DirectorsDavid Brent, MD.
Professor of Psychiatry, Academic Chief, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Department of Psychiatry
Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic
Dr. Brent was born in Rochester, NY and grew up in the Philadelphia area. He received his undergraduate education at Pennsylvania State University and graduated from Jefferson Medical College of the Thomas Jefferson University. Dr. Brent trained in pediatrics at the University of Colorado, in general and child psychiatry at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, and completed a master’s degree in psychiatric epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health. He is currently Academic Chief, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics & Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Dr. Brent co-founded and now directs Services for Teens at Risk (STAR), a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania-funded program for suicide prevention, education of professionals, and the treatment of at-risk youth and their families. In 2002 he was appointed as the first Endowed Chair in Suicide Studies and in 2009 a Professor in the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.
His work in the area of suicide has focused on the epidemiology of adolescent suicide, and has helped to identify the role of firearms, substance abuse, and mood disorders as risk factors for youth suicide. Consequently, he and colleagues at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic have helped to establish the role of cognitive therapy as a treatment for depressed adolescents in NIMH-funded clinical trials, and developed national practice guidelines for the treatment of and management of adolescent depression and suicidal behavior. Other areas of work have focused on bereavement after suicide and how suicidal behavior is transmitted within families. Dr. Brent’s work has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD). He has been recognized for his research by NARSAD, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the American Association for Suicidology, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. In 2007, he became a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science.
Paula S. McCommons, Ed.D.
Director, STAR-Center Outreach and
Mental Health Liaison for Allegheny County Student
Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic
Dr. Paula McCommons received her B.A. in psychology from Seton Hill College in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. She studied in London for six months and interned in a psychiatric day hospital there. In 1992 she received her M.Ed. in Educational Counseling from the University of Pittsburgh where she later received her Ed.D. in Educational Administration. Dr. McCommons is a nationally certified counselor with specialties in school and career counseling. She is also a PA certified guidance counselor and post-secondary student personnel specialist. Dr. McCommons interned at a middle school for international studies and a college counseling center. In 2000 she completed a Gestalt Training Program for Professionals. Her previous experience includes teaching, research, and presenting.
Dr. McCommons is currently a behavioral health liaison for the Allegheny County Student Assistance Program provided by Allegheny County and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside. She also serves as the program manager for the Student Assistance Program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside.
In the fall of 2010, Dr. McCommons took on the role of Director for STAR-Center Outreach activities. Dr. McCommons also provides crisis intervention, postvention assistance and consultation to school districts and communities across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Training and special topic presentations related to school safety, crisis prevention/intervention/management, and postvention are provided upon request. In addition to the variety of duties she has at STAR-Center, Dr. McCommons works as an independent contractor creating and facilitating workshops on conflict mediation training, student leadership development, staff development, stress management, and career life planning. Dr. McCommons has also co-taught graduate level courses in Group Dynamics and Conflict Management at the University of Pittsburgh.
For the past four years she has served on the executive committee of the Pennsylvania Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative (PAYSPI) and has assisted with the development of state-wide symposiums, conferences and legislative initiatives. Dr. McCommons has also co-chaired the task force subcommittee for PAYSPI and has facilitated regional workshops related to suicide prevention, schools and communities. Along with her STAR-Center colleagues, Dr. McCommons has provided technical support for the SAMHSA sponsored Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Grant for Pennsylvania focusing on screening in primary care.
Clinical Program Manager:
Kim Poling, LCSW
Kimberly Poling received her Bachelor Degree in Social Work in 1980 and her Master Degree in Social Work in 1982, both from West Virginia University. Following graduation from WVU, Ms. Poling worked for two years in Washington, Pennsylvania, providing individual and family therapy to at-risk teenagers. From 1984-1987, she continued her work with children, adolescents and their families by providing mental health services at the Beaver County Community Mental Health Center.
In 1987 Ms. Poling joined the STAR-Center Clinic, a specialty program for suicidal adolescents, a division of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Program of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. At STAR-Center she works as a therapist and additionally as the Clinical Program Manager. She also served as administrator for Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic’s general child and adolescent outpatient programs.
In 1991 she completed a year of additional training to become certified as a Cognitive Therapist, through the Cleveland Center for Cognitive Therapy in Cleveland Ohio. In 1996, Ms. Poling completed intensive training with Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Ms. Poling also attended specialized training in Family Focused Treatment (FFT) with David Miklowitz, Ph.D. at the University of Colorado in 1999. In 2006, Ms. Poling completed training in Well-Being Therapy with Giovanna Fava, M.D. in Venice Italy.
