And Speaking of Being Alone…

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How does a psychiatrist combat the loneliness and isolation of a profession that requires him to be so very emotionally close to his patients? How does he step back, both on the fly while working and later in the day when trying to leave the workplace stresses behind and embrace his own life?

There are several tried and true ways that work.

  1. Sidewalk consultation is a wonderful way to put the brakes on a serious situation, run it by a trusted friend and get the advice you may need to move forward with your assessment or recommendations for treatment. We physicians are a proud and stubborn lot. We think once we have trained and have a few years of experience under our belts that we have seen everything, know everything, and have an answer for everything. We haven’t, we don’t, and we don’t. Sometimes, a practice partner, a therapeutic adviser or supervisor, a clinic co-worker, or another treatment team member will have a fresh perspective on a perplexing problem that will shine new light on a place that has us stuck and immobile. Documenting that we have asked for help and gotten appropriate consultation is not just good practice, it is a way to take care of ourselves, combat burnout and grow in our own clinical knowledge.
  2. In a similar vein, clinical supervision may be very helpful in giving a practicing psychiatrist a way to bounce ideas, dilemmas and difficult scenarios off someone with more experience and clinical acumen. When one sits in a consultation room or in front of a telepsychiatry camera all day long and hears problem after problem and works on issue after issue, he can become dulled to the sheer influx of symptoms and complaints and problems that wash over him. Again, stepping back to present a challenging case to a senior colleague or participating in a formal weekly supervision session may be the key to gaining a foothold and making better decisions day to day. 
  3. Meetings with colleagues-local, state, regional, national, or international- are great for networking, learning, attending classes to gain new knowledge, and simply stepping away from the stresses of day to day practice. After work today, I will take a short forty-five minute drive to the state capital to attend a state psychiatric society meeting, something I have not done in a while. I look forward to seeing colleagues from around the state, renewing old ties and perhaps making a new friend or two. 
  4. Personal therapy can be very helpful to the psychiatrist who is struggling with his own issues and may need to practice what he preaches. Physician heal thyself takes on special meaning when it comes to mental health. How can we possibly hope to help others if we don’t have any idea how our own psyche works and what pushes our buttons? Anyone who tells you that they don’t need a helping hand sometime in their career as healer is either lying to you outright or so heavily guarded and defended that they just can’t see the forest for the trees. 
  5. Lastly, avoiding working only in situations where one is isolated goes a long way towards maintaining your own sanity in this profession. I look forward to my clinic days because I can sit in on treatment team meetings, hear case presentations from co-workers at morning meetings, stand and chat in the hallways for a few minutes in the afternoon to regroup, or celebrate birthdays or holidays with festive lunches or parties. As one commenter on a post put it the other day, we are not meant to be alone, in the workplace or otherwise. “We are meant to be with other creatures.”

Are you ever lonely in your profession or in your life?

Are there things that you can do to get back in contact with your fellows, share experiences, get someone’s opinion, or just enjoy someone else’s company for a while?

Let me know how you maintain contact and stay connected. 

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8 thoughts on “And Speaking of Being Alone…

  1. This clinches it–I’m starting a “Clone Greg Smith” fund at once. Don’t know if we’ll qualify for 501 status but send us a swab anyway, Doc. Glad you’re carping the day!

  2. Yes and no. Until 2 years ago I was all by myself working as a translator at home. I missed people, interactions, and so on. NOw I’ve got a part-time job at uni – mornings – where at least I get in touch with some colleagues everyday. The rest of the day I am alone at home working, day and night, weekend and holidays, something crazy! I only relax when I go to take care of father in my hometown and one occasionally trip during the year. Yes, I think I need a psych! ;)

  3. Been (almost) there, done (almost) that, too.
    The difference being that I used to be a translator, and my decision was to sacrify money for family.
    For me, the secret is: BALANCE. Balance between your ideal, dream life and what you think you are forced to. You’re never forced to anything. You actually try to do your best, but have to choose your own, private “best”! And make no mistake there… ;)

  4. I get out and “walk my dog” at least 3 times a day. It is amazing how therapeutic that “walk” with my BABY BEAR can be. He listens without being judgmental; he ambles along at my pace, whatever that may be that day; and he goes back home with me loving me unconditionally which is something that I need personally. Besides all that…he is adorably “cute.” Hugs, Ms B

  5. Fear of isolation is one of the primary reasons that I never saw myself going into private practice. But here I am after 10 years in a solo practice, which I ended up loving beyond my wildest dreams. I do a lot of things to avoid isolation. And many of them have mentioned here. But here goes:
    1) I talk to other psychologists:
    -My office mate Jennie and I talk by phone every week, on Thursdays. This Thursday we might even be able to talk in person since we are now both in the office on that day, starting this week.
    -My friend Nancy and I probably chat every two weeks. She was a friend and close colleague before my cancer diagnosis. We are the same age. She is a 10 year breast cancer survivor. When I call her she answers, “Hey Sweetie,, how are you doing.” Need I say more?
    2) I have gotten to know people who work in the business district where my office is located. I know all of the people who work in local coffee shop by name. They know my name as well as what my order is (nonfat latte in the morning and iced green tea in the afternoon). The tellers at the bank, Mary and Loreen, also know me. We chit chat about our lives. They smile when they see me and ask me about my family.
    3) I do mindfulness meditation and walk outside every day. This helps beat back the monkey mind I have so often if I don’t take care of my stress. And when my brain is churning and ruminating, I block out the rest of the world, a recipe for loneliness.
    4) I keep connected with my blogging community, of which you are part.
    5) I work reasonable hours. Every body says to do it, few people really do it. I am really doing it. It has meant major financial sacrifices. But I still have 1-3 healthcare appointments a week in addition to everything else going on in my life. It works.

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