Revelations: You get to a point in your life where revelations become a rare thing, if only by the odds. When you’ve lived (as an adult) on the planet for 30, 40, 50 years, what’s the likelihood that something important will come along and suddenly snap-to-focus inside your mind? As open-minded as I like to consider myself, I still would have placed the odds down around two or three percent, and yet, here I am…here we are about to discuss something a bit different.
For what it’s worth… When I was in college, every adviser I talked with, strongly encouraged me to either go into psychiatry, or at the very least psychology. I liked the idea very, very much, but one fateful day, sitting in an abnormal psych seminar, O. W. Lacy, Dean of Students at F&M as well as my prof. let a comment slip out. He said: “For what it’s worth, the cure-rate for people who have had psychiatric therapy versus the cure-rate for people with no therapy…is the same.” I was stunned. I blurted something out something to the effect of, “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” and he invited me to confirm the facts. There went my aspirations of sitting in an office with leather-bound books and…a couch.
Later, upon getting to know a handful of “shrinks,” Dean Lacy’s words crystallized in my mind. From what I could tell in my own informal survey, most psychiatrists get into the field because they really need a bit of “shrinkage” themselves. I had one customer (a woman psychiatrist) who was incapable of writing a check. Seriously. She began having anxiety attacks. I thought, How odd... Other vignettes abound.
“And why do you think that?” Most recently, Pamela and I wandered into an HBO series entitled: In Treatment. For old time’s sake, we tuned in and were bowled-over by the acting acumen. Pam and I are ultra-tough critics, and this was, and is, the best acting I’ve ever seen. More importantly, however, the shrink, played by Gabriel Byrne, was not only perfect in the role, he also displayed every thing I’ve ever not liked about the profession in general…the most obvious of which, is, “And why do you think that?” which upon being answered generates, “Ah, yes. And why do you think…that?” and so on and so on reductio ad absurdum. In one moment of enlightenment, one young gal threatens to just buy a parrot and teach it that line.
It quickly got to the point where after a 26-minute shot of psychiatry, (they’re so concentrated that you’re exhausted after 20 minutes) Pamela and I would spend an hour or more discussing whether the shrink had done any good (committed himself) or was he just a parrot saying, “And why do you think that?” for $150.00 an hour? Very quickly, it becomes apparent that he, too, is wondering whether the psychiatric credo of not getting involved is effective, or even a good idea. More darkly, is it a conflict of interest for a shrink to cure his patients too quickly? At $150 an hour, it just might be.
Three Arguments: Over and over, I found myself espousing three things:
1. Not every problem requires a decade to cure.
2. Defining the problem (the hub of psychiatry) doesn’t necessarily provide a cure. Gosh, I just realized that I hated my abusive, alcoholic father. Now I feel MUCH better. Not necessarily…
3. Once a GP determines that your arm is fractured, it’s time to begin mixing the plaster for the cast…as opposed to discussing why casts are good. Psychiatrists are sworn not to interfere. But not interfering can be as bad or worse than interfering. As I learned in the military, not making a decision to act, is a decision unto itself…with its own set of consequences.
The Accidental Mentor: I’m not sure who began “connecting the dots” first, Pamela or me. In the past few months, we’ve had a number of people over to the house to do some up-grading. In truth, I never even saw the pattern that was forming, though I realize now that I know one helluva lot about at least five of the individuals than is usual…customary. One is smarter than hell with some inventions in the works that might just need a bit of tweaking to be viable. We’ve conferred on that…a lot. But his self-image is horrible, abysmal and there’s an obvious reason for it. Really obvious. I believe a psychiatrist would have his or her hands tied, because to commit is to get involved. Another individual came to the house and refurbished our bathtubs and sinks with an isocyanate compound which was so vile, we opened all the doors, windows, and spent the night in a motel it was so bad. (as a general rule of thumb, any chemical with a cyanide derived name should be avoided)
The gentleman, in this case, a young guy, wasn’t even bothering to wear a mask. His helpers did, but none of them looked well. Long story short: someone needed to say something…do something, and not just ask, “Why do you seem to have no regard for your life?” Sometimes it’s necessary to commit, to become proactive. We went into it fairly deeply and after about four hours on a Saturday night, I accidentally hit the key concept he’d gotten wrong. It didn’t take all that long to “fix”…certainly not a decade or even a year. The list goes on and on and on but I think you get the point. Sometimes it isn’t a psychiatrist you need, but a father figure or possibly a mother figure…an authority figure of some sort who is willing to take you aside and say, “Hey…the plane’s on fire. Time to bail out.” Psychiatrists, if they commit at all, just might take too long to save their patient.
Friends…sometimes friends can help, but there is baggage with many friendships, usually in the form of some form of competition… or the friendship just may be too thin to withstand the strain of an intervention.
Cold Hard Facts of Mentoring: First off, you can’t truly be a mentor to a member of your family. Perhaps that’s a good thing…I’m not sure. The fact is, there’s too much history, potentially too much baggage and not enough objectivity, usually on the part of the mentee. The knee-jerk reaction is: “Yeah, but,” and the mentoring withers quickly. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact of life.
Friends vs. Mentors: I know that a number of people will disagree with this and that’s great, but when you sit down and look at the facts, friends…true friends exist in a universe of equality. My advice is no better or worse than your advice and…let’s go get a beer, a pizza, play some golf, ride our bikes, do some surfing. The emphasis is on equality.
Mentors, on the other hand, can be friendly, jovial, witty, self-deprecating…they can appear to be identical to a good friend, but there is always an important difference. The mentor is the teacher. The mentee is the student. There’s an objectivity necessary and that’s what makes it work. Friends, young and old reading this will agree or disagree. Candidly…I would rate my friendship level substantially below my mentoring. I’d give myself a C+…maybe a B- on friendship…sometimes lower. (Pam and I are better as foul weather friends than fair), but I’ll go out on a limb and say that my mentoring has probably been a grade higher across the board. Much of my raison d’etre of late is concerned with paying back those things of value that I have learned. It’s appropriate and…it feels right to do it.
Looking inwardly, it’s no secret that most of the chapters of my life have involved mentors, older men in some field who had already received their battle scars. Their job wasn’t to preclude my getting scars so much as teaching me how to stop the bleeding…metaphorically speaking. My mentors are all dead now, though they live with me every day and help me in my mentoring (payback for what I received). I hope that for the handfuls of people that I’ve mentored with, they’ll remember the advice with a smile and a nod.
Thank you Rogers, Thank you Ed, Thank you Harold.
P.S. There comes a point, in your life when it’s appropriate to think about payback. Payback, for those ones who’ve helped you… only you don’t pay back, you pay forward.