During her years at the STAR-Center Clinic she has been involved in developing and implementing treatment protocols and supervising cognitive therapists both in Pittsburgh and throughout the country, for three major federally funded research grants. She is an expert in the areas of cognitive therapy, psychiatric diagnostic and suicide risk assessments. Ms. Poling provides numerous trainings throughout the country. She has also served as a faculty member of the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and most recently for the Psychology in Education Department of the University of Pittsburgh.
The STAR-Center Clinic provides assessment and outpatient treatment for teens and pre-teens who are at risk for depression, suicide or anxiety. The treatment staff performs complete psychiatric evaluations and risk assessments resulting in a comprehensive treatment program.
The Staff of the Clinic include:
Maria Anderson, MSW
Maria joined the STAR Clinic in July 2013 as an individual therapist. She had previously worked as an individual, group and family therapist for three years at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic's Center for Psychiatric and Chemical Dependency Services (CPCDS), a program serving adolescents and adults with multiple, complex psychiatric and substance use problems. Prior to coming to WPIC in 2010, she worked on a federally supported SAMHSA grant in Chicago's inner city at the largest substance abuse agency in Illinois. She was one of two professionals recruited to implement the clinical portion of a project that provided HIV prevention services to high risk substance abusing women of color. Maria earned her Bachelor of Arts degree at DePaul University in 2005 and her Masters in Social Work with honors from Rhode Island College in 2007. Her MSW internships included working with Family Services of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Hospital's Adult Psychiatric Inpatient Unit, a facility associated with Brown University.
Cynthia Baca, RN, MSN
Cynthia Baca earned her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Nursing from Waynesburg University. She has been a nurse for 25 years, with 15 years of experience in child and adolescent psychiatry. Cynthia joined Services for Teens at Risk (STAR-Center) in 2008. She completed CBT training at The Cleveland Center for Cognitive Therapy in Cleveland OH. As a nurse clinician at STAR, Cynthia provides medication management, psycho-education, and individual therapy, while also assisting with group therapy sessions.
Christina Hanna - Clinician, STAR-Center
Christina joined the STAR-Center in October, 2015 as an
individual and group therapist for children and adolescents. Christina
completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Sociology at the
University of Pittsburgh in 2013 and her Master's Degree in Professional
Counseling at Carlow University in 2015. Christina completed an internship at
the STAR-Center in 2014, providing individual and group therapy for
adolescents. She is presently a doctoral student of Counseling Psychology at
Carlow University and serves as Adjunct Faculty in their School of Leadership
and Social Change.
Brian W. McKain, RN, MSN
Brian has been with STAR-Center since February of 1999. He has served in various capacities over the years including clinician, trainer and the Assistant Director of STAR-Center School and Community Outreach. Brian currently works as an individual therapist, medication nurse and co-leader of the adult Survivors of Suicide Group. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the University of Pittsburgh in 1978, and a Masters of Science in Nursing with a specialty in child psychiatry from Yale University in 1986.
Sharon Shorak, LSW
Sharon joined the STAR-Center outpatient clinic in
September, 2014 as an individual therapist for children and adolescents and as
a group therapist for the STAR-Center Intensive Outpatient Program. Sharon
completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology at Penn State University in
1995 and her Master's Degree in Social Work in 2014 from the University of
Pittsburgh and holds a certification as a home and school visitor in Pennsylvania.
She completed her internship at STAR-Center outpatient clinic in 2012,
providing individual and group therapy for adolescents. Sharon also
completed an internship at West Allegheny School District working with children
as a school social worker.
Susan Wesner, RN, MSN, CS
Susan Wesner earned her Bachelor of Nursing degree from Carlow College in 1977 and her Master of Nursing degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1986. She is certified as a Psychiatric Nurse Specialist and as a Bereavement Specialist. Sue worked with the STAR-Center Outpatient Clinic at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic for 20 years functioning as a therapist and medication nurse. Currently, Sue is working in the Bellefield Clinic with adults diagnosed with affective disorders. Sue functions as a therapist, medication nurse and partial hospital program group leader. In addition to her clinical duties, Susan continues to serve as the facilitator of the STAR-Center Survivors of Suicide groups for adults, adolescents, and children, as she has done for the past 22 years. These groups provide services for individuals after a suicide death. Approximately 150 individuals from the Tri-state area go through this program each year.
Monica Yeater, Psy.D.
Monica joined the STAR-Center Outpatient clinic as a therapist in the summer of 2004. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Wheeling Jesuit University and completed her Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology at Xavier University. She has experience providing individual and group therapy with children and adolescents in community mental health, school-based, and residential treatment settings. Before coming to STAR-Center, Monica completed postdoctoral training in psychotherapy and psychological testing at an urban community mental health agency for children and adolescents in Cleveland, OH.