Even though I’ve read these stories a number of times, I still have an intense emotional response to each of them. They remind me that our work is of incredible personal importance to our patients and of such emotional meaning to us too.
What a pleasure it is to introduce the winning essays in our inaugural Psychiatric Times writing contest! When deputy editor-in-chief, Michelle Riba, MD, and I first discussed the idea for this undertaking with the editorial staff, we had no idea we would have such a rousing response. Well over 100 essays were evaluated. The editors first reviewed the submissions and narrowed down the choices. Then Michelle and I reviewed them-we looked especially for how that particular psychiatrist’s patient experience both influenced his or her own career and illustrated a significant aspect of importance in the therapeutic alliance.
The winning essays stood out, but were by no means the only outstanding contributions. We wish we had space to publish all those who shared their stories, as each provided a valuable illustration of what is most important in our work. In coming months we’ll publish our honorable mention and other noteworthy essays, and post others on our website.
We particularly looked for universality of an aspect of the psychiatrist’s experience that can serve as an opportunity for self-reflection by those who read the essays. Finally, we asked the winners to assure us that the cases were disguised in such a way that others would be unable to identify the patients being described.
We are humbled by the courage demonstrated by all those who told of a patient experience that had such important personal meaning. So much of our self is involved and used in our patient interactions. So it’s not easy to let others know not only about aspects of the patient’s condition, but also about our own personal experiences and reflections in our clinical work. We thank all those who shared with us their patient experiences in such personal and heartfelt ways.
The First Place essay in this year’s contest is “The Mirror” by Jessica A. Gold, MD, MS. In her poignant description of caring for a severely suicidal patient, Dr. Gold shows not only the importance of, but also the difficulty in, maintaining an attitude of therapeutic hopefulness-even with an extremely hopeless patient.
Our Second Place goes to “Preconceived Notions.” We either already have information about the person’s history or their presumptive diagnosis for most all the patients we see. But the author, who wishes to remain anonymous, underlines for us the critically important fact that we should not use that information to filter what we first hear from our patients. Maintaining that stance of taking nothing for granted as we make our own evaluations is both difficult and essential-and often surprising.
This year’s Third Place essay is “Foster Care” by Sidney A. Kelt Jr, MD. We have all been taught about how important it is to find a way to make contact with our patient in a human but professional way as part of developing a therapeutic alliance and working relationship. Even the smallest, and what may seem to us less important, aspect of our relationship may have much greater meaning for our patients than we can imagine. Dr. Kelt’s story reminds us that even the most unlikely part of an interaction may have the utmost importance to our patients.
Even though I’ve read these stories a number of times, I still have an intense emotional response to each of them. They remind me that our work is of incredible personal importance to our patients and of such emotional meaning to us too. I know you’ll feel the same as you read them.