In her recent New Yorker article, “The Sorrow and the Shame of the Accidental Killer,” author Alice Gregory claims there are no self-help books for anyone who has accidentally killed another person.  Nor published research, therapeutic protocols, publicly listed support groups, nor therapists who specialize in their treatment.  She profiles several such tormented souls who bear their burdens largely alone. Yet dealing with guilt, shame, and regret is a mainstay of ...

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A woman recently requested a medication evaluation at the suggestion of her psychotherapist.  The caller told me her diagnosis was borderline personality disorder. She hoped medication might ease her anxiety.  She also admitted that two other psychiatrists refused to see her because she was too “high risk.”  I asked if she was suicidal.  Yes, thoughts crossed her mind. However, she never acted on them, and was not suicidal currently.  I ...

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In a world of diverse mental health treatments and treatment settings, psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy have lost their former prominence.  Only a small fraction of patients have the time, money, and interest to engage in long-term, open-ended mental exploration -- even if doing so would get to the root of their problems and lead to lasting improvement. More commonly, emotional distress is dealt with in emergency departments, in crisis clinics, on the medical and surgical floors of hospitals, in ...

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On January 31, 2017, the Psychology Today editorial staff published a well-balanced summary of the debate over whether to declare President Trump mentally ill. While the debate focuses on mental health professionals such as psychiatrists and psychologists who are credentialed to make such diagnoses, the question clearly goes further. Public commentary following this and other articles expresses outrage -- not only at the behaviors and policies of Trump himself, but also at any suggestion ...

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Opioid painkillers, such as Vicodin (hydrocodone) and OxyContin (oxycodone), are crucial medical tools that are addictive and widely abused. Tranquilizers and sleeping pills of the benzodiazepine class, like Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam) and Klonopin (clonazepam), are safe and effective in limited, short-term use, but are often taken too freely, leading to drug tolerance and withdrawal risks. Stimulants such as Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Adderall (amphetamine) ease the burden of ADHD but ...

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Prior to the release of DSM-5 in 2013, I referred at times to the pocket copy of DSM-IV parked in my office bookcase.  The main reason was to enter the right diagnostic codes on insurance forms.  I also sometimes quoted DSM criteria to show a patient that ADHD can’t arise in adulthood, that daily mood swings are not characteristic of bipolar disorder, or that six months of sobriety is still “early” ...

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A primary care physician named Ashley Maltz recently discussed advantages and disadvantages of a cash-based practice. I appreciate her evenhanded tone: She prefers this model yet expressed concern for patients who can’t use it. In the comments section, several physicians extolled the virtues of cash-pay, but patients were mixed. It’s attractive for those who can afford it, while it worries, and maybe angers, those who can’t. I enjoy the personal and patient benefits of a mostly cash-pay psychiatric practice (I ...

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Again and again in therapy I find myself emphasizing the distinction between feeling an emotion and acting on it. Many patients, and non-patients too, take undue responsibility for their emotions, as though feelings were volitional behaviors, the result of a choice.  Often there is a stated or implied should: “I should feel this, not that.”  Note how commonly people blame themselves for feeling, or not feeling, a certain emotion: “I should be more grateful after all she’s done for me.” “It’s wrong of ...

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Some maladies that attract psychiatric attention are unequivocally brain diseases.  Huntington’s disease.  Brain tumors.  Lead poisoning.  However, these are not psychiatric diseases.  Huntington’s is a genetic abnormality diagnosed and treated by neurologists.  Brain tumors are managed by neurosurgeons and oncologists.  Lead toxicity is treated by internal medicine.  Indeed, a long list of medical and surgical diseases include psychiatric features: stroke, anoxic brain injury, meningitis, lupus, diabetic ketoacidosis, and febrile delirium to name a few.  One important ...

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As we grow into adulthood, each of us develops a personal comfort zone located on the continuum between paranoia and gullibility.  A few of us are highly suspicious by nature, a few are unwitting dupes; most of us are in between.  Mental health professionals are no exception, and it shows in our work.  Is a request for tranquilizers or stimulants legitimate, or are we abetting a substance abuser? When told of horrific past abuse, do we believe every word, ...

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