Even experts can be wrong



Psychology—the study of the mind and human behaviour—is fascinating. Knowing how it works is the closest you can get to activating gameplay’s God mode, in real life. Psychiatry—the medical study of mental disorders—is, I think, a bit hit-and-miss.

Mostly miss.

I had a psychiatric assessment four years ago. Before my second child was born. (In New Zealand it’s a required hoop to jump through, to get maternal request cesarean surgery.)

It didn’t go how I imagined. This could have been because construction was going on next door, so personal sharing was perforated by hammer bangs and mechanical saw screeches. It could have been because the psychiatrist didn’t actually have a couch. Or it could have been because at the end of it all, he certified me a compassionless android. (Except, in psych-speak.)

He’d written in doctor-scrawl across a notepad throughout the session, but I hadn’t been curious about what it was, at the time. After all, I didn’t need to know what was being said. I was there. I already knew.

I was more intrigued by his jersey.

It said ‘Scott Base’ on it, but though it was woollen and collared, it didn’t look even close to warm enough for Scott Base. Did the Antarctic research facility have a fashion line outside of their own required and serviceable attire? That would be weird. And completely unnecessary. Unless they needed extra income. How much funding do they get? How much funding does public psychiatry get? Who’s paying for this meeting? Why isn’t this guy asking me about my relationship with my mother? Aren’t they supposed to do that? Why doesn’t he have a couch? Is it professional to wear a Scott Base jersey to work? I wonder where he got it. Has he been to Scott Base? Maybe, because he’s the boss, he can wear whatever he wants. If I had a souvenir from Scott Base, I’d wear it to work, too…

He did eventually ask about my relationship with my mother, but only after I’d asked him why he hadn’t yet. And he apologized for not having a couch, when I brought that up too. I wondered at his apparent inability to distinguish between a complaint and a mere observation—I didn’t require him to ask the childhood questions, and I’d only stated the room didn’t look how I’d imagined—but I put his apology down to some quaint social grace. The sort of thing people just do, even though it makes no sense when examined closely.

His report concludes that all my life I’ve been “suffering from autistic spectrum disorder,” and that my personality “will severely affect her ability to bond with her child and potentially have a very negative subsequent effect on the child’s development.” He adds, “I really don’t think that she has the natural capacity to develop normal attachments,” but concedes I could “probably learn, in an artificial way, how to interact with her child.”

I think his verdicts have the very negative subsequent effect of being daft. I can see how he reached his conclusions, but they’re still wrong—it seems to me, he took normal facets of INTJ-ness and read them as abnormalities.

To be fair, I wasn’t surprised at his report. My outlook of his insight skills were bleak from the moment I saw hyperbole fly right over his head. I would have thought a psychiatrist would recognise when a patient uses dramatic metaphors or turns of phrase—especially when that patient has already told him they enjoy creative writing—but apparently hyperbolic statements are taken literally, and thus indicate belief in the irrational. (Accordingly, his report said he was surprised I believed the [hyperbolic] thing I’d said, because I’d “seemed intelligent”.)

Because I’d already decided I couldn’t give credence to his judgements, they didn’t offend me when they came. Fortunately, I still got his diagnosis of Secondary Tokophobia, which is all I’d needed him for. So the visit was as successful as it needed to be.

I concede I share some traits with androids. We both value new information. We both get flat and slow when away from power sources for a long time. We both hate swimming.

But I love both of my children, and if their morning greetings are anything to go by, they love me back. And if I want to take the guesswork out of it, there’s also Timmy’s propensity to walk inside after having been away for all of two minutes, to then grin at me broadly and call, “Hi, Mummy! So good to see you!”

So there, Mr Scott Base.

I didn’t even need textbooks or flowchart diagrams to figure it out. I found the natural capacity to encircle my thoracic limbs around the child’s upper body, and apply a light squeezing pressure.

Everything just sort of followed on from there.


(5) Comments

  • Deborah Makarios
    12 Aug 2016

    It does seem rather weird to insist on a complete stranger’s assessment, instead of those who, say, know you.

    • Eve
      15 Aug 2016

      Inappropriate weight is often given to formal qualification. There’s a place for it — I wouldn’t want a hobbyist neurosurgeon coming near my head — but they’re not necessarily the ultimate authority.

      I’ve never heard of a psychiatrist asking a patient how their friends and family describe them. It would potentially cut out a lot of guesswork if they did!

  • Rebekah Jones
    13 Aug 2016

    Yeah… I remember my visit with the psychiatric team in the hospital went pretty much exactly how I thought it would, they really didn’t get it, although one lady was not as off the reservation as the others. What I DID get out of it was someone to talk to about stuff. She also didn’t want to medicate me, unlike the other lady, which was nice.

    • Eve
      15 Aug 2016

      Yes, having someone to talk to about stuff, counts for a lot! I appreciated that about the regular visits I had, for a while, from a maternal mental health nurse. She was paid to be interested in what I had to say, and I found it refreshing. She wouldn’t get aggravated at me if I only wanted to talk about my baby. She wouldn’t think I was wasting her time if I wanted to talk about Harry Potter. She wouldn’t think I was rude for only talking about myself, instead of asking about her. (That would be inappropriate in that context, after all.) I didn’t have to keep in mind how to play the complicated Social Graces game. I could just…talk.
      I’m glad you found something similar. 🙂

  • Eve
    16 Aug 2016

    Following this blog post, a good friend — who knows me very well — gave me a gift: a little lego robot! I love it! He sits on top of my computer, now. My little blogging buddy.

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