Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Brainwashing in the medical training
Saturday January 06, 2007

i find this subject fascinating and have spent a fair amount of time pondering why compassion is sometimes so elusive amongst the healing professions. i am a pediatric cardiologist who finished my training in 1990, and i've worked as an attending physician since that time. when my daughter became ill, i experienced firsthand the difficulties patients and families face when experiencing serious illness. as challenging as my daughters illnesses were, the most challenging issue we faced were many who were dismissive of our observations, who were condescending, and many who just didn't seem to really care.

i have used the lack of compassion i experienced to heighten the compassion i feel for my own patients, with incredibly rewarding results. i think i know why so many doctors are so limited in their ability to show their own humanity. in order to become a doctor, it is often helpful to deny one's own humanity and feelings in order to get through the system. for me to do what i do, i continued my education through 27th grade (4 years college, 4 years medical school, 3 years pediatrics residency, 1 year research, 3 years pediatric cardiology fellowship). many of these years involve a kind of hazing, where students are belittled and made to feel embarrassed by their lack of knowledge, working 80-100 hour work weeks, staying up all night, answering phone calls. if one actually feels one's feelings, and responds naturally, say, by going to sleep in the middle of the night, that would lead to losing one's position, or at least being belittled by all around. after so many years of i
gnoring your own suffering (probably preceded by similar training in childhood), it is nearly impossible for us doctors to recognize our own feelings and suffering. therefore, when we take care of people in need, suffering physically and mentally, we are unable to do so. i find most health care professionals just get annoyed with anyone who is not an "easy" or straightforward patient.

personally, i love taking care of "difficult" patients. usually, they have been repeatedly ignored to the point they are very very upset. all i have to do is listen carefully, address in a compassionate way whatever the issue is, and i've made a friend for life. often, i am able to share my own stories of frustration of dealing with the medical system as the parent of a kid with health issues, and i promise to do whatever i can to take good care of my patient, then just follow through. it helps me find some meaning in my own suffering, and gives me the chance to help others to feel the compassion i didn't experience.

d. t.

AM: Thank you so much for your important letter and for taking part in this discussion. You write: "I have used the lack of compassion i experienced to heighten the compassion i feel for my own patients, with incredibly rewarding results." Have you already tried to ask your patients if they were beaten in childhood? I suggested it many times to many physicians but they were afraid to do so. Only one of them did it and was surprised that a long story of a chronic illness came to an end after the pains of the childhood had come to the surface. Unfortunately, so many doctors keep their own secrets hidden to themselves, thus they can hardly offer compassion to their patients, their whole artificial security may fall away. They don't know that exactly this could give them and their patients the opportunity to live their own authentic lives, without the lies and without the secrets that must protect the parents.

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