BY HEIDI STUKKIE
PHOTOGRAPHER TERRY JOHNSTON
As a woman who is always seeking peace, Dr. Carolyn King has fun with her name. She once had a former business called C. King Peace Psychiatry.
(Get it? If not, say it aloud.)
This independent and spirited woman also likes being called Dr. King as it reminds her of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. –– a man she truly admires. When she got married, King didn’t take her husband’s last name because, as she says, “Dr. King sounded too good.”
Along with the playful monikers, King currently has two job titles. The first is Child and Adult Psychiatrist –– a title she says comes from her education –– and the second is Behavioral Health Ambassador.
“I had to lobby for this title,” she says.
King believes a lot still needs to be done in terms of education to remove the stigma associated with mental health issues. She hopes we will one day discuss mental health similar to how we now speak about breast and prostate cancers. It used to be that people rarely talked about these “taboo” cancers, but today it’s commonplace.
With that goal in mind, King tirelessly advocates in her role as Behavioral Health Ambassador to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health. In addition to treating patients at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, she appears at events and on local TV and radio stations talking about topics such as stress, holiday blues, self-esteem, postpartum depression, and more. King regularly shares her knowledge about anything having to do with the brain, especially on how to “love the brain.”
Originally from the east side of the state, King moved to Grand Rapids six years ago and began working for Pine Rest shortly afterward. She relocated because she found the perfect home. After five years of looking, King decided the house was worth it and moved her family across the state.
She soon discovered the culture in West Michigan is a bit different from where she grew up and it was an adjustment.
“I am a product of Detroit, and not a mild-mannered, soft-spoken product,” King says.
Now six years later, her life in Grand Rapids is busy with family, work, and exercising –– this former aerobics instructor loves Zumba and yoga.
Inquiring about her family, King laughs and quickly replies, “I have two sons, two dogs, two former husbands, one mother, and one fish.”
She divorced from her second husband in May, but she doesn’t want condolences. She prefers “congratulations” instead, as she considers both of her marriages to be learning experiences.
“I did two 10-year journeys into marriage and with each husband, I learned something different,” she says.
King may be single again, but she is certainly not alone. Living with her now are her mother, her 10-year-old son Jelani, a niece, a medical student, dogs Pepperjack and Winn-Dixie, and a fish.
Her oldest son Gary is 19 and away at college. He’s studying theatre at Columbia College in Chicago and hopes to be an actor one day. Sharing his mother’s good looks and vibrant personality, he stands to succeed.
So, what’s it like to have Dr. King, the psychiatrist, as a mother?
“She is a really amazing woman who is smart and creative,” Gary says. “She knows how to make learning fun, but she lets you know if you mess up.” He adds that King could be a “monster” when he totally messed up, but says he went off to college so “it was effective.”
Younger brother Jelani shares Gary’s love and admiration for his mother.
“She is awesome,” he says. “She doesn’t make you do too little work and she doesn’t make you do too much.”
King’s dream home has five bedrooms and an abundance of space. There is plenty of colorful artwork throughout and a lot of Martin Luther King, Jr. memorabilia inherited from her father, who died when King was only 9. He was an ardent follower of the peace movement.
What’s most interesting about the house is that it has two kitchens and King doesn’t cook. While admitting this, she laughs and says, “Can I say that out loud? Really loud?”
King decided at age 12 that she wasn’t going to cook and, after all these years, she’s stayed true to that decision. When she was only 3, she also decided that she wanted to be a doctor and followed through on that choice as well.
Not all children are as decisive, nor do they all know what their career options are. That’s why King co-founded, along with Don J. Tynes, MD, an organization called Reach Out To Youth (ROTY) nearly 24 years ago. She was in medical school at the time and wondered what could be done for black history month.
King and Tynes decided to take a group of children through the college’s medical lab so they could gain an appreciation for the human body and consider medicine as a possible career.
The tour was a success and now ROTY hosts an annual event at the Wayne State University School of Medicine with help from the Black Medical Association. The program is open to children, ages 7-11, and parents who have an interest in medicine. The idea is to expose them to a profession they may not know much about.
More than 200 Detroit area students and 100 parents participate annually and the event happens on February 2 this year.
To become a child and adult psychiatrist, King’s education took 18 years to complete. She first earned her Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Psychology from Wayne State University in 1989 and then her medical degree (M.D.) from Wayne State University School of Medicine in 1993. After that, she completed five years of an adult psychiatry residency followed by two years of a child psychiatry residency at the University of Michigan. She graduated in 2000.
As a member of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, she has served on their Consumers Issue Committee for almost 10 years. This national medical association acts as a resource for information and is often used by the media, the Mayo Clinic, and other organizations.
At Pine Rest, King works in both the inpatient and outpatient areas. She treats people who have attempted or are considering suicide and those with major depressive disorders such as Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder. Patients with ADHD/ADD, Autism, Asperger’s, Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Postpartum Depression, and other mental health issues are seen by King as well.
King takes a holistic approach to treating patients. Physical problems such as thyroid issues or Anemia can affect one’s mental health so patients are usually given a physical as part of their treatment.
“It’s all one body and the brain is just another organ of the body,” says King. “Our brain is our behavior organ.”
As a psychiatrist, she is able to prescribe medication to patients. King says it’s sometimes necessary to alter a person’s brain chemistry by lowering Dopamine, increasing Serotonin, or with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in order to treat them. She often finds that therapy is 70 percent effective and medication is 70 percent effective, but when the treatments are combined, they are 80 percent effective.
King thinks it’s “very empowering” to help patients see that they do have alternative ways to respond to situations and that they can control their behavior. The “ah-ha” moment they experience is rewarding for her to witness.
She treats around 8-10 patients a day, or around 700 patients a year on average.
Whenever she’s working, King serves as an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry for the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and has medical students with her all of the time. They even go along when she’s on TV or radio shows to talk about mental health issues.
Like her patients, King’s own brain needs rest and relaxation in order to function well so she tries to get plenty of sleep and exercises regularly. And when she has time in the summer, she heads to Detroit to enjoy the 33’ Chris Craft she shares with her Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority sister, Pam. Travel is an activity she enjoys as well.
No matter what she has going on, Dr. Carolyn King will keep sharing her vast knowledge about mental health and she will continue seeking peace.