WHAT MAKES FOR CARING MEDICAL CARE
A not-so-recent op-ed piece in the New York Times poignantly describes genuinely caring psychiatric care. Melody Moezzi, an American-born woman of Persian descent, struggled with bipolar disorder from her adolescence, that culminated in hallucinations in college (http://opinionater.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/24/a-persian-in-therapy/?smid=nytcore-iphone-share&smprod=nytcore-iphone). The hallucinations eventually prompted an accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder, followed by a decade long unsuccessful effort at psychotherapy. While medications provided some relief, therapy was of little or no benefit.
As Ms. Moezzi writes so well, “…psychotherapy felt foreign to me. It was like an overpriced, undersize sweater woven entirely from steel wool. I desperately wanted it to fit and soften with wear, but it did neither.” Cultural ignorance added to the futility, when a psychologist suggested that efforts to pray would be “excessive”; the psychologist incorrectly assumed that the patient already engaged in prayer throughout the day, when she was not an actively observant Muslim.
Previous medical treatment for a pancreatic tumor was aided by some journaling. Her physician encouraged this and took an interest in it sufficiently to read her writing, and then publish it in a professional journal he was starting. Here was some caring that went beyond diagnosis and purely medical treatment.
A geographic move necessitated a new beginning with a psychiatrist for medications, and one more somewhat reluctant attempt at a few therapy sessions. Fortunately, she found someone with “humor, humility, and humanity”, who “allowed for mysticism and spirituality”; this man was less interested in labels and professional terms, and able to say, “I don’t know” to some of her questions. Therapy actually proved beneficial in addition to the medication regimen. Ironically, and perhaps a fateful coincidence, this psychiatrist was actually the son of the G.I. specialist who had treated her pancreatic condition with an interest in her personhood as well as her disease years before.
Kay Redfield Jamison writes with more detail and length of the same experience with genuinely caring psychotherapy dispensed along with medications in her autobiography: An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. A book well-worth reading, for professionals, patients, and their families alike.
Genuine caring is available, if all too rarely. It is the crucial ingredient that transforms treatment into healing.
Dr. Solomon is a Clinical Psychologist. A member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network, located in Torrance, CA, he can be reached at 310 539-2772, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2018 by Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.