Dr. Gabrielle Shapiro
Supervising Psychiatrist, Mental Health Services
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to Union Settlement .
My name is Gabrielle Shapiro and I am a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist. I’m a Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, as well as the Supervising Psychiatrist at Union Settlement. I’m a mother of two wonderful children—one is a social worker, and the other one does machine learning and artificial intelligence, and they both care for two therapy pets.
I had been working with Latino families, primarily Mexican and Central American families and children in San Diego, CA for about 20 years. I moved back to New York and became the Director of the Bellevue Outpatient Clinic before moving to Mount Sinai to direct their community child programs. I also spent some time as the acting director for the ACS Assessment Unit at NYU and Bellevue. When I was at Mount Sinai, I was working with the community and loved it a lot. Unfortunately, some of my funding began to dry up, I began to work and look at the gaps in the community where I could make a difference, where I could work with children, adolescents, families, and adults and where I was most needed. I thought to myself, ‘How could I erase the stigma about mental illness and continue the work I’d begun many years ago in California?’ I had started the first telepsychiatry program in Calexico where they had no child psychiatrists back in the 90s. It was around this time that I had begun working at Union Settlement.
When I came to Union Settlement, I fell in love with the patients and the community. I live very close and I grew up close to this community—I felt like I was coming home, and I’ve now been here over 13 years now. Many years ago, I became the supervising psychiatrist at Union Settlement. I want our community to thrive, and I want to help preserve its integrity as we deal with ongoing gentrification. I really care about our kids and families and I’m passionate about the work that Union Settlement does. Our true strengths showed when we united as a single cohesive team to serve the people of East Harlem during the pandemic. Union Settlement not only went virtual for mental health, increasing their reach and number of visits, but we also continued to serve meals and kept small businesses going in the community. I was a health worker in the community at the time, working on the front lines during the COVID pandemic in the very beginning. It was during these critical moments where we really showed who we are and what Union Settlement can mean to our community, and that was why I came to Union Settlement in the first place. I still have big plans and big dreams for Union Settlement that I hope will help to expand our mental health services. I think it’s an honor to be able to serve the people of East Harlem.
What are your proudest professional/personal accomplishments at Union Settlement or in relation to serving our community?
My proudest moment in serving the people of East Harlem in my role at Union Settlement was convincing leadership that telepsychiatry and teletherapy was effective, and that for the sake of the community’s health, we should implement virtual services.
At the time, it was incredible; we began to see more people than we ever had. Our no-show rate dropped to nearly zero and we kept a lot of families, children, and adolescents going during the pandemic through our teletherapy program.
The mental health needs of our society increased manifold during this time, especially in children and adolescents. We provided care, continue to provide care, and have shown that telepsychiatry and teletherapy is the wave of the future. It helps our patients to overcome fears they have about violence in the community and concerns about going out during COVID; it also saves them time and energy. During this time, I’ve learned to understand clients so much better by being able to see them in their home and see the children in their own environment. Families needing to schlepp for five to ten blocks with three children because they don’t have a babysitter, sitting in a waiting room to see their provider for half an hour, dealing with getting metrocards, the cold weather, and snow—it was never fun for anyone. While in-person therapy and psychiatry certainly have their place, teletherapy has worked well for us and I am very proud of our success with it. Our productivity has greatly increased, and the quality of our care has been excellent.
One of the things I also do is to oversee the quality of our medical staff care. My supervisors have allowed me to be part of the leadership clinical team at our Johnson Counseling Center, and I have truly enjoyed it.
What are your vision and goals for the future of your department and our community?
My vision for the Mental Health department is for us to drive the continued growth and development of high-quality care through an expansion of our services and by incorporating youth and community member input into our services. I would like for us to work towards offering more group sessions for our children, adolescents, and adults, as well as a bereavement group for folks that have experienced loss in their community. I believe these additional resources would be beneficial for our patients and for our department to continue to offer high quality clinical care for our patients in our community.
I am an advocate for deep healing and the eradication of gun violence in our community. I want our children to have more opportunities for a real future by providing them with resources and activities like jobs, creative projects, and sports to keep them from depending on gangs and illicit activity for survival.
It is also essential for us to continue the work of erasing the stigma that surrounds mental illness in the community—teaching folks across different cultural groups that mental illness bears the same significance as physical illness, and that we should feel comfortable having conversations about our feelings and concerns.
I believe the social-emotional curriculum is a critical tool that should be implemented across schools to help us pave the way towards healing and erasing the mental health stigma in East Harlem and beyond.
What do you like best about the community here in East Harlem?
Perhaps my favorite thing about the community of East Harlem is that folks here will always rise to the occasion when the community needs assistance. It’s a thriving, multicultural, and multi-talented neighborhood, and the people of East Harlem are so loving and kind. I am bilingual speaker who was raised in Spanish-speaking countries with a Spanish-speaking step-grandmother, and I spent many years traveling with my family while they had business in South America and Spain, as well as in Mexico and Central America. Coupled together, I’m grateful for these experiences that have helped me to peek into a better understanding of the Hispanic community that is prominent in East Harlem.
I am also in awe at the great artistic talent that is present in East Harlem. We have an amazing community of creatives across different practices such as dance, art, and music to name a few that are truly exceptional.
If you’re passionate about serving East Harlem and giving back to the community while developing your professional skillset, join our team!