Ellen Rowntree, MD
I was born in New Haven, Connecticut where my parents were professors at Yale, my mother in psychiatry and my father in sociology. My father died and my mother, my older brother and I moved to Rhode Island where she met and married an internist who had escaped from Nazi Germany in 1938. In 1944 my younger sister was born. When I was 11, my stepfather died of progressive generalized vasculitis. Fortunately, my mother was a strong woman, capable of raising the family on her own. She was the medical director of a large state hospital where we lived in one of the doctors’ houses on the grounds. So, I grew up exposed to psychiatry and medicine from early on. As a teenager I spent my summers working at the hospital and even then I hoped to be a psychiatrist.
I was educated at a Quaker school in Providence and then at Wellesley College, outside of Boston. I married my husband Peter soon after graduating from college. He was at Harvard Law School so I started my medical training at Harvard. I transferred to Columbia Medical School when Peter accepted a job at a law firm in NYC and we moved there. After medical school and internship, I trained in psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and then in postgraduate psychoanalysis at the Columbia Psychoanalytic Institute.
Peter and I have two children. Our son David was born between my third and fourth years of medical school and our daughter Elizabeth was born just before my internship. During the training years I was able to work out a schedule which gave me time, but not enough time, with them. Looking back, we are struck by how busy those years were for us and we wonder how we did it all! We are very proud of our children and we now have three grandchildren, ages 13, 12 and 10 who are very special to us.
In the early seventies the family moved to Westchester where I practiced psychiatry and psychoanalysis for thirty years. I also taught and supervised other doctors at both the Westchester Division of New York Hospital/Cornell Medical School and the Columbia Psychoanalytic Institute. And I was active in the national and international psychoanalytic associations which allowed me to meet many colleagues, exposing me to ideas from all over the country and the world, particularly Europe and South America.
I always felt lucky to be doing the work I did. It was a privilege to be able to work with people in such a personal way. I learned from my patients and I grew with them.
We bought our house in Sheffield in 1991 and spent weekends and most vacations here. When Peter retired from his law firm in 1998, he began to spend more time here and we became increasingly involved with local community activities and organizations. I decided to retire in 2003 so we could be here fulltime. We are very happy here in the Berkshires!
I applied for a Massachusetts medical license five years before I retired, thinking I might want to have a private practice here. But when I closed my practice in Westchester, I decided to do other things instead. I volunteered with Hospice, I was on the Boards of the Sheffield Land Trust and Gould Farm, I wrote for the Sheffield newspaper, I mentored a high school student, I became involved in the Called to Care group at Old Parish Church. As time went on, I missed my clinical work. I had been following the development of VIM and I thought this might be a place where I could make a contribution to the community by doing the work I loved doing.
The experience at VIM is different from my previous work because I used to meet more frequently with my patients over a longer period of time and many of my patients were professionals – like teachers, other doctors, social workers, religious leaders. I am at VIM only one afternoon per week so I can’t see patients as often as I would like. The people who come to VIM come from many different backgrounds and different countries and that is exciting. I am pleased that the number of volunteer mental health therapists has been increasing this year which means that we will be able to treat more patients more frequently and for longer periods of time, if needed.
In many ways, the work at VIM is similar to the work I did before because people in Westchester and people here in the Berkshires struggle with issues that are universal- depression, anxiety, intimacy and sexual problems, job related problems, family issues and other life conflicts. As I said before, it is a privilege to do this work. I feel honored when people share their life stories and explore their most intimate thoughts and feelings with me. Sometimes just being there and listening and helping a patient think about things in new ways makes a huge difference. Sometimes medication is enormously beneficial. Sometimes guidance can help a patient through a painful crisis. I’ve had some really interesting patients here at VIM.
VIM is a great place; it is a real jewel. The staff and volunteers here are committed and hard working – as is the Board. It is unusual to have so many different specialties available to a patient under one roof and our Clinical Care Coordinator is talented in combining the different services into integrated care for our patients. I wish more people in the community would visit to see for themselves the excellence of the work that is being done at VIM and the many different services that are offered. I am happy to be here.