The Shrink’s Complaint


In my quiet office overlooking the concrete hills of south Manhattan I may seem to be a psychiatrist, but what I feel like is an EMT.  You know, one of those guys who jumps out of the ambulance at the intersection where the cars have smashed and tangled, and who after the machines have finished their extraction sets to work stabilizing the poor dazed broken bloody victims?

I suppose this is not a customary way for a psychiatrist to describe his patients or his office.  I’ve seen the cartoons and the movies.  I know, I know. I know the drill.

The hushed, embarrassed waiting room.  The slowly opened double doors.  The thick, deep leather chairs facing one another.  The neatly appointed desk with just one or two small flourishes of personality – a blue mug, a talisman from Kathmandu.  The nondescript prints on the walls hinting at some lost form of hidden wealth.  And the reflective, pensive, furrowed, careful brow, listening, listening, listening.

Yes, yes.  Yes.  I got the memo.

It probably looks, to my patients, like I followed it.  But that is not how I feel – like some grand cliche – sitting across from them in my chair.  I look at them, suffering or not so much, disturbed or not so much, biochemically altered, or not so much, and I see victims.  Not the kind they think they are – not victims of their moms, or of their serotonin, or of capitalism or their failure to have mastered it.  I see rather victims of ideology, history, neuroscience of the best kind; victims of the whole grand unsuccessful scheme to seek and find our selves.

The poor souls have been hit from all sides – introspection on the left, neuroscience on the right, anthropology from the front, religion from behind. Each wanted a piece of them, each claimed to understand.  But in their eagerness to explain it all, these disciplines lost their brakes, and like cars upon an intersection converged and battered them instead.

Did I say I feel like an EMT? That’s not quite fair.

I’m a scam artist.  Not of the pharmacological sort – I know my drugs.  Not of the therapeutic sort – I say the right words, or some of them, at least, some of the time. Not as an individual, not as an individual at all.  But in the racket – the whole damn racket whirling round me.   And you – you’re in on it too.

Hell, you put me up to it.

We’re all colluding in one grand farce.  We’re the EMTs but own stock in the hospital, raised our capital by selling shares of the cars that hit our kids.  We’re running the whole charade.  We invented capitalism and told ourselves money would make us happy.  We stressed ourselves outrageously to make ourselves from scratch, the wisdom of the ages washing finally off of our naked bodies as so much inauthenticity.  We told ourselves to move out of the house, move out of the state, raise our children without grandparents to babysit or soothe to sleep, and then, at last, our duties done, we call our shrinks and go to them, to sit, to talk, to mourn.

We’re totally oversold – all things to all people. We will cure ourselves by insight, we will cure ourselves by work, we will cure ourselves by self-dissection. But by God, we will be selves.  We will be individuals.  And in that endless commitment we have become our own Ponzi scheme.

But then again, perhaps we’re just exhausted.  We do the best we can; we always did.  We always will.  And when we’re done we will walk out of our offices at dusk, get in our cars, turn the ignitions on, and checking our mirrors twice pull gently out into the street, pull gently out into the night.

And at the corner run the light.

One thought on “The Shrink’s Complaint

  1. Except for the deep thick leather chairs (can’t quite afford-only a lowly lscw) and the nondescript prints on the walls (I go against the rules and have my paintings from Bali and even brighter woven art from Guatemala) I feel as though you are describing how I feel and think most days. What a relief! Thank you for your eloquence, your same world view and cynicism about our culture, and your humor.

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About Peter Freed, M.D.

I am a psychiatrist (psychopharmacology and psychotherapy) specializing in the so-called "personality disorders," particularly narcissistic and borderline personality disorders. I was a Fellow and then an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia from 2004- 2011. I am currently in private practice in NYC.