Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Does Your Psychiatrist Respect You?

My biggest surprise since becoming a mental health blogger -- how little self-reflection psychiatrists do.

Healer, Know Thyself

Clinical education for clergy usually happens in a hospital.  For every patient contact hour, we would spend another hour writing verbatims (one third what the patient and the chaplain said, one third what the chaplain was thinking, one third what the chaplain was feeling), and then another hour discussing what we were thinking and feeling in group or individual supervision.

Continuing education for clergy includes more large doses of self-reflection.  I don't know how many times I have created my genogram, a family tree that includes the dynamics of relationships: alliances, roles, conflicts, secrets, patterns... for my first family counseling course, for a seminar on family systems in congregations, for doctoral work in congregational development, while training congregational leaders to show them how to do their own.  I once even made a genogram of a congregation and key diocesan figures when I took a situation to a consultant.


In this example, Sarah is extremely focused on her son, while Abraham and Isaac are distant; the brothers are in conflict.  The pattern repeats in the next generation.

Clergy groups do critical incident reports in support groups.  Similar reflection.  What is my part in this mess?  How do my needs and fears interact with somebody else's needs and fears?  How do I get out of the blame game?  How can I tap into my sources of strength (faith, friends, scripture, sacraments, grace, knowledge...) to get myself unstuck?

The point is to figure out how my issues interact with anybody else's.  If I can sort out my own stuff, I can be a healthier presence in my relationships with others, less bound by unhealthy patterns, more able to find creative solutions.

The two most helpful discoveries I have made from these exercises: sometimes my troubles at work have come from my repeating a script from my childhood, a conflict or alliance with a person who is no longer in the room; sometimes my troubles at work have come from inadvertently stumbling into a power struggle, when my first-born status runs into somebody else's position of power.

When I discover what is going on in me, and hence what is going on in the relationship, I can change my own behavior to defy the script.  I can do something unexpected that helps me and maybe even the other person break out of his/her script.  It works best if this unexpected behavior is funny.

Psychopharmacologists Don't Do Self-Reflection

It used to be that people training to be psychiatrists did psychoanalysis.  Then the mind was replaced by the medical model of mental illness, and this requirement went by the board.  Now it's all about the meds.

But we don't take the meds.  We don't.  The numbers differ for a variety of meds.  In one study, three months out from the original prescription for antidepressants, 72% of us have quit.

Psychiatrists call this noncompliance.   They write myriads of articles to explain the numbers, saying about us, they miss their highs or they lack insight.  These articles make no reference to what patients say about why we quit our meds, the meds make us sick and the meds don't work.  [That last link is to a rare exception.]


Systems theory would call these articles evidence of a power struggle.  Psychotherapy might recognize counter-transference, the feelings, in this case very negative feelings psychiatrists have toward patients who do not do what we are told or, even if we do comply, refuse to get better anyway.

Caveat

My therapist was surprised when I commented on how little self-reflection psychiatrists do.  Her field, psychotherapy is all over the counter-transference-type issues.  And there still are a few psychiatrists who follow the old model.  At the Gabbard Center, two of the three who interviewed me even had couches, not living room-type, but New Yorker-cartoon-psychiatrist-type couches.  I had never seen one before!

So I have to qualify my comment.  My reading has primarily been in the field of psychopharmacology, as in, the psychiatrist who told me, I don't do relationships.  I treat psychological illness with pharmacology.

It occurs to me that patients might be better off if this kind of psychiatrist skipped medical school and went to pharmacy school instead, with a specialty in psychopharmacology.  There they might learn about adverse effects and the consequences of adding one med on top of the other, to make it work better or to counteract its adverse effects, resulting in iatrogenic disease, the disease that is caused by the treatment itself.

You know, that overweight zombie you became, stuck on the sofa, unable to complete a sentence, until you die 10-25 years before your time on account of complications from liver disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, on account of you actually took the meds that were prescribed..  Death by medical treatment.


