Maureen Sayres Van Niel, M.D.
for Area 1 Trustee
American Psychiatric association
Maureen Sayres Van Niel, M.D
As Area 1 Trustee on an APA Board facing threats to our practices and the mental health effects of a global pandemic, racial injustice and health disparities, a crisis in our veterans’ mental health, and unbridled climate change, I would like to comment on the following:
Structural racism against Black, Native American, and Hispanic people is the destructive foundation of the system in which we trained and live. Those of us from the racialized majority, including most APA Board members, have neither suffered under nor learned to identify racism in all its forms. I believe the APA’s comprehensive efforts to address ongoing oppression should be guided by its minority members, including residents/fellows or minority professionals who have lived experience and training in this area.
Psychiatrists are physicians first. Using our medical backgrounds to provide the best care for our patients is our highest priority despite parity, preauthorization, and legal challenges. As Trustee, I would strongly support the Board’s continuing advocacy for our profession and urge support for regional issues of our smaller district branches and Canadian members, who may struggle to have a voice in APA decisions.
The APA needs to use our national platform to be moral thought leaders unafraid to issue swift condemnation after atrocities such as the massacres at the Tree of Life synagogue and the Pulse nightclub. Slow, complicated Assembly processes may impede the effectiveness of our collective APA voice when needed to quickly denounce such causes as anti-Asian violence, climate change denial, or violence against transgender people.
I am an experienced and accomplished clinician, administrator, researcher, and national leader with a reputation for getting difficult projects done while taking time to listen to my colleagues and mentees and lift up their work. As president of the APA’s women’s caucus for six years, among the initiatives I have spearheaded include efforts to address: underdiagnosed and undertreated perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, sexual harassment and IPV assault on women in society and in psychiatric training, and the need for a national paid medical and parenting leave policy for the mental and physical health of the mother and child. Most recently I spearheaded a successful national initiative to have all women age 13 and over screened for anxiety during their yearly annual health visits.
As a Board member, I will bring three decades of clinical, administrative, antiracism and gender discrimination work, a decade of national leadership in mental health, and the opportunity to have watched the strength women physicians bring to medicine and society. I would appreciate your support for my representation of all APA members in the pursuit of excellence in patient care and service to our members.
Dr. Van Niel doing women's mental health advocacy in the Russell Senate Office Building for the S. 463 FAMILY Act
This is the biographical summary read when
Dr. Van Niel received the 2018 Massachusetts Psychiatric Society outstanding Psychiatrist Award for Excellence in Clinical Psychiatry:
Dr. Maureen Sayres Van Niel’s psychiatry career began with a medical internship at the Cambridge Health Alliance of the Harvard Medical School. During this internship, she discovered that her fondest interest lay in psychiatry, and she switched programs to join the hospital’s psychiatry residency. After two years, she transferred to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital to become the chief resident in Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry.
Dr. Van Niel completed her psychiatric training with a two-year fellowship in women’s and reproductive psychiatry at the Brigham and Beth Israel Hospitals, during which she coauthored studies and lectured on women’s mental health and the unaddressed needs of women and minorities in medicine.
After her training, Dr. Van Niel joined the staff of the Brigham psychiatry department and then practiced as an outpatient clinician in women’s psychiatry, treating patients referred to her by primary care and OB-GYN physicians. During that time, she also worked in the academic dean’s office at Harvard Medical School, serving as an associate faculty advisor to women and minority students. Dr. Van Niel was a member of the Harvard University President’s Special Advisory Council on Women; as a part of that effort and research in women in medicine, she founded and directed the Harvard Medical School and Harvard University Centers for Parenting.
The primary nature of Dr. Van Niel’s work over the past three decades has been the practice of psychoanalytic psychotherapy and outpatient reproductive psychiatry. She has also served as chief psychiatrist of the outpatient women’s trauma unit at Charles River Hospital and of the Upham’s Corner Health Center in Dorchester. For decades, she has been the chief psychiatric consultant to the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, leading the diocese through the healing process when its bishop committed suicide and left a trail of sexual misconduct in his wake. She also served as a clinical consultant to the leadership of a prominent preparatory school after their own tragedy.
Dr. Van Niel is currently president of the American Psychiatric Association’s Women’s Caucus, a post she has held since 2014. In that position, she chaired a national panel to write the APA’s position statement on the screening and treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and wrote and appeared in a PBS program on Postpartum Depression that aired across the country. In 2016 she was the first psychiatrist appointed to the Multidisciplinary Steering Committee of the Department of Health and Human Services Women’s Preventive Services Initiative (WPSI), where she has successfully advocated for the importance of treating preventive services for psychiatric disorders on a parity with those for medical disorders. Dr. Van Niel is the author of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine and of numerous other studies in mental health in other psychiatric and medical publications. She also wrote the chapter “Pregnancy: The Obvious and Evocative Event in a Therapist’s Life” in the Judith Gold/ John Nemiah book entitled Beyond Transference: When the Therapist’s Real Life Intrudes. Throughout her career, Dr. Van Niel’s work has been supported and enriched by her husband, Anthony, and their sons, Noah and Nicholas.
To update this biological profile since 2018, Dr. Van Niel continues her role as President and Rep of the Women’s Caucus of the APA, and this year was additionally elected as Chair of the MUR minority committee of the APA Assembly. This year, she has published a review paper in the Cleveland Clinic journal of Medicine entitled: Perinatal Depression : A Review for medical clinicians and she was the lead author of a study published in March in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry entitled The Impact of Paid Maternity Leave on the Mental and Physical Health of Mothers and Children: A Review of the Literature and Policy Implications. As a result of the work of this study, she organized 150 physicians in Massachusetts to work in favor of a paid family and medical leave policy, and the measure passed the Massachusetts legislature and is now one of the most comprehensive family and sick policies in the country. She now serves on the Governor’s Physician Advisory Panel on Paid Family and Medical Leave.
This year, Dr. Van Niel has led the Area 1 initiative to actively combat structural racism and support Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous Caucus colleagues, both as it relates to APA issues and on a national level. As a result of her work as a member of the national Multidisciplinary Steering Committee of the Department of Health and Human Service’s Women’s Preventive Services Initiative, Dr. Van Niel spearheaded an initiative to have every woman in this country over the age of 13 screened for anxiety at her annual physical exam. That national recommendation passed and began implementation in June of 2020. That work is summarized in an article entitled: Screening for Anxiety in Adolescent and Adult Women: A Recommendation from the Women's Preventive Services Initiative published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in June of 2020. She was appointed women’s health and women’s mental health adviser to a presidential campaign this year, and her most recent consulting work continues to involve being called into organization, law firms, schools, and dioceses, where a crisis or tragedy has occurred, working with the group to settle differences or heal from the tragedy. Dr. Van Niel is a national spokesperson for women’s mental health issues and issues affecting women and minority physicians.
APA Leadership Roles
APA Leadership Roles
President and Rep to the Assembly, APA Women’s Caucus 2015-21
Chair, Minority and Underrepresented (MUR) Caucuses Committee 2020-21
Member, Assembly Executive Committee 2020-2021
Chair, Women of the Assembly 2015-21
Member, Area 1 Council, 2015-21
Member, Ad Hoc Committee of the Board of Trustees on forming a Women's Mental Health Council.
Chair APA Vetting Panel for MUR Trustee 2020-2021-`
American Psychiatric Association Foundation Ambassador 2016-2020
The 2019 American Psychiatric Association Assembly Resident-Fellows Mentor Award
The 2018 Massachusetts Psychiatric Society Outstanding Psychiatrist Award for Clinical Psychiatry