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Why Would an Experienced Psychiatrist Become a Coach?

July 12, 2021

Short answer: To better serve by growing! I wanted to continue evolving and developing, to avoid the risks of professional stagnation, and, even worse, boredom.  I believe in leaning in and moving ahead in our careers.  The world around us is in motion; commitment to adaptive growth is an important core value.

Long answer:  So why did I become a Coaching & Consulting Psychiatrist?  I’ll start with a spoiler alert: I wasn’t burning out, and my medical license and board certifications (Psychiatry; Addiction Medicine) are as clean as a whistle. Because I love what I do, I added coaching skills, training, and formal coaching certification to my repertoire so that I could do an even better job helping health professionals and medical leaders.

My eight years as the director of Physician Health Services taught me that most physicians who are failing to thrive DO NOT suffer from a substance use disorder, nor are they mentally ill, neurotic, or challenged by personality disorders like pathological narcissism.  No, the majority of docs I have worked with were letting their frustration and irritation with our highly imperfect health care system get the best of them.  Many were burning out.  Some were considering leaving medicine altogether.

Earlier, as a leader in a large medical group of 600+ physicians, I had found myself assuming the role of ‘town shrink,’ the psychiatrist approached by other department chairs when a doctor was struggling.  I started by offering compassionate advice about the matter at hand.  It became clearer and clearer that helping most physicians with problematic behavior involved a more specialized approach that was not featured in the mental health/psychiatry/psychotherapy playbook.

The psychiatric paradigm centers on identifying pathology and mending it, usually with some combination of the talking cure that we call psychotherapy and the augmentation of neurotransmitter deficiencies that we call psychopharmacology.

The coaching paradigm involves a fundamental assumption that your client is a competent human being in possession of many strengths; a person who knows how to solve problems and overcome adversity.

When I joined Physician Health Services in 2013, I discovered that we had already started assisting struggling doctors by referring them to professional coaches.  Often, these docs with rough edges were superb clinicians who couldn’t tolerate the dumbing down of the profession by non-clinical intermediaries.  When burnout became the prevailing chief complaint, it became clear that short-term, solution-focused coaching could help numerous physicians get back on track with the renewed vigor necessary to regain their bearings and improve the system.

So physicians who are failing to thrive should start with a good evaluation to rule out or address treatable disorders.  More often than not, the collaborative process of goal-setting and goal achievement known as coaching can be an important part of the solution.  We do health professionals a disservice when we assume that they are broken.

Photo by Ubaidhulla Adam on Unsplash

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