Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Most shrinks are crazy

A reader alerts me to the latest Straight Dope column. This column has been a reliable source of facts for decades.
Dear Cecil:

Is it true that, as a class, psychotherapists and other mental health professionals are crazier than average? And that despite their training and experience, they can recognize their own issues less readily than the average nutcase? — Paul

Cecil replies: ...

A widely noted study from 1980 found 73 percent of psychiatrists had experienced moderate to incapacitating anxiety early in their careers, and 58 percent had suffered from moderate to incapacitating depression. ...

One British study found psychiatrists had nearly five times the suicide rate of general practitioners, and U.S. research indicates psychiatrists commit suicide at two to three times the rate of the general population.

Similarly, depression, stress, and burnout are high among physicians but higher among psychiatrists; the same is true of alcohol and drug abuse. Psychiatrists have a divorce rate 2.7 times that of other physicians and as much as five times that of the general public. From a quarter to a half of psychiatrists say they’re suffering from burnout at any given time.

A study of more than 8,000 Finnish hospital employees found the psychiatric staff was 81 percent more likely to suffer from a current or past mental illness and 61 percent more likely to miss work due to depression. Psychiatric staff were twice as likely to smoke as other hospital staff and had much higher rates of alcohol use. A 30-year study of 20,000 UK medical workers found psychiatrists were 46 percent more likely than their peers to die from injuries and poisoning, and at 12 percent greater risk of dying overall. ...

Does the mental health field attract people with mental problems? Research is thin, but some studies have found mental health workers are more likely than average to have experienced early abuse and trauma. A much-cited 1963 study reported that 24 out of 25 psychiatrists had entered the field because of a wish to explore some personal conflict.

That gives one pause. Sure, there’s value in consulting a health professional who’s been down the same road as us. But who wants their therapist thinking, “Maybe after I get this head case straightened out, I’ll figure out what’s wrong with me”?

— Cecil Adams
A Psychology Today article details Why Shrinks Have Problems:
In 1899 Sigmund Freud got a new telephone number: 14362. He was 43 at the time, and he was profoundly disturbed by the digits in the new number. He believed they signified that he would die at age 61 (note the one and six surrounding the 43) or, at best, at age 62 (the last two digits in the number). He clung, painfully, to this bizarre belief for many years. Presumably he was forced to revise his estimate on his 63rd birthday, but he was haunted by other superstitions until the day he died—by assisted suicide, no less—at the ripe old age of 83.

That's just for starters. Freud also had frequent blackouts. He refused to quit smoking even after 30 operations to correct the extensive damage he suffered from cancer of the jaw. He was a self-proclaimed neurotic. He suffered from a mild form of agoraphobia. And, for a time, he had a serious cocaine problem.

Neuroses? Superstitions? Substance abuse? Blackouts? And suicide? So much for the father of psychoanalysis. But are these problems typical for psychologists? How are Freud's successors doing? Or, to put the question another way: Are shrinks really "crazy"?
Yes, it is my experience that the craziest people become shrinks. And that is what all the studies say.

I you wanted to lose weight, would you pay for advice from a 400-pound man? Of course not. You would not pay him to coach you to train for a triathlon either. If he does not know how to get his own life together, then it is very unlikely to have the ability to help you get your life together.

The become a court child custody evaluator, shrinks have to take a seminar on domestic violence, but there is no requirement that they not be crazy. And the ones at my local court all have severe personal problems.


Greg said...

I don't know. You don't want a psychologist who still has significant issues. But someone who has had significant issues and successfully addressed them would seem to be a good resource.

I'd rather get fitness advice from a man who was 400 lbs and has been 160 for the past decade than from someone who has been 160 pounds all their life. Of course getting advice from someone who is 400 lbs still would seem to be a bad idea.

In any case, it seems obvious that people who have had some mental issues would be more interested in psychology. I can't imagine that learning about psychology is that interesting for anyone who has been happy and well-adjusted all their life.

Anonymous said...

This research is mainly focused on psychiatrists, who need an M.D. to practice. Most in the field are either psychologists, social workers, etc. I am sure that as in every field of work, there are good and bad, anyway. Even the research you cited does not say 100% of them, so even in the field of psychiatry there are a few good guys (and dolls) :-) Barbara

George said...

There are numerous studies, and they cover all sorts of shrinks, not just MD psychiatrists. What study found a few good guys?

Anonymous said...


When was Ted Kennedy convicted of killing a woman ?

George said...

Ted Kennedy did plead guilty in the Chappaquiddick incident. By his own account, he drove the woman off the bridge and left her to die. Yes, he admitted to killing her.

Anonymous said...

George - the research you are quoting in this post talks only about pyschiatrists. Barbara

George said...

I quoted the stuff about MDs because people have higher expectations from MDs. But the studies show craziness among psychotherapists broadly.

Anonymous said...

Was Kennedy convicted of murdrer ? No. Did he say that he dove into the water many times to try to save her life ? Yes. He never admitted to killing her. He said he tried to save her life. I think you know that.

George said...

No, Kennedy was not convicted of murder. I did not say that he murdered her. I said that he killed her. Yes, he did claim to have tried to rescue her, after driving her off the bridge and before leaving her to die from what he did to her.