The Power Struggle

The thing is, in this particular power struggle over medication, while psychiatrists think they have more education, more knowledge, more insight, more prestige, more standing, while they think they are the parent in this relationship and the patient is the child (yes, they do think this, they really do, they betray it in every printed word), all these things that make psychiatrists think they know best and should have more say matters not when it comes to whether that pill will go into the patient's mouth and down the patient's throat.  Short of physical restraints and a hypodermic needle (which every parent of a toddler in a grocery store has had occasion to covet), the patient is going to win this power struggle.

So why not recognize the power struggle for what it is, and give it up?  As long as you are bound to lose it, why not do something else instead?

I Trust My Psychiatrist

If, after all that, you still remember how I got onto this topic last week, and where I said I was going, then your cognitive functioning is not as bad as you thought.

I said when I feel respected by my psychiatrist, I am more willing to trust her with my body.  I promised I would name some behaviors that she exhibits that build the therapeutic alliance, notwithstanding the lack of respect that I find in vast numbers of articles by psychiatrists who write about why patients don't take our meds.

Collaboration

She asks me, What do you want to do?

When we have a med check, we exchange information.  She listens to my report about what I am doing with my meds, how they are helping and hurting my life, and what kind of life I hope to live.  Then I listen while she gives me information about how the things work, why I might be having certain problems, what might be possible.  I tell her my concerns, she tells me hers.

I know that she won't prescribe things that she thinks will be harmful, because she remembers how sensitive my body seems to be to these things, and prescribes accordingly.  She knows that I won't take things that I think will be harmful, because, well, nobody does, not for long.  She expects that I will do my own research and make my own decision, because she remembers that I know my stuff.

When I am not in good shape, she does not confuse a current cognitive deficit with lack of intelligence.  So she makes lists, writes down the major points.  I am still in charge.  She asks, What do you want to do?  I sometimes say, I don't know.  What do you recommend?  But she always asks, What do you want to do?

As it happens, I don't take antidepressants, antipsychotics or mood stabilizers anymore, because I never found one that worked and was tolerable.  But we worked together to reach that decision and to develop an alternative plan.

With my previous psychiatrists, I just stopped.  I made the follow-up appointment, then called the machine after hours to cancel, and stopped.  In a sense, that was childish, not to confront the doctor directly.  But honestly, when I did confront the doctor directly, I got treated like a child.

My current psychiatrist continues to participate in my decisions, and I continue to rely on her for help managing symptoms with rescue meds, because we are partners.

What About Lack Of Insight, Denial, and Stupidity?

So, I am on top of this.  I am motivated and informed.  I have lots of resources that support my recovery and carry me when I flag.  I have good insurance and get more than ten minutes for a med check.  I am not the typical patient in the typical setting.  I can imagine a psychiatrist reading this and saying, Collaboration just won't work in my setting.

So, does what you are doing work?

Follow up question: does blaming your patient work?

What About Frustration, Worry, Disappointment?

What if psychopharmacologists spent more time acknowledging that their work conditions are lousy, they are anxious for their patients, and they know they can't deliver on the promises of these miracle meds?  What if they wrote articles that addressed these issues, and how their frustration, worry and disappointment get taken out on their patients?

Maybe they could discover their patients share these frustrations, worries, and disappointments. with them.  Maybe they could figure out something new to do.

Respect

Examining ones own stuff takes work, and is not pretty.  Coming up with new behaviors that display respect and build a therapeutic alliance, experimenting, trying to change habits -- all of it is hard work.  And it might not make a difference anyway, if it's just behavior.  Even if it's respectful behavior.  If we can tell that the psychiatrist is faking it, is parroting a line.

Coming soon -- I will up the ante and write about:

Attitudes!

genogram of my own creation, please give attribution
flair from facebook.com
photo of mirror by Jurii and used under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license
clip art of tug of war by Microsoft Office
illustration of A Zombie, at twilight, in a field of cane sugar of Haïti by Jean-Noël Lafargue used under the Free Art License
sketch of hands shaking by Danieldnm and in the public domain

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