Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Blogging Shrink

In the comment section of ClinkShrink's Max & Me post, some of the commenters have started a discussion about what it is one does or doesn't want to know about one's shrink and what it might be like to read the blog of one's very own shrink. I've been thinking about this for a couple of days now, and I thought I'd turn my response into a post.

For those who haven't been here since the beginning to hear about my blogging angst, I started the blog last April after feeling a bit overwhelmed by the winter. I'd returned in November from a brief time in Louisiana with the Katrina Assistance Project, I had a bunch of patients who'd been having problems, I was feeling demoralized with my lack of success in getting my novels published, and I wanted a forum to express some of my thoughts -- more about psychiatry but a little about my own life-- and I wanted to engage interested parties in discussion about topics in psychiatry. My field, it seems, lacks consensus on much of anything, I'm not always very comfortable with uncertainty, and it's fun stuff to discuss. For me, a lot of it is about the writing. I asked ClinkShrink and Roy for help, and have been thrilled that they embraced this project with so much enthusiasm and investment. One of the best things about Shrink Rap is that my friendships with both of these wonderful people have grown, both on-line and in Real Life. Shrink Rap is now a part of my life, it occupies my thoughts in a stimulating way, I love the discussions we have here, and I've enjoyed "meeting" the readers who engage us in both intellectual and entertaining conversation. The blog has been a really good thing.

When we began, I debated using my own name, and initially used my full name. ClinkShrink and Roy were clear on the matter-- they were using pseudonyms. Though, as time and the My Three Shrinks Podcast have moved on, they are both aware that anyone who wants to figure them out, can. I had already published a novel, I'm very active in our local professional organization, here and there I've had a non-fiction rant published that people comment on. In the psychiatric community, I'm not particularly low-profile, and anyone who really wants to Google me can read about my thoughts and my life in a variety of forums. So why not? --and our blog bears my first name.

I've been proud of Shrink Rap. I ask my friends to read it, I mentioned it in our family Holiday card, I tell other shrinks, I have the URL on my C.V., even my big brother subscribes. I am who I am, and with my name plastered to it, I'm happy to talk about my thoughts about psychiatry, to let the people I know in a bit on my emotional life, to rant, to be a little sarcastic (couldn't we call it Witty?), to be playful and have fun. Some of it's a bit intimate, but nothing here is terribly personal-- aside from the dog Max and his friend Tex who have been mentioned by name and pictured-- I keep anything I don't want the world to know off the blog. The fact that it holds my real name serves as a constant reminder that I'm accountable for what I say and to me this feels right. A bit of writer's narcissism mixed in as well.

So what about my patients? This has been a complicated issue for me and it comes to life again as readers comment that they would be distressed to know so much about their shrink. Ultimately, in my life in a variety of roles-- wife, mom, dog owner, shrink, novelist, ranter, exerciser at a gym where some of my patients go, grocery shopper, restaurant patron, and the list marches on-- I've been left with the "I am who I am" conclusion. I suppose I'd rather my patients didn't read my blog, mostly because I don't want to upset anyone, and so far I'm not aware that anyone has. I don't tell them I have a blog (or a novel for that matter), and it doesn't readily pop up by googling my name. There are actually a bunch of people with my name out there and for the record, I'm not a dietitian in Dallas.

In the office, I offer little about myself. I wear a wedding ring, but don't have photos of my family. I offer little about myself for two reasons: psychotherapy is about the patient and everyone is more comfortable (me especially) with some boundaries in place. A handful of patients know about my novel, a few have read it. The novel makes Shrink Rap look like a fairy tale and has been a bit upsetting, I believe, for the patients who've read it. I can't, however, come to terms with the idea that I shouldn't write, or should do so only undercover, because it might upset my patients. There are many things in life that psychiatrists do that would upset their patients, I suppose the question is how much of oneself is the shrink obligated to mask in the name of being who their patients would like them to be? Outside the office, in ways that don't immediately impinge upon the lives of patients, I believe a psychiatrist is entitled to be whoever he or she is.

So, if my patients hunt my blog down, that's fine. I write with them over my shoulder, I'm aware the possibility exists, that the probability even is that some will find this. If a patient wants to tell me they've read Shrink Rap and use it a focus for a therapy session (or many sessions), that's fine. If a patient wants to read Shrink Rap and never mention it, that's fine too. If it's too much, too intimate, then I'd hope that patient would simply not read.