A perceptive and supportive iron
hand in a velvet glove
Well, I should say that when I was asked if I
would write an account of the psychiatrist who treated me I had no
hesitation in immediately saying that I would be pleased to do
so. Why such a positive, immediate response? After all,
it would mean a bit of work and time. I suppose it’s because
my psychiatrist changed my life – it’s that simple. This person slowly helped me through
difficult physical and mental stages to the point where I could
again function and, hopefully, once again contribute to
I should say that I saw this psychiatrist
because I was absolutely in the grip of the addiction I had.
I should actually say “have” – recovery is not finite and I shall
always be potentially addicted, although hopefully I can now cope
with it and the fall out on a daily basis. When one is in the
throes of an addiction, it takes over your whole life and nothing
else is remotely important.
Let’s go back a bit (skipping over the fact
that medically I had other, probably related, problems). I was sent
by my GP to an alcohol treatment centre where I met, amongst other
fantastic staff, the psychiatrist who was going to treat me.
To be honest, I can’t remember much about my initial sessions (such
is the effect of alcoholism) but I do recall that when I first met
my psychiatrist I was, possibly unwillingly, impressed. He
spoke to me and he listened. He listened – I can’t tell you
how important that was and what an impact it had.
Of course, as the sessions progressed the
whole experience wasn’t easy and we were not always in agreement
but, most importantly, I was never forced into doing anything I
didn’t want to do. Instead, I was given information and
guided with patience. Mind you, come to think of it, my
psychiatrist wasn’t always totally patient with me, but then I
could at times be extremely stubborn and annoying.
You see, alcoholics can be very manipulative
and I was no exception. However, at some point I realised
that my devious arguments, my coaxing and pleading, were not
actually having the desired effect. I’m sure I wasn’t an easy
client, being very determined to get my own way and my point of
view across whatever it took. And, do you know, I was
actually pleased that he saw through me and I admired/ respected
him for it. Don’t get me wrong – I was treated with kindness
and respect too, but it wasn’t the easy ride that I thought it was
going to be when “all” I had to do was convince this person that I
knew best what to do.
The whole contention really came down to the
fact that whereas I realised that I had to do “something” about my
drinking (which was totally out of control and causing huge dramas
and misery, not to mention numerous accidents), what I wanted was
to be given a “magic spell” which would control my drinking and
then all would be fine.
The notion of stopping drinking altogether was
totally abhorrent to me and not an option. So, against strong
advice, I was allowed to go for controlled drinking (remember you
can’t force a patient to do anything they don’t want to do) and
eventually through help reached the stage where my alcohol intake
was greatly reduced to something acceptable and then, of my own
volition, I left the alcohol treatment service very grateful for
everything ... I’d done it! That psychiatrist was
wrong – I could control it! He wasn’t correct after all when
he said that he did not think that controlled drinking was the
answer to my problem, that in his view, the only feasible option in
my case was abstinence but that it had to be me who decided to go
down that path ... He was wrong and I was right!
Unfortunately, however, it soon turned out
that my psychiatrist was right ... My controlled drinking
lasted for about three months and then I was back to my old
drinking ways, but much worse than ever before. Let’s gloss
over the next few years which were not my finest. Suffice it to say
that I eventually reached the end of the road.
It took five further long alcohol-filled
years after leaving the treatment centre for the first time to
have the courage to go back to my GP and ask to be sent back to the
same NHS centre. I knew that I was going to tell them that I
had to somehow become abstinent. I was going to ask them to
help me achieve this. Luckily, I was sent back to same alcohol
treatment centre. It was incredible that the same
psychiatrist was still there. Yes, he did help me – and
without any hint of “I told you so”.
I vividly remember his saying that I had so
much to offer and why was I wasting what I had. Being at
rock-bottom, my self-image was absolutely zero. It wasn’t
just him, of course – there were other wonderful staff who also
helped me enormously. However, I have to say at the end of the day,
throughout this horribly difficult journey, that my psychiatrist
was the central pivot, the stability, at times the reason I kept
I can’t tell you a failsafe blueprint for a
“good psychiatrist”, but I can tell you what I very much
valued. Still value. Very much.
Here are, in my view, a few personal do’s and
don’t’s for a psychiatrist:
- Listen to what the person has
to say. Make them feel they are important, that what they say
is important and that they are being heard.
- Use your skills to sum up
your patient. All patients need handling differently and some can
take, or may need, a tougher line than others.
- Help the person to restore
their self-image. Point out what they have to offer.
- Remain professional however
emotional the case may make you feel. But remain human and
- Remember how vulnerable your
patient is. Their outward show of strength, aggression even,
may hide what’s inside.
- Remember that however many
meetings you may have, whatever time of day it is, this one is the
patient’s special appointment and is hugely important to
them. They have probably been psyching themselves up for this
meeting with you.
- Never try and force a patient
to do what they don’t want to do – it will end in tears and you’ll
be back at square one.
I’m sure there are many more points to
mention, but those above will do for a start.
I was lucky to see the psychiatrist I
did. I shall never forget him nor what he did for me. I
gave him my trust and respect and he didn’t let me down.
Oh, even now my life isn’t a bed of roses of
course. Recovery isn’t easy and it’s a battle some days more
than others. However, my psychiatrist changed my life, helped
me change my life, and enabled me to put myself back into
I’m eternally grateful.