Dr. Nehama Baum is a psychologist internationally known for her pioneering work with people with dual diagnosis (developmental disabilities and mental illness). The founder and past Executive Director of the Muki Baum Association, she brings to her work intense academic rigor and personal passion.
Born and educated in Israel, Dr. Baum was drawn early on to the work in which she would eventually specialize, investing her time and energy during her youth in volunteering at an institution for children with Cerebral Palsy. She completed her undergraduate studies in Social Work in 1958, with a specialization in family therapy for families who had a child with Cerebral Palsy.
During the next twenty years of private practice in Israel, Dr. Baum also completed a double B.A. in Special Education and Counselling and in History of Art at the Hebrew University (1970/1971) and an M.A. in Special Education and Counseling at Hebrew University (1975).Michael (Muki) Baum was born
While in her pregnancy, she was a member of a governmental committee with a mandate to initiate and organize services in the State of Israel for children with Cerebral Palsy. In a twist of fate, in 1959, she gave birth to her own son, Muki, who was born suffering from Cerebral Palsy and deafness. Dr. Baum was able to use her professional expertise to enable her son Muki to learn and develop. She also used her expertise to help other families in similar situations and to mobilize the educational system in Israel to enable it to help such children. Muki was the first child with Cerebral Palsy to be accepted to a specialized pre-school at the age of only three, rather than the age of five as was the custom at the time. Later, Muki was the first child in Israel with such complex handicaps to be integrated into the public school system.
Realizing that she was Muki’s lifeline and appreciating her own mortality, Nehama Baum felt that she needed to be seeking the stability of a more established, integrative life system for her son. She moved to Canada with Muki in 1976 while her husband stayed in Israel. In Canada, in spite of his physical and sensory handicaps and only after a few years, Muki became completely independent and eventually moved to his own apartment. He became a contributing member of society in his fundraising efforts on behalf of the organization that carried his name.One step forward, three steps back
In January 2000, Muki’s health deteriorated. He lost all of his body functions and was near death. He was diagnosed with cervical spinal cord injury and had to undergo a very risky and complicated surgery. Following that, Muki endured almost a year of rehabilitation in the hospital. He lost his ability to live independently and had to move back to his parents’ home upon his release.
Nehama has always believed that each and every event in our lives has a “lesson with benefits” in it. She embraces even the painful ones with the trust that if we look deep enough we will eventually find out that every such event brings with it opportunities for growth and change.Field work intensifies
Nehama’s life story is a testament to this trust. In 1980, upon graduating from the University of Toronto with a Ph.D. in Psychology, Nehama Baum intensified her professional and volunteer work in the field of developmental disabilities and mental illness. It was during her studies at the University of Toronto, that Dr. Baum founded a treatment centre for children with complex and challenging handicapping conditions.
Her experience as a mother of a child with such complex disabilities taught her not only about parents’ experiences but also about what children with such challenges require for their education, remediation, emotional growth and well being. To promote self worth and identity of people with developmental disabilities, especially of those who suffer from a dual diagnosis, and to further enhance their quality of life, Dr. Baum implemented various innovative programs that were not practised in Canada. One example of her pioneering work is the use of in-depth psychotherapy with this population. At the time, the common belief was that individuals with developmental disabilities could not benefit from in-depth psychotherapy because of their intellectual limitations. As early as 1972, and based on the work she had done in Israel, Nehama Baum disputed this notion. She published an article describing the use of in-depth psychotherapy with children and adults with complex disabilities. With the use of therapies such as art, music, drama and movement, rather than behaviour modification methods, the children at MukiBaum were able to excel, change and grow and resolve many of their emotional and behavioural difficulties. In the 1980s, MukiBaum was one of only a few organizations in North America to employ therapists in these disciplines.Lifelong belief in the arts
Nehama Baum has had a lifelong belief in the arts as an important tool in the fulfillment of an individual. Her background includes twelve years in the theatre as a child actress, through the Military theatre in the Israeli Army, and in professional commercial theatre. She has a BA in Art History (Hebrew University), and two years of training in clay modeling and sculpture at the Bezalel Academy of Art, Jerusalem. With her son and at MukiBaum she put her beliefs to practise. She encouraged Muki, since his childhood to utilize his artistic talent. He is a clay creator and sculptor and to this day continues to work in an art studio on a weekly basis.
Learning from her experiences as a mother and observing that some of the children and adults receiving art therapies at the Association show clear artistic talent; in 1993 Dr. Baum pioneered a School of the Arts which provided art education and professional training in the visual and performing arts to individuals served by the Association. Dr. Baum also created an Outreach Program for individuals with developmental disabilities from the community and other agencies so that they too could benefit from the School of the Arts. She published and presented in conferences on the topics of art education and art therapy clearly explaining the differences between the two and emphasizing the benefits to this population of both Expressive Art Therapies and Art Education.The little treatment centres that grew...
