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Independence Day a time to reflect for practitioners

July 05, 2018

Many of you likely spent the Fourth of July doing traditional American activities for the holiday. Picnics. Parades. Viewing fireworks. Dressing in red, white, and/or blue. Unless spoiled by rain or political arguments, all was probably fun.

I bet not many, if any, thought about our work. I mean, such holidays are a way to get a reprieve from work, to recuperate from workplace stress and, this time, to break up the work week. On the other hand, there may be no American holiday that is as relevant to psychiatry and behavioral healthcare than the Fourth of July. That may be worth thinking about now and applying to our workplaces.

Our country was founded on the idea of liberty (or freedom). For those leading the revolution, that meant independence from England.

Think about how this idea might apply to patients. Whether we think in terms of symptom relief, withdrawal from substances, reduction of risk, or in-depth insight, at its essence we are trying to work with them so they have more freedom from their mental problems. That might mean lessening the depression causing inactivity, undue negativity, and even possible suicide. For anxiety, that might mean lessening the undue and sometimes paralyzing fears of the future. For trauma, that might mean lessening the hold and intrusiveness of traumatic memories. For hallucinations, that could mean the freedom from voices commanding one to do harmful things to oneself or others. For substance addiction, that would mean lessening the dependence on the substance.

In addition, that increase in freedom applies to us nowadays. We are in an age of epidemic burning of clinicians, in large part due to systems that dis-empower healers so that they can’t provide the healing they know they can. Even administrators can be hamstrung by the business priorities of their system.

The solutions? Talk among staff about how to improve the system even under business constraints. For patients, involve their wishes in how they want to recover. For continuing education, use the Fourth of July to reframe what we are all trying to obtain every day.

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