Roam Outside Your Discipline

August 25, 2012

Are You Too Sure?

This morning, after a pleasant run through Grant Park, along Monroe Harbor, then Starbucks, I’m relaxing with household chores and reading before walking to the office for a few client meetings. Even though Walter Elsasser’s Reflections on a Theory of Organisms, this morning’s read, is a hard climb, I think it is worth the effort. Why?

I enjoy it. It stretches my mind. Some times it feels like a hard run up a steep hill, but I am convinced that the effort alone is good for my business. What makes me think that the writing of a particle physicist turned biologist would help me be a better psychiatrist and business owner? Plenty.

Years ago I dreamed of becoming a “Training Analyst” – the psychoanalysts’ psychoanalyst. Fresh out of psychiatric training in 1982 psychoanalysis was the pinnacle of the profession. My how things change. The path to the top required what is still called “emersion” – just as it sounds, one must have dedicated oneself to being an analyst, in practice as well as in life. To paraphrase an early therapist then teacher, we were to go beyond doing psychoanalysis to being psychoanalysis. This body of thought, theory of human development, and therapeutic technique was elevated to the status of a way of life. Seriously.

Ranging outside the boundaries of academic psychiatry and psychoanalysis keeps me fresh. Reading Elsasser helps me appreciate the “unfathomable complexity” of organisms, especially people like us. He reminds me that our science has been solidly reductionistic for generations. Freud, a proud member of the reductionist, mechanistic  zeigeist of his day, strove to create a grand general psychology explaining everything. That path has led to thousands, tens of thousands, countless therapists becoming trapped in their dogma box and at war with other domgmatic flavors. “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” captures the danger of this predicament.

This state of affairs leaves little room for innovation. The practice of the healing arts as well as growing the business that contains and allows it, becomes stale and worn. Stretch your understanding of the human condition. Read widely. Find as many ways to appreciate our complexity. Try to come to terms with the unavoidable random elements of our nature. We all know that the path and destructive power of humans, like hurricanes, are hard to predict. We fail ourselves and our clientele when we think we know anything for sure.

How do you keep your thinking fresh? Let us know by leaving a comment via the link at the top of this piece.


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