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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Faces of Psychiatry

Recently finished four profiles of psychiatrists for the APA. The project was created to show the face of modern psychiatry. No more couches and old white men in beards. In fact, our four psychiatrists included two women and two men.

So who were they? The first was the highest ranking psychiatrist in the Armed Services. She helped reorient the military toward addressing brain trauma and issues like PTSD. She also reached out to the NFL and families of troops to address the stigma that prevents people from seeking care.

The second psychiatrist mentors Residents and helps run an outpatient clinic. We saw her in action and she tries to give her young doctors new ways of seeing and understanding their patients.

The third, a child psychiatrist, has a private practice and works in a hospital ER. We watched his interaction with "patients" and were struck by his empathy and ability to put people at ease. And he liked being able to help adolescents navigate the often rocky path of moving toward adulthood.

And the fourth, a research scientist at NIH, has spent his career trying to understand and then combat the stranglehold of addiction. In recent years he's been working on strategies for involving communities to effectively reach out to kids at risk. And they've been having some success.

So what have I learned from the experience?
The face of modern psychiatry is a rainbow of people and possibilities.
That the brain remains one of the most complex and mysterious parts of our bodies, and yet, there are often effective treatments that can make a huge difference in the well-being of patients.
That there is a great need for the services that psychiatry can offer and yet, a stigma persists against getting treatment.
That there are many practice options open to psychiatrists, and yet among many policy makers, illness of the brain is still not viewed the same as illness of the heart, liver or lung.
That there is great optimism among the psychiatrists we spoke with.
And that they find fulfillment and fascination in their work.

In all, an inspiring project. And an excellent example of what I like best about what we do, which is learn about people and practices we would most likely never encounter in the routine of daily life. And also, I got to ask a psychiatrist, "tell me how you feel about that..."

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