A self-described "Air Force brat," Dr. Jerry Heston was born outside Savannah in the little town of Hinesville, Georgia, "and then traveled just about everywhere." He came to Memphis to attend Rhodes College ("back when it was called Southwestern"), then earned his medical degree from the University of South Florida at Tampa.
In 1981, he returned to Memphis to do his residency at the University of Tennessee Medical School and LeBonheur Children's Medical Center.
"I initially thought I wanted to go into pediatrics," says Heston, "but during my pediatric training I saw an unmet need for children's mental-health issues. So I decided to switch gears a bit and go into child psychiatry."
Heston joined the faculty of UT and remained with the university until last year, when he opened his own practice in Cordova, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Associates. The group includes another psychiatrist and a social worker.
By far the most common problems his patients face are attention-deficit disorder and depression. Medications are still the most effective treatment for ADD, and Heston has seen significant improvements in that area since he became a doctor.
"When I started training, Ritalin was about it," he says. "Now there are more medications to choose from, though there is still a lot of controversy surrounding the use of stimulants and kids. But since I've been doing this, we see much stronger evidence of the effectiveness of medications, and at the same time, more recognition of the dangers of medications."
Depression can be a bit trickier to diagnose and treat, "but the psychiatric field is develop-ing proven treatments and getting those out into actual practice," Heston says. "There is good documentation of the positive effects of psychotherapy -- not just people saying it helped them, but actually proven effectiveness."
One form of treatment that seems to work well is a combination of antidepressants and a specific kind of counseling called cognitive behavioral psychotherapy.
"That looks at changing the person's thinking and behavior that may be associated with their depression," he explains. For example, if a patient gets a bad grade on a report card, and as a result says he or she feels stupid, Heston says, "I tell them, 'Okay, let's put that in perspective. Did you study for the test? Maybe not, so it's not that you're dumb, it's just that you weren't prepared.' So you just try to change their mindset, because if you think that way enough, you start acting that way. And at the same time, I try to get them to study more so they'll do better and not be depressed."
The most challenging part of his practice, he says, "is getting people to realize that kids are a valuable resource, and they need to be treated with respect and care."
Heston is clearly excited about his chosen field. "The reward of being a child psychologist is just unbelievable," he says. "I can't imagine doing anything else. It is just the perfect job for me."