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Professional Identity: Benefits and a Major Caveat

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In the beginning of Crazy, I talk about how most of my childhood was spent wanting to be a Psychiatrist.  When I was at the pediatrician, which was part of a large medical practice, I had seen a man who my mom called "The Feelings Doctor."  I was fascinated with the idea that it was possible to heal "inside pain," and something just stuck.  It was like an indelible imprint, bam!  That was it, I was going to be a Psychiatrist.

Little did I know the Feelings Doctor wasn't actually a Psychiatrist.  In fact, when I found out he was another type of mental health professional I didn't really care. Nor did I care about the fact that I sucked at science and that medical school would be something completely uninteresting and possibly even outside of my realm of abilities (for a humorous take on how I ended up becoming a Psychologist, click here).  I was hellbent on becoming a Psychiatrist, to the point that I completed all my pre-med requirements (with barely a C average) and even went on medical school interviews, hating every minute of the experience.  I identified with Psychiatry and I pursued it, flouting reason or real interest.

Identity in all walks of life is important.  It connects us to other people in the same group, creating communities and a sense of connection.  If you're an athlete or sports fan, there's an intense bond with others who share in the team's successes and failures.  When you live in a city, you tend to defend it against outsiders who may bash it, even if they are right.  You protect your group and the bond that you experience which, simply put, feels fucking great (one unfortunate, potential side effect of strong identity is the development of hate, which you can read about here).

Hanging out with BL1Y and Philalawyer has taught me a few things about lawyers.  Far too many are already in the legal mentality well before they know anything about it.  No real research is done.  Before the LSAT is even taken so many have fallen prey to the bullshit concepts of money, power or even justice.  We hear that a law degree opens up so many doors that it may be considered foolish not to pursue it.

I could have completely fucked up my life had I gone to medical school, had I attempted to cash in on that identity.  The most likely scenario is that I would have failed out, which is clearly not the best bullet point on a resume or C.V.  Alternatively, I would have survived and completed a residency in Psychiatry.* But then I would have been a glorified drug dealer, seeing dozens of patients per week, with a prescription pad as my main therapeutic tool.  Very few, if any, psychiatrists do actual psychotherapy (my true love) and it's unlikely I would have ever discovered it.  I was very, very fortunate to learn what I was actually getting into before the shit hit the fan.

The pearl of wisdom here: resist the temptation for a vocational identity until you truly get what that identity means.  You don't need to be the upstart, the hotshot wunderkind who really knows his life course before college is even done.  You get a small number of mulligans in life.  Use your time in school (and possibly beyond) to cash those in, to make mistakes, to see where you fit.  Otherwise, be well-prepared to be as inherently miserable as most of the writers on this site. Which means, of course, that I'll likely be seeing you in my office in a few years...

* Interestingly, many psychiatrists I know have told me that they went into that particular field of medicine because they completed medical school only to learn that they didn't really want to be doctors.  Psychiatry kept them away from medicine in many ways: regular hours, no blood, no surgery and medical emergencies only on very rare occasions. ^

[Read more from Dr. Rob]


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