PORTRAIT OF A PSYCHIATRIST
Series Editor, H. Steven Moffic, MD
Psychiatry plays a central role in exploring and treating the depths of human experience captured by the word “soul.” During psychiatric residency, I read Bruno Bettelheim’s Freud and Man’s Soul.1 At that moment, I began to see how my life experience came together to direct the rest of my life. My father was a protestant minister in a small town of 1200 people with 5 different churches. There, St Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born Saint of the Catholic Church, started her Order of the Sisters of Charity.
As a teenager, my thrill of science clashed with religious beliefs starting an unforeseen life journey. In college, pursuing my exciting engineering major changed to psychology when I realized I needed more personal connections in my future career. And the Kuder Preference Test led me to choose psychiatry as a professional goal, when medicine had never before entered my imagination. My experience of a “doctor” was the man four houses down the street who I would go to with a $2 payment and return home with a packet of pills and handwritten instructions.
In college, I stumbled upon “Ethical Culture,” a small American religion that placed ethics and a commitment to the “worth and dignity of every person” as its central purpose. That mediated my religious and science struggles and supported me throughout medical school, pediatric residency, psychiatric residency, and a child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship.
Freud and Man’s Soul1 opened my awareness to my real quest—the experience of soul—or “psyche” (Greek for “soul” or “spirit”) as a “psyche-atrist.” My first job could not have been a better opportunity as it was with teenagers with mental disorders and addictions during the “crack” epidemic. At the time, we worked within a 12-Step (Alcoholics Anonymous) framework where spirituality was a major part of recovery.
Working with teens who were violent, homicidal, self-destructive, suicidal, and often filled with hatred and hopelessness tested my limits. Still, my commitment to give every patient dignity and respect fed my desire to treat substance use disorders with a spiritual bent, especially because addiction affects the soul mightily.
Outside my professional work, I received support by meeting with people to explore faith from a non-theistic perspective. Twice a month for a full year, we identified core characteristics of the spiritual experience—connectedness, wholeness, integrity, vitality, peace, joy, awe, purpose, and meaning. In the middle of this, I realized my father had somehow passed on to me a personal experience of “faith.” I recall at his funeral, a parishioner said, “That Rev. Chatlos—when he would shake your hand, you just knew that everything would be alright.”
Unexpectedly, as our group explored faith, we discovered that the personal experiences of self-worth (self-confidence/self-esteem/self-competence) and the expression of dignity (reason/wisdom, empathy/compassion, courage/generosity) were key to opening what William James2 described in Varieties of Religious Experience. It was so predictable and dramatic that I knew there must be an evolutionary basis for our capacity to experience self-worth and dignity.
1. Bettelheim B. Freud and Man’s Soul: An Important Re-Interpretation of Freudian Theory. New York: Random House Inc; 1982.
2. James W. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co; 1902.
3. Read H, Fordham M, Adler G, Eds. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; 1970.