Look to the Psychiatrists: A Model for Our Troubled Times


Why aren't psychiatrists the answer?




On November 2, 2023, the New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a piece titled “How to Stay Sane in Brutalizing Times.”1 Right away, his use of the work “sane” got my attention. How could it not as I am a psychiatrist always trying to work toward saneness in others and myself. That includes establishing therapeutic alliances and working with individual patients, families, and groups. For those of us who are community and social psychiatrists, that can also include working with large groups and even entire communities on leadership and various common social problems like xenophobia. (For examples of this less known social role of psychiatrists, besides my brief weekly videos and weekday columns here, take a slower, deeper canvassing dive and see me being interviewed bimonthly at jon atack, family & friends on YouTube in the Culture and Behaviors section.)

Actually, it does not take much for me to read his columns. They have been loaded with coverage and concern for mental health and humanity. Just recently, his new book came out: How to Know a Person. Other of his book titles include: The Road to Character, The Social Animal, and The Power of Self-Love. With the limited—if not inadequate—involvement of psychiatrists in the public sphere, he assumes a critical educational role for the public about understanding ourselves and moving toward our best selves.

He closed his essay with this question:

“How can warm passion and a cool sense of proportion be forged together in one and the same soul?”

Those 2 goals of passion and proportion are traced back to the Abrahamic religions and ancient Greece, respectively.

I was hoping that desired combination would end with this answer: Look to the psychiatrists! Why? We, as well as most other mental health care professionals, are wounded healers ourselves, trained to be humble in our challenging work and learn to convey our compassion, while controlling our own personal emotional reactions in order to avoid countertransference problems that will imperil patient care. That leads us to appreciate the goal to go slow and fix things rather than the early Facebook model to “move fast and break things.” However, Brooks provides no answer to his question other than it is difficult and most of the public will fail at it most of the time.

However, even if we psychiatrists are guided towards representing an answer, we can only be at our best towards such an ideal model if we are not burned out at the current epidemic rate, are out there in the public discourse like Brooks, and the public is educated about how these traits can be cultivated.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry, and is now in retirement and refirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.


1. Brooks D. How to stay sane in brutalizing times. The New York Times. November 2, 2023. Accessed November 7, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/02/opinion/sunday/resilience-bad-news-coping.html

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