Meet Dr. Micaela Thordarson

CHOC Children’s wants its referring physicians to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Micaela Thordarson, lead psychologist, ASPIRE® (After School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education) Intensive Outpatient Program at CHOC Children’s. 

Q: What is your education and training?

A: I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychobiology from UCLA with a minor in Spanish. I earned my PhD and master’s degree in clinical psychology from Palo Alto University with a specialization in children, adolescents and families. I completed my pre-doctoral internship with Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and my post-doctoral fellowship with Geisinger Health Systems in Pennsylvania.

Q: What are your special clinical interests?

A: I am particularly passionate about working with high-risk pediatric patients. I have done a great deal of work with suicidal and self-harming youth and their families. As a bilingual clinician in Spanish and English, I am also very interested in the interactions between mental health and cultural identities, for example, race/ethnicity, gender, religion and age.

Q: How long have you been on staff at CHOC?

A: I joined CHOC in October 2017.

Q: What are your most common diagnoses?

A: Depression, anxiety, and major life stressors are the most common difficulties our patients face.

Q: What would you most like community/referring providers to know about the ASPIRE® Intensive Outpatient Program at CHOC Children’s?

A: Our eight-week intensive outpatient mental health treatment program – the only pediatric-dedicated one of its kind in Orange County — is designed to serve a broad range of emotional and behavioral difficulties for high-school aged teens 13-18. It includes individual and family sessions, and crisis support as needed. If the teens and families you serve could possibly benefit from an intensive program, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Additionally, we aim to collaborate closely with all the important stakeholders in our patients’ lives. This includes primary care physicians, psychiatrists, therapists, educators and coaches.

Q: What would you most like patients and families to know about ASPIRE®?

A: While our program is hard work, it’s pretty fun to be a part of! The daily after-school programming for teens and their families is all interactive, including art and other expressive therapies, and designed to teach and practice new skills in fun ways.

Q: What excites you most about the program?

A: I am so excited to be able to offer a very important service to teens and families who are in crisis and need extra support. The program we offer is guided by research and has been carefully constructed to generate the best outcomes possible.

Q: What inspires you most about the care being delivered at CHOC?

A: I have worked with a number of different organizations and teams since I began my career in the mental health field. The team at CHOC is unparalleled in its enthusiastic dedication to innovation and excellence in the care of children.

Q: Why did you decide to become a psychologist?

A: I fell in love with the field of psychology immediately after taking my first job at a crisis shelter for teens. Getting to witness, and even participate in, the incredible changes these youths made in their lives in a few short weeks was inspirational. I knew that was work I wanted to be a part of for the rest of my career.

Q: If you weren’t a psychologist, what would you be and why?

A: Either a zookeeper, so I could spend time with cool animals every day, or a Disney princess at one of the theme parks so I could wear awesome costumes and play with kids all day.

Q: What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?

A: I love spending time with my family, hiking with my dog, and eating delicious food. I have a huge family and we have a lot of fun together!

To contact Dr. Thordarson, or to refer a patient, please call 714-509-8481.

CHOC Launches Mental Health Intensive Outpatient Program

A new intensive outpatient program at CHOC Children’s will offer solutions to teenagers and their families seeking hope and intervention for emerging mental health problems.

The ASPIRE® (After School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education) Intensive Outpatient Program at CHOC Children’s is designed for teens who show moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental health problems.

Participants ages 13 to 18 attend after-school programming for three hours a day, four days a week in sessions that span eight weeks total.

Run by experienced, licensed clinicians who specialize in working with teens, ASPIRE incorporates therapy, mindfulness exercises, coping and problem-solving skills, art therapy and other expressive therapies to help teens develop and practice healthy behaviors and how to manage their feelings, emotions and personal interactions.

Parents or guardians also participate in family counseling and skills groups two days a week in the late afternoon and early evening.

A board-certified adolescent psychiatrist is also available for consultation and medication management, as is case coordination with other medical providers and the teen’s school, and crisis support.

Teens who could benefit from the program may exhibit a range of behaviors:

  • Moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Extreme emotional outbursts
  • Significant conflict with family or friends
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Decreases in functioning at home or school
  • Self-harming behaviors, such as cutting, burning, pulling out hair, excessive picking and scratching the body to cause bleeding

Time in the program is spent on identifying interventions that can aid participants in a variety of ways:

  • Improve symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Improve functioning at home, school, and with friends
  • Develop new skills to cope with stress.
  • Establish new and healthy behaviors to learn how to manage feelings, emotions, and personal interactions.