From a small treatment centre with seven students in 1979, the Muki Baum Association, a non-profit, charitable organization, and transfer payment agency with the Government of Ontario, grew to an Association that provides treatment to 167 children and adults who have dual diagnosis and other secondary handicapping conditions. With Dr. Baum’s humanistic treatment and therapeutic approach at its core, the Association provides day treatment programs and a high-support residential program.
In her personal life, Dr. Baum continues to actualize her commitment and devotion to this population. All these years she has been a foster and adoptive parent, using her love and knowledge to provide a caring long-term placement home to many children with special needs. For example, for nine years she and her husband fostered a non verbal young girl with a very severe case of autism and developmental handicap until she became a young woman who moved to a group home residential setting. She is still providing a loving home to a 28 year old young man with Down ’s syndrome whom she took from an institution when he was seven years old. As a biological and foster parent to children with such complex handicapping conditions, Nehama understands the deep and painful feelings parents’ experience, and thus is able to be an inspiration to those parents who gain support and consolation from her.Constant motivation
The commitment of Dr. Baum to individuals with developmental disabilities and psychiatric disorders and her belief in the use of in-depth psychotherapy with this population has constantly motivated her to search for, and implement, additional effective treatment modalities. She had the vision to see the potential in Sandplay Therapy (a Jungian therapeutic modality for people without handicaps). She brought Sandplay Therapy to Canada and pioneered its use with this population. A Master Teacher for the International Society for Sandplay Therapy, she trains, supervises and teaches students in this therapy. Muki Baum Association is the only treatment facility in the world that provides training internship opportunities in Sandplay Therapy with this population to professionals from Canada and foreign countries.
Dr. Baum is currently conducting groundbreaking research on the implementation of Sandplay Therapy in treatment of people with schizophrenia. Such therapy is unique in the world today and Dr. Baum’s presentations on the results of her research to international conferences elicit great interest among the healthcare professionals.Quality of Life
Dr. Baum is strongly committed to enhancing the quality of life of people with developmental and emotional disabilities. As a member of the Special Interest Research Group (SIRG) of the International Association for Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities (IASSID), Dr. Baum participates in yearly meetings of the SIRG, presenting results of her research on enhancing the quality of life of individuals with multiple disabilities. Dr. Baum integrated quality-of-life principles into the Multi-Focal Approach, which is practiced at the Muki Baum Association since its inception. She continues to be strongly committed to enhancing the quality of life of the people it serves.
In her practice, Dr. Baum recognized that challenging behavioural expressions, ranging from aggression to withdrawal, often result from sensory disorders. In 2001, Dr. Baum initiated the creation of the Muki Baum Association’s Sensory-Motor Therapy Centre in Vaughan. The Centre is among a handful in North America to provide intense all-encompassing sensory therapy to people with dual diagnosis, autism, and other complex disorders, significantly alleviating their condition by making them more comfortable with various sensory input, self-regulation, and motor skills, and through improving their attention and interaction.The Sensory World
Thanks to the success of the Muki Baum Association’s Sensory-Motor Therapy Centre and the reputation it has gained over the brief 2 years of its operation, Dr. Baum decided to convene a conference to share her experiences with the other professionals working in the field as well as with the public at large. The Conference, entitled “Come To Your Senses: From Theory & Research To Practice Sensory Therapy & Disabilities” was held in Toronto in October 2005. Among the international attendees of note was Dr. Oliver Sacks, the author of Awakenings (which became the basis for an Oscar-nominated movie with the same name, featuring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro) and, more recently, A Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Dr. Oliver Sacks was the Featured Keynote Speaker at the Conference. He agreed to speak at the conference after Dr. Baum impressed him in a personal letter she wrote to him outlining her own experiences. The 2nd International Conference was also a great success; taking place in May 2007 and focusing on “Opening the Sensory World to Children and Adults with Complex Disabilities.”
True to her commitment, Dr. Baum continues her work, improving the lives of people affected by multiple disabilities. She is an inspiration to countless professionals and parents of people with disabilities in Ontario and around the world. As MukiBaum Treatment Centres continues to grow and change, Dr. Baum is looking into the future full of promise - for the Association she has built and for the hundreds of individuals and their families whose lives were forever changed by her professional skill, knowledge, love and dedication.
Although pleased with MukiBaum's accomplishments, Dr. Baum knows that MukiBaum Treatment Centres has merely skimmed the surface with the hundreds of lives that it has transformed compared to the countless children and adults that could benefit in the future. To help answer the need, MukiBaum Treatment Centres is expanding and opening up a state-of-the-art facility called the Centre For Ability in Toronto. This is Dr. Nehama Baum's dream building that will allow MukiBaum to consolidate much of its day programs under one roof, expand current programs and extend overall community involvement.
What's next for MukiBaum? Reaching out to the world on a global level virtually so that we can continue to find human treasures beyond disability.