Monday, October 5, 2009

Opinions on mistakes psychiatrists make

Here's another interesting link from "the last psychiatrist" blog:

I agree with many of his points.

But here are a few counterpoints, in order:

1.) I think some psychiatrists talk too little. There's a difference between nervous or inappropriate chatter diluting or interrupting a patient's opportunity to speak, and an engaged dialog focusing on process or content of a problem. There is a trend in psychiatric practice, founded or emphasized by psychoanalysis, that the therapist is to be nearly silent. Sometimes I think these silences are unhelpful, unnecessary, inefficient, even harmful. There are some patients I can think of for whom silence in a social context is extremely uncomfortable, and certainly not an opportunity for them to learn in therapy. Therapy in some settings can be an exercise in meaningful dialog, active social skills practice, or simply a chance to converse or laugh spontaneously.

I probably speak too much, myself--and I need to keep my mouth shut a little more often. I have to keep an eye on this one.

It is probably better for most psychiatrists to err on the side of speaking too little, I would agree. An inappropriately overtalkative therapist is probably worse than an inappropriately undertalkative one. But I think many of us have been taught to be so silent that we cannot be fully present, intuitively, personally, intellectually, to help someone optimally. In these cases, sometimes the tradition of therapeutic silence can suppress healthy spontaneity, positivity, and humour in a way which only delays or obstructs a patient's therapy experience.

2) I agree strongly with this one--especially when history details are ruminated about interminably during the first few sessions.
However, I do think that a framework to be comprehensive is important. And sometimes it is valuable, in my opinion, to entirely review the whole history, after seeing a patient for a year, or for many years. There is so much focus on comprehensive history-taking during the first few sessions, or the first hour, that we forget to revisit or deepen this understanding after knowing a patient much better, later on. Sometimes whole elements of a patient's history can be forgotten, because they were only talked about once, during the first session.

There is a professional standard of doing a "comprehensive psychiatric history" in a single interview of no longer than 55 minutes. There may even be a certain bravado among residents, or an admiration for someone who can "get the most information" in that single hour. I object to this being a dogmatic standard. A psychiatric history, as a personal story, may take years to understand well, and even then the story is never complete. It can be quite arrogant to assume that a single brief interview (which, if optimal exchange of "facts" is to take place, can sound like an interrogation) can lead to a comprehensive understanding of a patient.

I do believe, though, that certain elements of comprehensiveness should be aimed for, and aimed for early. For example, it is very important to ask about someone's medical ailments, about substance use, about various symptoms the person may be too embarrassed to mention unless asked directly, etc. Otherwise an underlying problem could be entirely missed, and the ensuing therapy could be very ineffective or even deleterious.

Also, some individual patients may feel a benefit or relief to go through a very comprehensive historical review in the first few sessions, with the structure of the dialog supplied mainly from the therapist. Other individual patients may feel more comfortable, or find it more beneficial, to supply the structure of their story themselves. So maybe it's important not to make strong imperative statements on this question: as with so many other things in psychiatry, a lot depends on the individual situation.

3. I think it's important not to ignore ANY habitual behavior that could be harmful. Yet perhaps some times are better than others to address or push for things like smoking or soft-drink cessation: a person with a chronically unstable mood disorder may require improved mood stability (some of which may actually come from cigarette smoking, in a short-term sense anyway), before they are able to embark on a quit-smoking plan.

4. not much to add here
5. Well, point taken. I've written a post about psychiatry and politics before, and suggested a kind of detached, "monastic role." But on the other hand, any person or group may have a certain influence--the article here suggests basically that it's none of psychiatry's business to deal with political or social policy. Maybe not. But the fact is, psychiatry does have some influence to effect social change. And, in my opinion, it is obvious that social and political dynamics are driven by forces that are similar to the dynamics which operate in a single family, or in an individual's mind. So, if there is any wisdom in psychiatry, it could certainly be applicable to the political arena. Unfortunately, it appears to me that psychiatrists I have seen getting involved in politics or other group dynamics are just as swept up in dysfunctional conflict, etc. as anyone else.
But if there's something that psychiatry can do to help with war or world hunger, etc. -- why not? In some historic situations an unlikely organized group has come to the great aid of a marginalized or persecuted group in need of relief or justice, even though the organized group didn't necessarily have any specialized knowledge of the matter they were dealing with.

6. I strongly agree. I prefer to offer therapy to most people I see. And I think most people do not have adequate opportunities to experience therapy. Yet I do also observe that many individuals could be treated with a medication prescribed by a gp, and simply experience resolution of their symptoms. Subsequent "therapy" is done by the individual in their daily life, and does not require a "therapist." In these cases, the medication may not be needed anymore, maybe after a year or so. Sometimes therapists may end up offering something that isn't really needed, or may aggrandize the role or importance of "therapy" (we studied all those years to learn to be therapists, after all--therefore a therapist's view on the matter may be quite biased), when occasionally the best therapy of all could simply be self-provided. Yet, of course, many situations are not so simple at all, and that's where a therapy experience can be very, very important. I support the idea of respecting the patient's individual wishes on this matter, after providing the best possible presentation of benefits and risks of different options. Of course, we're all biased in how we understand this benefit/risk profile.
7. some interesting points here...but subject to debate. Addressing these complex subjects in an imperative manner makes me uncomfortable.
8. polypharmacy should certainly not be a norm, though intelligent use of combination therapies, in conjunction with a clear understanding of side-effect risks, can sometimes be helpful. Some of the statements made in this section have actually not been studied well, for example it makes no pharmacological sense to combine two different SSRI antidepressants at the same time. But there has not been a body of research data PROVING that such a combination is in fact ineffectual. Therefore, before we scoff at the practitioner who prescribes two SSRIs at once, I think we should look at the empirical result--since there are no prospective randomized studies, the best we can do is see whether the individual patient is feeling better, or not.
9. I'm not a big fan of "diagnosis", but sometimes, and for some individuals, it can be part of a very helpful therapy experience, to be able to give a set of problems a name. This name, this category, may lead the person to understand more about causes & solutions. Narrative therapy makes a good use, I think, of "naming" (a variant of "diagnosing") as a very useful therapeutic construct.

10. There isn't a number 10 here, but the comments at the end of this article were good.

No comments: