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Visionary - October 2019

Meet Amanda Heeren

Program Director, Mood Disorders Center;

University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine


A Julia Freeman Feature


October 2019-As one of two core staff members in a University of Iowa (UI) center that is actionably changing lives and fueling connections, Amanda Heeren is approachable and open to conversations about anything in social situations in a way that far outlasts typical engagement. Heeren is a social worker, adjunct professor, therapist, and program director of the UI Mood Disorders Center. The Center has a treatment profile including mood disorders outpatient, an inpatient mood disorders service, mood disorders partial hospital program, treatment-refractory mood disorder consultation clinic, women’s wellness service, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) programs, targeted psychotherapy workshops, and is starting a ketamine infusion program. The Center collaborates with the Iowa Neuroscience Institute to support research initiatives across the University. Research programs include those focused on molecular biology, genetics, proteomics, physiology, brain imaging, and clinical trials in mood disorders. The Mood Disorders Center wants to serve as a home landing for research volunteers impacted by bipolar, depression, and other mood disorders. Heeren mostly helps facilitate the support groups and connect people to resources.


After exploring the majors of criminal justice, sports medicine, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and physiology as an undergraduate at Iowa Central Community College and then transferring to the UI, she declared as a social work major. Social work professor at the UI, Dr. Sara Sanders, had a major impact and her influence solidified Heeren’s career path. Along with Valerie Lovaglia, Sanders helped Heeren realize the insistence of doing the right thing. Now, with two children of her own and multiple siblings, Heeren also attributes her parents and step-parents for showing her the importance of taking care to be present and contribute.


Thanks in part to a grant from Iowa City, she has helped to create an acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) group for parolees to expand mental health access and train parole officers accordingly. The 6-week design is more psychoeducational than similar program models, offers peer counseling, and numerous ways to change for parolees at a macro level of orientation; an aspect of social work that Heeren initially claims drew her into the field to enact change on a public policy scale. This project alone would qualify Heeren as a visionary, but she doesn’t stop there with her influence.


The most difficult part of Heeren’s role is that she is so profoundly hopeful and fixated on solving problems to get through to the next step that it sometimes gets in the way. To go into work daily in a role that allows “me to be my authentic self as a profound extrovert” is the best part of her directorship, according to Heeren. Being surrounded by people fulfills her desire and need to connect through conversations with constant connection and sensationalizing important issues and values. She prides herself in serving as a home base to connect people to resources and then further refer out as needed. Heeren self identifies as a nonjudgmental, individual whole person-focused approach that understands that people are not boxes of symptoms or a diagnosis, rather they often need a systems viewpoint to include family and friends in diagnosis, treatment, management, and recovery.


Call us (the Center) if you don’t know what to do,” she explains, “to get through the stage that you are in.” Since the Mood Disorders Center came into existence in 2016, they have been in a space designed to help manage medications, provide psychotherapy, and overall feel like a place where patients with mood disorders do not feel alone. She emphasizes that thoughts are not facts and specializes in expanding options, resources, and referrals for all people, regardless of identity.


Help is possible. The Center can be reached at 1-319-353-6314