The Alienation of
Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board
of Psychiatry and Neurology
In my psychiatric
training, I learned that most people in our culture
have significant emotional problems, which they usually handle with
years of medical school, I took a
one-year general internship, and then started a three-year
psychiatric residency-training program.
We had treatment responsibilities in the
psychiatric unit of a large general hospital. There were classes
and seminars, but no exams. There was no forced memorization,
examinations, or grades.
the first time in my training, the focus shifted from the
memorization of facts to an examination of emotions, both
in ourselves and in others. In the first year, we had 26 residents in
We were offered the option of attending a
therapy group, which was
called 'sensitivity training'. It was held for one ninety-minute
session per week. In the first meeting, all 26 residents were
present. The leader was a staff psychiatrist who began the
meeting with a fairly low-key, neutral introduction.
One by one, the residents began to make
comments and the focus of
attention shifted to one resident in
particular. The group began to criticize his manner rather
severely, and this was the theme of the first group.
The following week, that member did not attend
therapy group, and the
remaining 25 members focused on and
severely criticized another individual. We weren't told to do
this; the group was entirely unstructured, and this is just what
The following week that individual was not
present, and we were down to
24 members. This process continued week after week until the
group was down to six members. At that point someone remarked,
"You know, I don't think we have really gotten to know each other."
The attacking stopped, and the group gradually took on a more mature
and civil feel.
The group leader made the interpretation that everyone in the group was
having difficulty with their own feelings. He told a
personal story about his experience with individual psychotherapy.
When he started, his attitude was that he was doing it 'for the
experience'. Later, he said tenderly, "I realized that I was
all of the staff psychiatrists that taught in the residency
program had been in psychoanalysis, consisting of four
sessions a week for between three to ten years. There was a
common theme: a disconnection with the emotional self. We
had all been raised in a competitive, left-brain, performance-driven
educational system. Then, when we were asked to use our emotional
brains in our work, we were left struggling like fish out of water.
The most remarkable thing
that I learned from my training is that there is an
extremely high presence of mental illness in people who we would
ordinarily consider normal. Although the cause of such
illness is complicated and multifaceted, the most productive way to deal
with this problem is to expose the erroneous beliefs of our society that
govern our educational system.
During the ensuing twenty years of my clinical
practice, that and similar
themes arose repeatedly. It
was not until many years later that I was able to assemble the many
pieces of the puzzle of the root causes of social dysfunction.
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