Dr Sam Ponnuthurai

Dr Sam Ponnuthurai

Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist

Children and Adolescents (5-18 years)

I’m Dr Sam Ponnuthurai, a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist with over 10 years of experience specialising in emotional disorders, neurodevelopmental conditions, psychosis and psychosis-like symptoms.

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Anxiety in Children
Autism Spectrum Conditions
Depression in Children
Emotional Dysregulation
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Dr Sam Ponnuthurai

Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist

"It is better to try something and fail than to try nothing and succeed. The result may be the same, but you won't be. We always grow more through defeats than victories". Soren Kierkegaard

My name is Dr Sam Ponnuthurai, and I’m a Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist with over a decade of clinical experience in psychiatry. I’m registered with the General Medical Council (GMC, UK) and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (London, UK). I have trained in mental health in psychiatry and also across a range of therapies such as cognitive behavioural (CBT), dialectic behavioural (DBT), mentalisation (MBT) and systemic based therapies. I have a background in philosophy and literature and I am also undertaking a Master’s degree in Neuroscience at King’s College London. 

I specialise in emotional disorders, neurodevelopmental conditions and psychosis and psychosis-like symptoms. I work with young people in crisis, often at risk to themselves or others, and with those who are struggling to access mental health treatment and support. I help young people work towards recovery, sometimes in the most challenging and complex situations. For parents, I understand that at times it can feel like your family is stretched to capacity, and you don’t know how or what to do next to get the support your child needs. I am here to help and work collaboratively with you and your child to find the best way forward.

My unique treatments are a combination of psychiatric and psychological approaches. This means that my suggestions for treatment will be based on both the core evidence-based guidelines and therapies, as well as the research in other fields such as neuroscience. In doing this, I can create a practical clear pathway to help your child overcome their difficulties and most importantly, feel better.

Areas of expertise

Emotional disorders

I have extensive clinical experience specialising in the assessment, diagnosis, formulation and treatment of emotional disorders in adolescents aged 11 - 18 years. This includes everything from depression, anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and social phobia, trauma and PTSD, psychotic spectrum disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to personality, emotional and relationship difficulties and everything in between.   

Childhood and adolescence are challenging times for young people and their families. Changes in hormones, physical appearance, lifestyle, friends, school or home environments can be completely overwhelming, and negative thoughts and feelings may creep in at times. Has your child become withdrawn from the family unit and you don’t know why? Perhaps they have become irritable and seem to be constantly at odds with you? Or maybe they have shared with you that they are experiencing difficulties with their relationships at school. Perhaps you have noticed they are more self-critical and have lower confidence these days or even have started to harm or neglect themselves.

My role is to help you and your child, at any stage of recovery, understand the patterns and negative triggers that contribute to their difficulties. In other words, what is going on for them and why? Once identified, we will develop a personalised treatment plan, sometimes with the input of other professionals, which will help them to break any negative emotional or behavioural cycles. We will then work on creating new positive habits and behaviours to implement together through compassion and shared understanding of their current difficulties. Maintaining this compassion is vital at all stages of recovery.

Psychotic and psychotic-like symptoms in childhood

For many years I have worked with children who are experiencing early symptoms of psychosis. This can occur around 16 or 17 years of age. Sometimes parents share with me that their child or teenager is quiet and preoccupied or even having unusual experiences that no one else is having or can make sense of and they don’t know what to do to help them. They are worried about their child's behaviour and are scared that their child may be experiencing symptoms of psychosis. 

Often the child is unable to explain what is happening but it is clear that they are having intense emotional experiences. For some, they may hear voices that are not their own, or see things that are not really there. As a result, they become self-isolated and avoid usual family and peer situations. They may withdraw from day-to-day activities that they once enjoyed and they may act in a strange manner when at home. They may appear fearful and may even have suicidal thoughts. In other cases, a young person might describe hearing or seeing things that others can’t see and yet at times they seem to be functioning as they normally would while at others they might seem hopeless and distressed. If your child is presenting with these behaviours, please don’t worry. I understand that this is not only extremely distressing for your child, but also for you as a parent and your family. It’s important to know that these symptoms can be experienced in the absence of a mental health condition or diagnosis. It is more common than you think. The most important thing is that you reach out for support. 

Together, we will identify the symptoms and find the best way to manage these and prevent them from getting any worse. I will work with your child to understand what they feel is happening to them and share suggestions on how they can manage and cope with these situations in the future. This will help your child feel understood and will give them a sense of control which often has a positive knock-on effect on their confidence and life at home with your family.

Neurodevelopmental conditions

I’m passionate about helping young people with neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD and ADD, and in particular, autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Though awareness of autism has increased over the years, there are many young people that are diagnosed with autism much later in childhood or well into their teenage years. This is often because they have found ways to work around challenges and even turn their neurodiversity into strengths but then a life challenge has made them struggle and revealed neurodiversity.  

When emotional or mental health challenges arise in the context of neurodiversity every situation is unique. It may be that your child has struggled to develop their identity as they have grown. Maybe they struggle to manage socially with friends and family and become disruptive in situations that make them uncomfortable. Perhaps they have always been high-achieving in school, socially, academically, and in extracurricular activities but recently they have become ‘stuck’ and can’t progress. They may avoid social gatherings altogether, or develop anxiety symptoms or panic attacks before social situations. Their behaviour can appear rude at times and their emotions are quite intense. These problems can arise during the transition to adolescence and your child may struggle to cope with the changes. As a result, this can feel overwhelming and frustrating for your child and the whole family. 

