The common perception in society about the mental health professionals in general and psychiatrists in particular is far from healthy. Continuous association with mentally unwell individuals is supposed to rub off the psychiatrist’s medical aprons. It is often said, as psychiatrists become SENIOR in their profession, they start (at least partially) resembling their patients. Actually this is a paradoxical statement. A professional having unlimited opportunities to peep in others emotional closets (and charging for it) has a unique chance of reflecting on these experiences and by introspection improving his (or her) own mental stability. This is true of all other mental health professionals as well.
References from western scientific literature point out towards increased incidence of suicidal behavior, marital separation and divorces amongst psychiatrists. These are often cited as conclusive proofs of the emotional vulnerability of this profession. It is also suggested that this vulnerability itself attracts some individuals towards this helping profession. So where do we stand?
I suppose, like all individuals, we psychiatrists (and other mental health professionals) have our pitfalls of unhealthy emotions and irrational thinking blocks. Emergence of psychopathology in such a professional should therefore be viewed without unnecessary enthusiasm. Nobody expects physicians to be free from fever-cough and cold. Orthopaedic surgeons are not immune from falls (physical) and fractures.
Yet the simile ends there. When a professional is dealing with disturbed emotions & thinking of others, he is expected to have a reasonably balanced temperament. It is a sad reality that this expectation is not fulfilled by the clinical training today. After the age of psychoanalysis, leave apart self-analysis; inputs towards improving one’s coping strengths is hardly given systematically during professional training. Therefore, one is left with one’s own improvement-drive (I am not using the work ‘self Actualization’ deliberately, at the cost of sounding too simplistic) to work upon or to depend on your peers & teachers as role models in this aspect of training. How many senior teachers acknowledge the importance of this need and work with their pupils is a question for which I do not have any conclusive answer.
Let me talk about that ‘inner drive’ towards self-improvement or ‘Professional Temperament building’. I hope, a different (and deeper) meaning of the term for al mental health professionals, will be appreciated by the reader. Based on my own experience, one needs the following inputs as a budding professional. First is, training in ‘communication skills.’ This could include one-one, one-many and other situational formats. Secondly, the links between psychiatry, philosophy, religion and sociology should be explained to the professional and he should be encouraged to explore them.
More and more young psychiatrists are now feeling the need of receiving training in at least one school of Psychotherapy. This training adds dimension to the psychiatrist’s clinical perspective and can also work for the professional’s personality development.
With the advent of Bio-psychiatry these links have not lost their relevance and may not loose for quite some time to come. In fact recent scientific inputs in the areas of ‘thinking’ & ‘consciousness’ resemble more of a philosophical and metaphysical texture than the more ‘concrete’ one usually associated with ‘scientific’ data-presentation.
In an age where both pure-sciences and human sciences are emerging out of their long held dogmas & prejudices, the kind of inputs that I suggest could help the mental health professional both individually & for therapy. It also seems reasonably important to develop a comparative, healthy and critical viewpoint vis-à-vis developing (and established) methods of psychotherapy and their linkages with other humanities & spiritual writings.
A rigid ‘Bio-medical’ viewpoint in most training schools makes psychiatrists into good diagnosticians, fairly good treatment givers but poor communicators and introspectors. Advance in Bio-psychiatry also gives them a false sense of ‘POWERFULNESS’ which is both, hollow and inhibitory to ‘self improvement drive’. One major lacuna that I see in our method of professional teaching is an emphasis on ‘information imparting’. Most of our M.D exams going students are bubbling with ‘latest’ information in psychiatry. It is no doubt one important aspect of learning but if one has received, above-mentioned inputs then this information can be fitted in a more humane, yet critical perspective and transformed thus to knowledge.
And it is this ‘knowledge’ that can save shrinks from resembling their patients. Those of us who already have a healthy timbre in their personality will in this case go towards ‘self actualization’ with added inputs. As Swami Vivekanand has said, “it is knowledge alone that will save us in every department of life – in knowledge is worship, the more we know the better”.