Psychologist David Carey gives out expert sdvice on rearing children and beating depression. But the family secret over his real mother and identity of his father left a hole in his own life
'You can be 100pc sure that you're from your family, and you know your cultural and ethnic background, but I can't really be sure of that," muses Dr David Carey over tea in the Fitzwilliam Hotel. "My birth mother was actually my mother's first cousin, but I was adopted because she wasn't well when I was born. Also, there was conflict there with her husband, because I believe he denied paternity of me."
Dr Carey (65) is a leading psychologist, whose extensive knowledge has seen him become highly sought-after for media appearances. He has also provided expert witness testimony in numerous court cases.
An expert in autism, ADHD, behavioural problems, anxiety and mood disorders, and learning difficulties, the American doctor came to live in Ireland 20 years ago.
While he met his birth mother several times growing up in Connecticut, mainly at family funerals, he says that not knowing who his father is has left a hole inside him.
"I don't know who I really am in terms of origin," he says. "It's a family secret that nobody would ever tell me. My mother already had two children with her husband before she had me, so I had a brother who died at 14 in an accident when a tree fell on him, and a sister who sought me out about ten or 12 years ago.
"I think she had the image of an Oprah Winfrey-style reunion in her head, but it just didn't work for me and we didn't keep up the contact.
"She was a stranger to me, and she had a bunch of kids, so I was meeting this whole group of people that I had no connection with. She had experienced a bitter relationship with our birth mother and started to unload all of that on me, but I didn't want, or need, to hear about it."
Growing up in a working-class, Irish-American community in Waterbury, Connecticut, David was the only child of his late parents, James and Mary. His parents had been unable to have children, and were delighted to adopt him, and he was very close to them. His dad worked in the local brass mill, and was very quiet and withdrawn, while his mother was very vivacious and sociable.
He believes that they settled for one another, rather than being in love. His mum lived a lot of her life through David, he recalls, and found it difficult to let go when he was a teenager.
"It unsettled her greatly," he says, "leading her to cry hysterically at times, which was uncomfortable. After my father's sudden death from a heart attack 35 years ago, she ran into her very first boyfriend, Michael, in the street, and they fell in love again.
"They were childhood sweethearts, but my mother contracted TB when she was 16 and spent five years in hospital. By the time she came out, she had lost track of her friends and Michael, as often happened back then. They had a great relationship when they got together in later life, and my mother found the happiness she craved at the end of her life."
As a child, David played the accordion and then took up the clarinet. He became a music major at the University of Connecticut, and taught music at a school for three years. It was the school from hell, he laughs, where chaos reigned and the children were out of control, so he left and worked in an iron mill by day and attended graduate school at night.
David chose to study counselling, mainly because it looked interesting in the prospectus, but fell in love with it. His career stemmed from there, and music teaching's loss was the psychology world's gain.
By then, he was married to his childhood sweetheart Nancie, and they had two daughters, Erin (39) and Bridget (35). They started dating at 16, and were married at 21, which he says was the norm in his community. So while his marriage lasted 22 years before ending in divorce, would he characterise it as a happy one?
"Well, it wasn't miserable," he says. "It was rare that we had a disagreement, but we were very different people. Our relationship ran out of steam, and even though going through the courts was very stressful, it was as reasonable an ending to a marriage as one could hope."
Erin was 18 when her parents' marriage ended and Bridget was almost 14, but happily David maintains a very close relationship with his daughters to this day. So given that he is such an expert in child issues, did that make him a particularly enlightened father?
"Well it's something I would have thought of, but I'm a human being and a father first, not a psychologist," he says. "I made all of the usual mistakes, but I did the best I could and I think it worked out very well. My daughters are wonderful and we are very close, despite the geographical distance.
"I try to get over to visit them twice a year, and am going over as a surprise on Friday for Erin's 40th birthday.
"She and her husband Matthew have two children, Caitlyn and Liam, while Bridget and her partner Eric have three boys, Matthew, Aidan and Riley.
"They are both wonderful mothers, and while they ask my advice now and again, I don't know if they take it."
David came to live in Ireland three years after the end of his marriage. He had been here frequently for special education conferences, and decided to accept a position at the Froebel College of Education. He lectured there for 10 years, and now works at the Connolly Counselling Centre in Stillorgan.
He is also a regular contributor to Moncrieff on News- talk, and his book, The Essential Guide to Special Education in Ireland, has been widely acclaimed.
He says that Ireland has a very poor track record for all kinds of disability services, and we trail way behind the US, where every child is entitled to free mental health services by law up to the age of 18.
"It's very hard to access services here, waiting lists are horrendous, funding is cut back more and more every year, and it is causing huge problems for families," he says. "And when it comes to autism and other developmental disabilities, the earlier you intervene, the better the prognosis.
"The big missing piece is the availability of speech and language and occupational therapists. Many people don't get what they need unless they go privately, and many parents can't afford that. It's upsetting, and I really question whether the Government cares at all about children in general, and children with disabilities in particular."
Speaking on depression, he says that it's the single most under-diagnosed condition in the western world. Mild depression can masquerade as sadness, a negative outlook on life, or social withdrawal, and in teenagers, it very often manifests as boredom and disinterest.
He believes that cognitive behavioural therapy is a very effective form of intervention, and in more severe cases, when used in combination with anti-depressants.
"There is a huge stigma in this country around depression and the whole panoply of mental health conditions," he says. "There is also a real resistance to taking medication, as people are afraid of becoming too dependent on it, when they really need it."
While David had a romantic view of Ireland before he moved here, as Irish-Americans do, he feels that we've lost our sense of community over the past two decades. The main difference he has noticed between Irish people and Americans is that there is a reticence among the Irish to share personal things.
"Coming to live here was a difficult transition as I was alone," he says.
"I had made friends so I had a social network, and that helped a lot. I found love again seven years ago, and have a wonderful partner called Aine. I'm as happy as can be.
"We have separate homes, and she is full of life, with a great sense of humour. I'm a bit shy, believe it or not, and can get anxious around strangers, although I've learned to deal with it. Aine is very sociable and would talk to anyone. Life is great, because I'm alive, which is a very good thing at my age. I don't smoke or take the sun and I'm a light drinker.
"I'm at an age now where I don't fret and worry like I used to, and am delighted that my children and grandchildren are all healthy. I like people, love my work, and have never forgotten that being allowed into someone else's life is one of the greatest privileges you can be given."
For more information on David, please visit www.davidjcarey.com