Psychiatric News
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Having a Psychiatrist Parent Is OK After All, Says Kids

A group of young adults whose parents are psychiatrists, speaking at APA's 1998 annual meeting in Toronto, said they generally experienced their parents' profession to be an asset rather than a liability, in spite of being viewed as odd by their peers growing up.

Daniel Shaw, a New York banker and son of Kailie Shaw, M.D., a member of APA's Committee on Medical Student Education, said, "My peers assumed that I was a nut job, much more so than if my mother was a pediatrician."

Daniel Dickstein, M.D., who just completed his first year as a resident in a triple-board program (pediatrics and adult and child psychiatry) at Brown University in Providence, R.I., recalled his peers asking, "'What's wrong with you?' or after getting to know me, 'How did you turn out to be so normal?'" Dickstein is the son of Leah Dickstein, M.D., a member of APA's Council on National Affairs.

Children of psychiatrists are also often asked if their parents analyze everything they say or do. Eliza Menninger, M.D., a psychiatrist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and daughter of Walter Menninger, M.D., of the Menninger Psychiatric Clinic in Topeka, Kan., recalled that her father did occasionally overinterpret her comments. When her family was preparing for an overseas trip, she had a headache and asked for aspirin. Her father responded, "You really don't want to go on this trip, do you?" Eliza said, "No, I just want some aspirin."

Three of the six panelists chose psychiatry as their profession, and one chose social work. The fifth panelist chose banking, and the sixth is a college student.

Because of her family's legacy in the medical profession, Menninger said she entered therapy during her psychiatry residency to sort out her parents' expectations of her and hers of them. Once when she was growing up, she recalled, "my father turned to me in my car seat and said, 'You would make such a good psychiatrist.' I turned back to him and said, 'But Dad, I want to be a veterinarian.'. . . A time came when my father finally accepted that I might not go into psychiatry. It was important that it be my decision."

Daniel Filene, M.D., who just completed his first year as a psychiatry resident at Dartmouth University in Hanover, N.H., and son of APA member Susan Filene, M.D., commented, "Because my mother and I are in the same profession, people often assume that I was strong-armed into joining the family business and had no choice in the matter. Neither was the case, but it does encourage all sorts of off-color jokes about specializing in Oedipal complexes."

Dickstein said his decision to enter a combined psychiatry residency was influenced by seeing that his mother enjoyed her work.

Briana Myers, who is beginning a graduate program in social work at Columbia University in New York, described her relationship with her father, psychiatrist Michael Myers, M.D., as close.

"Even when my father was absorbed in his work, he was willing to share information about psychiatry with me. Having that common interest influenced my decision to be a social worker." Myers is APA's Area 7 Trustee and a Board liaison to the Council on National Affairs.

Many panelists said their psychiatrist parent is a valuable resource. For example, Filene said he has called his mother for medication advice while on call rather than wake up a surly attending.

Alissa Riba, a junior in college and daughter of Michelle Riba, M.D., an APA trustee-at-large, said, "I don't need to see a therapist because I have a live-in one, whom I can call for advice anytime."

Shaw commented, "I understand people more easily now because of conversations with my mother and observing her deal with people's problems and issues."