From a Family of Educators, Dr. Sakina Butt Finds Her Way to Psychology

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Neuropsychologist Sakina Butt, PsyD., ABPP-CN, talks about her role and how she maintains a healthy mind.

Sakina Butt, PsyD., ABPP-CN

Sakina Butt, PsyD., ABPP-CN

Published in Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital - Spring 2021

Sakina Butt, PsyD., ABPP-CN, comes from a family of educators, including her mom, so naturally she thought that would be her initial career path in life, too. When she finally shadowed her mother, she realized it wouldn’t bring her the happiness she seeks in a career, so she started looking into careers that would allow flexibility in her day-to-day schedule but also provide the opportunity to help others and continue learning and teaching. That is when she realized psychology was the perfect fit. Today, she is a clinical neuropsychologist and neuropsychology postdoctoral fellowship training director at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

“I find my work fascinating because it allows me to link the brain with behavior in a manner that is unique and extremely helpful to patients as well as medical professionals,” says Butt.

As we honor Mental Health Awareness Month this May, we asked Butt to share more about what she does in her role and how she maintains a healthy mind.

Describe what you do in a normal day?

In a typical day, I conduct neurodevelopmental and/or neuropsychological evaluations for patients with a variety of medical issues such as prematurity and low birth weight, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, neonatal abstinence syndrome, congenital heart disease, congenital diaphragmatic hernia, genetic disorders, epilepsy, cancer and brain injury. These evaluations link brain-behavior relationships to help families identify their child’s strengths and weaknesses in relation to their health history.

Why did you choose to work at Johns Hopkins All Children’s?

I have worked in a variety of settings throughout my training and early career and realized that there is no better place to be when working with pediatrics than a children’s hospital. I chose to work here because I wanted to be a part of an academic medical center for children that enabled me to be a clinician, clinical researcher, multidisciplinary team member and teacher.

What's your favorite thing about working here?

I love both the families I get to engage with and my team members equally.

Who were your role models growing up, and why?

I had multiple role models growing up who served to inspire and guide me at different phases of my journey. As a young child, my main role models were my parents, close relatives and teachers. As an adolescent/young adult, my role models expanded to include African American leaders (such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks). During my training, seminal leaders in the psychology and neuropsychology field served as role models and continue to do so to this day.

Is there a piece of advice or a motto that guides you? Where did you learn it?

“Every patient has a unique story that is just waiting to be uncovered” – I repeatedly say this to myself as well as all those who train under me as a constant reminder that each patient is an individual with their own unique culture and experience in life. It is necessary to honor that uniqueness in order to provide the best medical care for our patients.

What's the one thing you want your patients to know?

My job is to help parents/caregivers discover how to help their child develop to the utmost of their ability.

What do you do to take your mind off work?

I think it is so important to nurture our whole selves, so I try to engage in self-care, relaxation, and social activities in my “off time.” I enjoy spending time with my husband solving murder mysteries or getting lost in a good book with a glass of wine. I also love rooting for all of my favorite sports teams including the Philadelphia Eagles, the Florida Gators and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Tell us about your family/pets.

My husband and I have been married for 17 years. We don’t have any children of our own, but we are very close with our 10 nieces and nephews (ages 2-19 years) who keep us busy on weekends and holidays.

Is there one piece of mental health advice you would offer to families?

You are not alone, and you don’t have to go through anything alone. Don’t be ashamed, embarrassed or too stubborn to seek help. Never suffer in silence. Instead, give voice to your struggles so that you can rise above them.

How has COVID-19 impacted you personally? Professionally? 

The COVID-19 pandemic created anxiety not just for myself as a health care worker, but for members of my family and friends particularly those at high risk for more severe disease presentations if infected. For the first time in my life, I had to deal with uncertainty and limited control on such a large scale that it really challenged my resolve and ability to continue to be the best in the multiple roles of my life as a wife, health care worker, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. COVID-19 helped me realize how challenging it is to sustain access to health care during a pandemic and taught me lessons in resiliency that I will continue to use even after this threat has passed.