ASPIRE® is a component of CHOC’s landmark pediatric mental health system of care launched in spring 2015 to ensure children, adolescents and young adults with mental illness get the services and support they need.

The system of care also includes outpatient support for patients whose physical conditions are complicated by mental health challenges; mental health screenings for all 12-year-olds at their well child visits with CHOC pediatricians; and an increased presence of psychologists and social workers in the Julia & George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital.

The cornerstone of the wide-ranging effort is the CHOC Children’s Mental Health Inpatient Center, set to open this spring at CHOC Children’s Hospital. With 18 beds, it will be the first unit in Orange County to accommodate children younger than 12.

Call 714-509-8481 to refer a patient to the ASPIRE® (After School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education) Intensive Outpatient Program at CHOC Children’s.

CHOC Children’s Announces Plans to Address Pediatric Mental Health Crisis

Community leaders and executives from CHOC Children’s recently announced a transformative initiative to ensure children and adolescents with mental illness receive the health care services and support they currently lack in Orange County’s fragmented system of care.

CHOC Children's Mental Health CenterOne in five children experience a diagnosable mental health condition during childhood — about 150,000 children in Orange County alone; yet there are no psychiatric inpatient beds for patients under 12 years in Orange County . Due to the absence of designated space to treat young patients, sometimes children with serious mental health episodes remain in the emergency department for days at a time. In addition, there aren’t enough inpatient psychiatric beds for adolescents either, with many needing to be hospitalized outside of Orange County.

“We recognize that pediatric mental illness has become a nationwide epidemic, and are committed to ending it,” Kimberly Chavalas Cripe, CHOC president and chief executive officer, said. “CHOC and our partners are excited by the opportunity to create a scalable model for pediatric mental health care that other communities nationwide can replicate.”

Establishing a Caring, Healing Home for Children in O.C.

Children’s advocate Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, managing partner, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, donated a $5 million lead gift to help establish CHOC Children’s Mental Health Inpatient Center. The new center will provide a safe, nurturing place for children ages 3 to 18 to receive care for mental health conditions. It will also provide specialty programming for children ages 11 and younger.

Located on the third floor of CHOC’s Research Building, the Center will feature:
•18 beds in a secure, healing environment
•Outdoor area for recreation
•Specially trained pediatric staff

Construction is expected to begin by fall 2015 and finish in late 2017.CHOC Children's Mental Health Center

CHOC has launched a fundraising campaign to raise $11 million for inpatient capital and startup costs, and $16 million to endow the program. CHOC is raising additional funds for outpatient mental health services.

Recognizing the urgency to help meet the community’s need, last fall CHOC and Rick and Kay Warren, co-founders of Saddleback Church formed a taskforce — led by Dr. Maria Minon, CHOC chief medical officer, and Dr. Heather Huszti, CHOC chief psychologist, and comprised of community leaders, educators and faith-based advisors — to begin discussing a comprehensive pediatric system of care for patients with mental illness.

CHOC’s support of the pediatric system of care includes:
•expanding mental health services this year for CHOC patients being treated for serious/chronic illnesses (these children are more likely to have mental health problems, such as depression and severe anxiety, than their healthier peers);
•opening an intensive outpatient program in 2016 to keep struggling children out of the hospital and assist those who have been released;
•expanding CHOC’s outpatient eating disorders program by 2016;
•and continuing to facilitate and work on multiple county-wide projects with the task force.

“We know our plans are ambitious, but they are critical and life-saving. The vision begins with establishing a caring home at CHOC for our children and families to turn to for help,” said Cripe.

To learn how to support CHOC’s mental health campaign, please visit

Dr. Cindy Kim Discusses Guided Imagery

Guided imagery is a technique that uses the progression of mental images to focus the mind and connect the mind to body with a goal of enhancing relaxation, Dr. Cindy Kim, a psychologist at CHOC Children’s, tells “American Health Journal.”

The technique can enhance stress coping and pain management skills, and is a good way to engage children in using their creativity to take mental authority of a situation where they might feel out of control, she says.

Learn more about guided imagery in “American Health Journal,” a television program that airs on PBS and other national network affiliates that reach more than 30 million households.

Each 30-minute episode features six segments with a diverse range of medical specialists discussing a full spectrum of health topics. For more information, visit

Cindy Kim, Ph.D., graduated from Biola University, Rosemead School of Psychology. She completed her internship and fellowship at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Dr. Kim is board certified by the California Board of Psychology, and is a member of the American Psychological Association and Society for Pediatric Psychology.

Get more information about referring patients to CHOC, including a referral information directory, services directory and referral guidelines.