Pray For Our Children

A quarter of a century ago, E. Mansell Pattison provided the invocation for the opening of the 1985 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. It was called “A Prayer for Psychiatrists” and was so well received, that it was reprinted in [Pastoral Psychology (1987;35:187-188,), a now defunct journal. Dr Pattison, both a psychiatrist and a minister, died shortly thereafter, in 1989.

A quarter of a century ago, E. Mansell Pattison provided the invocation for the opening of the 1985 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. It was called “A Prayer for Psychiatrists” and was so well received, that it was reprinted in Pastoral Psychology (1987;35:187-188,), a now defunct journal. Dr Pattison, both a psychiatrist and a minister, died shortly thereafter, in 1989.

For that time, Dr Pattison was a rare example of how religion and psychiatry could be complementary. In 1985, there was still the prominent legacy of the Freudian view that religion was often an opiate for the people and an expression of neurosis. For a brief period of time, he was a mentor of mine in the American Association For Social Psychiatry, for which I later served as President. To keep his memory alive, and to help put me in the right state of mind, I usually read his prayer before I begin each workday. What he prayed for was ecological, political, clinical, existential, and professional spirituality.

Of note may be what he did not pray for. Curiously enough, he did not seem to pray for a need near and dear to psychiatrists. He did not ask us to pray for FAMILY SPIRITUALITY. I knew he was married, but don’t recall if he had children.

At this year’s meeting, his prayer and legacy had a special resonance for me. My son, a Rabbi, and my daughter, a law school career counselor, led the annual Workshop on “Children of Psychiatrists.” Both are married and have two young children of their own.

At the time of Dr Pattison’s prayer, there was a belief that the children of psychiatrists were “crazier” than the children of others. Indeed-and perhaps not coincidentally-in 1989 (the same year he died) a landmark book came out, Children of Psychiatrists and Other Psychotherapists, by Thomas Maeder (New York: Harper and Row; 1989). It was the first-and still only-book to cover some research that indicated there was some truth in this belief.

This research took off on some concerns that were strongly voiced by Heinz Kohut, the prime developer of self-psychology, about the adverse influence of the narcissism of psychiatrist parents. In particular, psychiatrists and other therapists who were too psychologically intrusive into their children’s development posed later problems for these children. Interestingly enough, the children of religious leaders were often thought to be more wild and undisciplined.

About a decade later, this concern became manifest in the annual Workshop that my adult children were to lead this year. Given their background, both the relationship of psychiatry and religion, and whether children of psychiatrists still tended to be “crazier,” were to be addressed.

Both claimed to be “normal.” Contrary to prior opinion, they even suggested that being the children of psychiatrists could be an advantage.

My son suggested that having a psychiatrist parent could contribute to religious leaders being more open to psychological issues, yet at the same time be able to better draw the boundary of when to refer to a professional. Religious leaders are subject to intense transference and countertransference, as are psychodynamic therapists, and perhaps can appreciate that better with a psychiatrist parent. Though approaching different subjects, both therapists and religious leaders often probe for deeper meanings. In my own life, I’ve found that Torah study, or the weekly examination of the Old Testament, is akin to searching for deeper meanings and interpretations of our patients’ symptoms and conflicts, meanings that may also change over time.

My daughter concentrated on what she thought was positive about having a psychiatrist parent. One is having a calm and confident model when confronted with interpersonal problems. Another is not to feel as much stigma about getting personal help. Of course, in some way, just being the child of a psychiatrist can be somewhat stigmatizing as one grows up. However, my daughter felt the general acceptance of being open to addressing personal problems and conflicts was worth it. She stressed the importance of being involved in, and valuing, family activities.

In a way, this perspective suggests a balancing of a psychological teeter-totter. The psychiatrist parent might be particularly successful if there is an avoidance of too much psychological intrusiveness-or the opposite, being too much of a blank screen and overly permissive. Actually, I’m not sure I was at all successful in this balance. Both of my children mentioned my infamous response to problems: “Don’t think about it”!

Of course, a confidant spouse who can respond “normally” and is not intimidated by their partner’s professional expertise in child development can help rescue the psychiatrist parent. In each individual situation, there is also the important influence of the nature of the particular child and the parental challenges that any working parent can have.

So, now, 25 years later, have we advanced the integration of psychiatry and religion, and do we have more normal children? As psychiatrists have become more biologically oriented, has this influenced their child-rearing and personal spirituality? If you’ve had children, what do you think has been the influence of your profession on their development? Do we need an updated study on this issue?

Given these questions and challenges, I’m sure Dr Pattison would not mind if we also prayed for all children and, in particular, our own children. Of course, we know that research into whether prayer helps illness is still uncertain. But, given the benefit of the doubt, let us each “pray” in our own way.