In my experience, the child and family often find relief after an assessment and the question over neurodiversity has been clarified. However, this can be followed by a sense of uncertainty about the future and what to do next. I will work with you and your child to think about the challenges that lie ahead. We will identify these, review them and create a roadmap to overcome them so that we can move forward together. 

My approach to treatment

It is completely normal to feel nervous about the first appointment and about starting treatment in general. Sharing your thoughts, and worries about yourself or your child with someone you have just met can be daunting and you might feel like you don’t even know where to begin. There are so many unknowns, who you will meet, what they will recommend and how this might affect you, your child and your family. Will it work? Perhaps previous approaches haven’t worked and you feel you have tried everything and that nothing else is going to help. I acknowledge how overwhelming it may be, but it is also completely normal to feel this way. 

I take a compassionate and personalised approach to treatment. Working with young people is always a collaboration between the child, the family and I. Recovery will take time, and is different for everyone, but the most important thing is that you start somewhere and have a direction to move in. By taking each session step by step and breaking the problems down into smaller parts we will find a way forward despite any anxieties and doubts you or your child may have.

Before the consultation I will already have an idea of the difficulties your child is facing from pre-consultation questionnaires. This will avoid overly general questions and repetition and means that we can focus 100% on what you and your child have to say. In this session your child will have space to share what they are experiencing from their perspective and they can point out the struggles they are facing. This space to tell their story is the basis for all their work with me. It also helps me to understand the dynamics in their relationships both at home and with their peers. It’s normal for talking to be difficult for some young people, and your child may want to avoid sharing anything at all. I will help them understand the importance of sharing their story and make sure they know that they are accepted by all. 

Personalised treatment plans

To ensure treatment is personalised to your child we will work to understand the problem and identify any triggers for feelings and behaviours. We will discuss what to do when triggers arise again in the future. This gives your child, and you, a sense of control, especially if you have felt lost or uncertain about what to do in these circumstances so far. 

Following this, we will explore how your child's diagnosis or experiences apply to your day to day. I will use psychotherapy techniques to do this with you. This will help you understand your difficulties better. Once you understand these, you can then decide what your goals are and what you want to work on, alongside what to expect from the treatment you are going to receive. 

I will suggest some initial starting points and based on what recovery looks like for your child, we will set out some short, medium and long term goals. For example, if they are struggling with social anxiety, the goal may be to make more friends. We will then work on a plan to achieve this using psychological, psychiatric, physical, medical, social and occupational methods. This will offer your child self awareness and confidence in these future social situations. In addition to these personalised treatment plans focussed on therapeutic goals I will also screen and assess any underlying additional needs such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These are important as they can impact the therapeutic approach we agree to take and can be vital to recovery. Finally, I will link up with other professionals who might help you action the plans we have made e.g. psychotherapists, coaches and psychologists. This means that the treatment your child receives is extremely specific to what they need.  

Medication

I will prioritise psychological and behavioural therapy first, and will review the option of medication on a case by case basis, and only if other treatments have not worked. If used, medication is only a small part of the overall treatment and is most effective when combined with other therapies. I understand that medication can be a scary concept and perhaps your child has tried medication in the past and it hasn’t worked. If I feel that medication would benefit your child, I will follow the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines to make any recommendations. Together we will discuss the risks and benefits as well as the side effects of the medication so that you are fully informed before making any decisions. I will make sure that you and your child understand the role of the medication in the treatment plan and how it may help. With all medications I would aim to reduce medication as soon as possible, when safe to do so.

Education & Training

I’m a Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist with over a decade of clinical experience in psychiatry. I’m registered with the General Medical Council (GMC, UK) and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (London, UK). In addition to seeing patients in private practice, I currently work as a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Interact Brookside Adolescent Unit crisis and outreach service. 

I completed my medical training at the University of London and my psychiatry training in child and adolescent psychiatry at the prestigious South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and through the Maudsley Training Scheme. Here I gained a wealth of expertise working with adolescents in inpatient, clinic, assertive outreach and acute hospital settings. Some of the centres I’ve previously worked in include Bethlem and Maudsley Hospitals in the UK and St James and St Patrick’s Hospitals in Ireland.

Alongside my clinical work, I have taken part in research in motivation, prevention and the effectiveness of crisis treatments. I have been able to bring this research and its results into my practice as it has helped me focus my approach in crises, nurture motivation toward recovery and develop strategies to avoid relapse. I have had practice articles published looking at emergency medication in psychiatric illness as well as advising families and young people on social media use. I have had my analysis of preventive interventions presented at the prestigious JAACAP conference in the U.S. and an abstract published in its journal as a result. Aside from my medical and psychiatry training, I hold a degree in Medical Science (BMedSci) from the University of Nottingham, a bachelor's degree in Philosophy and English Literature (BA) from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, and a graduate certificate in Family and Systemic Therapy from the Tavistock Centre. 

Personal interests

Related to my practice I am developing as a neuroscientist through postgraduate study. I am interested in philosophy and literature and keep up to date with research in these areas particularly as they relate to human intelligence and consciousness. Outside of work, I enjoy time with my family but also running, painting and playing and listening to music.

Patient Stories

We’ve had such a difficult time with other services but you’ve been so patient and caring and its really made a difference.
Thank you for helping me at such a difficult time and giving me hope that I can recover, I would have been lost without you.

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