By Marcia Caller Jaffe
Dr. Eric Fier, a native of Baltimore and a medical graduate of Yeshiva University, came to our attention from a patient’s email suggesting that we feature his artsy office’s interior design.
Fier shares how his office décor dovetails with his awards for compassion and unraveling of complicated cases, as well as his thoughts about child rearing in today’s competitive world.
Jaffe: How would you describe your practice?
Fier: I spend most of my day with “quirky kids” — kids and teens who don’t easily fit into neat diagnostic categories. Many find themselves somewhere along the autistic spectrum; most seem to experience the world a bit differently than you or I. I learn new languages — each of my patients has their own way of deciphering their world. I let them teach me. And, once fluent, a relationship is born.
The adults I treat often struggle with debilitating anxiety, depression or bipolar illness. Many have endured remarkable adversity. Addressing this requires a different type of fluency. I’m passionate about Logotherapy — Viktor
Frankl’s approach to identifying a meaning or purpose that might emerge through one’s suffering. It seems that our ability to transcend pain comes through a capacity and willingness to signify it in some way. Having lost my daughter, Rachaeli, three years ago, this resonates deeply with me.
Jaffe: Why a funky environment like this?
Fier: I envisioned a space that did not in any way feel like a sterile, clinical office. If I intended to challenge my patients to think differently about their difficulties, it seemed logical that I design an environment that challenged all preconceptions about what going to the doctor should feel like. When you enter my office, you’re immediately forced to rethink where you are. “Am I in the right place?” is a question we should all ask ourselves regularly.
I began with an open canvas: a 3,000-square-foot warehouse space, a converted factory loft in the Southern Dairies complex on North Avenue in the Old 4th Ward. I designed the build-out myself, envisioning a space that beckons exploration and discovery. Just like my patients, it slowly reveals much more than initially meets the eye.
Jaffe: You have three different waiting areas?
Fier: People like to find their zone. Each of the waiting areas has its own personality. At the entrance, there are retro-modern furnishings, industrial lighting, a spineless pencil cactus and a wall quote by Anais Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” A patient shared this quote with me as she emerged from a depression that nearly consumed her. I’m not one for tattoos, so I put it on my wall.
Down the hall is the second waiting space, a 1950s retro diner featuring a Zodiac burgundy V-back booth and a red glacier boomerang Formica table. The ceiling and walls are covered in retro signage and neon lighting; a tabletop jukebox and Kit-Cat clock add to the ambience of pure 1950s kitsch.
The third waiting space surrounds a 12-foot stage. It’s backlit by nine music-responsive LED panels and features a working microphone and industrial stool. The couches are low and deep, with steampunk-inspired bookshelves built from industrial pipe fittings surrounding the perimeter. Bare Edison bulbs suspend from the loft ceiling. The shelves are filled with eclectic, irreverent reads — most mined from the bowels of Urban Outfitters. The stage space beckons for karaoke, stand-up comedy, interpretive dance. There’s something about a microphone on a stage that draws us out of our shells, irrespective of age. So does a pole, but better judgment prevailed.
Jaffe: What does your own office portend?
Fier: It’s a magical space. In the center, there’s an Eero Aarnio bubble chair suspended from the 16-foot ceiling. It’s an awesome sensory tool that allows kids to swing while talking. I’m often amazed by what even the most extreme ADHD kids can cognitively access in therapy when they’re allowed to move while they engage. Splashes of bright colors fill the space, with a neon-paneled modernist dollhouse from the Museum of Modern Art cantilevered from the wall. There’s a beta fish swimming inside a wall clock, a giant Hoberman Sphere that expands 6 feet, and a hidden missile launcher that shoots foam projectiles at parents who complain too much about their kids’ messy rooms.
The highlight is a secret black-light playroom, whose entrance is hidden behind a sliding piece of wall art. The room pops with lava lamps, plasma spheres, brain models, and toys that fluoresce in DayGlo colors.
Jaffe: Why treat ADD kids by adding distractions?
Fier: Attention deficit is a misnomer. These kids don’t have a deficit of attention; they’re hyperattentive — attending to everything in their sensory environment as they navigate life. What’s more wonderful than a place where every time you visit, you discover something new? On some level, that’s really what therapy is about.
Jaffe: What advice would you give to parents who worry excessively about their kids’ grades?
Fier: The first question we should ask our kids when they get home from school shouldn’t be “How’d you do on your test?” It should be “Were you a mensch today?” We want our kids to grow up to be good, decent, compassionate individuals and to understand that how we treat our peers is infinitely more important than whether we outscored them. When my boys walk in the door, they know I’ll ask them, “Who did you help today? Who did you stand up for?” We, as parents, have to model for them that derech eretz (decency, character) comes before everything. The rest of the world will teach them to compete; it’s my job to teach him to be a mensch.
Photos courtesy of Dr. Eric Fier