Isle psychologist made inroads as researcher, practitioner, teacher


POSTED: Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dennis McLaughlin spent his career studying the brain, on a practical level as a clinical psychologist helping clients with mental illnesses, as adviser to courts and government agencies analyzing the capabilities of patients and prisoners, and on an academic level as researcher.

He and his wife Tina founded and operated Care Hawaii Inc., one of the largest companies in the state providing mental health services. Much of his work focused on children and adolescents, including designing and providing services for special-needs children in public schools as required after the state settled a federal lawsuit with the parents of special-needs students.

He taught psychology courses in the University of Hawaii system and at Chaminade University and was a mentor to students earning graduate degrees and in post-graduate clinical experience.

McLaughlin, 70, died March 3 in Kaneohe.

“;He had a penchant for understanding the brain and its function,”; said Dr. Joe Giannasio, psychiatrist and medical director of Care Hawaii. “;His particular interest was in people with learning disabilities, particularly children with Asperger syndrome, who have characteristics of high intelligence but can't communicate with others. He loved working with them, especially in adolescence.”;


His colleague was “;adept at neuro-psychological testing,”; Giannasio said. “;He was very academically oriented”; and, based on experiences with patients, “;he was always trying to figure out how a study could be done, a research element to explore.”;

Before opening a private practice, McLaughlin worked in the state Department of Health's Mental Health Division and as clinical psychologist at adult and juvenile prison facilities.

McLaughlin's brother William described an experience they had on a trip to Ireland, in which they visited friends “;with three brilliant children and one young man who struggled with conversation, academics and advancement.”; The psychologist spent time speaking with the youth “;and afterwards, the family learned from Dennis that their son was not less intelligent than the others but suffered from a treatable hearing problem,”; William said. “;He could not hear in class and could not understand his siblings' jokes.”; The boy got medical help, returned to college and succeeded in opening his own restaurant.

Dennis McLaughlin graduated from Punahou School, where he set track and field records. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Los Angeles and master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Hawaii.

He is survived by wife Tina; son Jason Dameron; daughters Malia Zimmerman, Maile McLaughlin, Renee Hopkins, Serena and Kristin Dameron; brother William; sister Joan Hanley; and four grandchildren.

A Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. March 26 at St. Augustine Church. A reception will follow at Aston Hotel Tiki Room. The family suggests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the University of Hawaii Foundation, 2444 Dole St., Honolulu, 96822, to benefit the “;Dr. Edwin C. Cadman Endowed Fund for the Study of Neurodegenerative Disorders.”;