When Healers Kill: Psychiatry Ponders A Psychiatrist-Killer
Should grief over the dead and wounded in Fort Hood ever subside, a reactive mixture of ironies would pour salt into the already gaping wound.
- The irony of shootings that took place within a mammoth gathering place for America’s war machine. The U.S. Army’s Fort Hood is part socialized killing squad on a massive scale, part swath of middle America for whom the military life is career and duty.
- The irony that those killed and wounded at Fort Hood, as well as the accused shooter, were boys and girls taught to believe that killing was wrong, yet committed to learn how best, if called upon, to kill.
- The irony that, more than previous wars, Iraq and Afghanistan feature asymmetric warfare without enemy lines or uniforms. The enemy could be a woman with a shopping bag, a policeman being trained to bring order to a newly pacified village — even a caregiver with U.S. Army dog tags.
- The irony of being cut down in a Fort Hood office waiting to see the dentist before shipping out.
That accused shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan was a psychiatrist is surely an irony of another order.
I called Dr. Sarita Uhr, a Dallas psychiatrist in private practice, to learn how psychiatrists teach their own to handle the misery, grief and despair that is their daily regimen. Dr. Uhr trained at Stanford Medical School in the 80's. During her training, psychiatry residents were encouraged to go through their own therapy. Newly minted psychiatrists were responsible for taking charge of their own mental health and for knowing when to ask for help.
“Psychiatrists strive to balance the burden of human suffering they experience with family, sports, music, reading, or travel – just like any other professional under stress.”
Are there indicators that those around them could have looked for, I wondered.
Dr. Uhr’s answer struck me as studiedly pragmatic.
“As with any other medical specialty, both colleagues and patients tend to notice if the quality of a doctor’s work is suffering. The psychiatrist may not be communicating with patients or staff effectively. There may even be warning signs of possible substance abuse.Continued on the next page