Alvin Michaels, M.D.

Alvin Michaels, M.D. (B.S. ’56, M.D. 60’, Psychiatry Residency 67’) in many ways, Dr. Alvin “Al” Michaels’ professional life is even more active today than when he began his career in psychiatry nearly 50 years ago.

A psychiatrist in private practice, a teacher and mentor to young trainees, and someone who seeks out every opportunity he can to expand his knowledge about new developments in the field, 
Dr. Michaels also serves as medical advisor for DBSA Metro Detroit and is heavily involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In 2010, NAMI named him an “exemplary psychiatrist” to honor his commitment to excellent care, reducing stigma around mental illness, and promoting public education and advocacy at the community level.

Dr. Michaels earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from U-M, and in 1961, in the middle of his first year of residency, he received a draft notice. After a stint as a Navy psychiatrist stationed at a Marine air station in California, he returned to U-M to finish his training, and soon after established his own practice. He has worked in private practice and in a variety of other roles ever since.

Although Dr. Michaels sees patients of all ages, he has devoted much of his career to helping meet the mental health needs of young people, serving as a consultant to several area school districts and the Wayne County Juvenile Court over the years.

Trained in psychiatry at a time when the field was dominated by psychoanalytic theory, over the course of his career Dr. Michaels has developed particular expertise in psychodynamic psychotherapy. “At its core, the psychodynamic point of view provides a framework to empathize more fully with patients, to try to be in their shoes, to feel what they feel, so that you can help with their troubles, their depression, their anxiety, their difficulties at work, or with relationships,” Dr. Michaels says.

Currently, Dr. Michaels serves as one of the supervisors for the department’s psychodynamic psychotherapy program. Dr. Michaels says the exchange of knowledge with residents is definitely bi-directional, and that he appreciates the residents’ deep knowledge about the biological aspects of psychiatry as well as their diverse perspectives and experiences.

“I find it very gratifying to be able to share some of the things that I’ve been able to learn with a new generation,” Dr. Michaels says, “and I learn a great deal from them too. This program is one way 
I can stay connected and is also a modest attempt on my part to give back to the university and to the department, which have given me so much.”

A frequent attendee of Department grand rounds and the Depression Center Colloquium, Dr. Michaels says these events provide him with an exceptional opportunity to learn about the latest research and innovations in psychiatry. “It’s a privilege to learn from experts from all over the world, including our own campus, and to be inspired by their work and their creativity and energy,” he says. “They present such fascinating and important ideas that are expanding the field.”

“Over my career I’ve been able to witness the development of marvelous scientific advancements and treatments – medications, new forms of psychotherapy, and additional neuromodulation therapies – that have helped diminish or even eliminate patients’ suffering,” Dr. Michaels continues. “but while we have these fantastic advances with the potential to change people’s lives, there’s still a tremendous amount of unmet need due to lack of public funding, insurance coverage, and the stigma that still persists in preventing people from seeking and receiving the care they need.”

“Still, I think society has come a long way,” Dr. Michaels continues, “and particularly with the very significant needs of our veterans having become much more visible to the public, perhaps we’re 
seeing a shift in awareness and willingness to support much needed treatment. I certainly hope so.”