a rejuvenated respect for life. It really puts things into perspective and gives my life so much meaning to be giving back to others with warmth, kindness, and care. I speak with individuals who earnestly want their lives to continue, but they sadly don’t have that choice. These moments allow me to reflect and ponder whether we are all living in a way that’s meaningful and the way we want to.
6. What are some of your current challenges?
Thru My Eyes is at a crossroads right now. We have hired someone to do fundraising, and it didn’t work out in the way we expected it would. My Co-Founder, who was doing the daily operations just asked me if I wanted to fully take over the organization. To keep the organization afloat, it’s something I’m invested in doing. Because of the multitude of benefits, it provides to grieving families, it would be devastating for us to close our doors. I’m currently looking for an individual or organization to partner with, accounting help, and assistance with fundraising. I’m also going to be turning over a new board of directors to restructure the organization and will need passionate dedicated individuals who are committed to our mission.
7. Have there been positive or negative impacts on your family and work/life balance once your organization was off the ground?
It’s challenging. I have four children, ages 10-18. It can get difficult because a lot of my patients need evening or late hours, so scheduling can at times be hard. I have a very supportive husband, but his work schedule isn’t always flexible. For me, it’s quality more than quantity. I intently focus on being present and giving of myself to my family when I’m with them. I really value my time to just be during vacations and weekends.
8. What would be your biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself ten years ago?
I would tell myself to prioritize what’s truly important and slow down. Because of being connected 24/7 it makes it difficult to break away. Every person I have interviewed up to now has expressed that the one thing they regret is not spending enough quality time with their family and friends.
9. What was the best and worst piece of advice you have received as you were starting your organization?
The best advice was that creating the organization is a process and it requires patience and hanging in there, especially when challenges present themselves. The worst advice was to just trust that things will go the way that it needs to. In many ways, I wish I was more assertive and proactive in getting my voice heard during critical decision making.
10. Do you use social media for marketing your business?
I tend to use a lot of social media. I use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I post several times a day on each of them. I have a pretty nice following on my Dr. Michelle Maidenberg Facebook page with 2,000 followers. On my LinkedIn page, I have over 6,000 connections. I am also a blogger for PsychCentral. I’ll be teaching a full semester graduate course at New York University (NYU) in the Spring semester. I strive for my recent book “Free Your Child From Overeating: 53 Mind-Body Strategies For Lifelong Health” and my blogs to get more social media traction. I write on informative and relatable topics.
11. What are your hopes for your organization in the next few years?
I hope to be able to find a solution for Thru My Eyes so that the organization can continue to serve our clients in the nurturing way it has. I hope to also have a dedicated and compassionate new board of directors who will help to restructure the organization. I look forward to Thru My Eyes getting the funding it needs to sustain itself and to continue carrying out our mission.
Date of Conversation: June 29, 2018