This was a quick, easy memoir about a young psychiatrist, detailing his four years of residency at Harvard-Longwood school of Psychiatry. Adam Stern details his relationships with his fellow, high achieving, insecure classmates, his love life, and, most interesting to me, his experiences with his first patients. It’s a little like Gray’s Anatomy, without the blood.
But it is also the story of developing empathy, not just for one’s patients but also for his colleagues. And this turned out to be my favorite part of the book.
As a pastor, I resonated a lot with this book. Pastoral counseling has a lot in common with psychiatry in that they are both highly subjective, and at times you wonder if you are really making much of a difference. Broken people don’t get fixed very easily, and they don’t always stay fixed.
I loved Stern’s description of the Imposter Syndrome. That even when you have the title and the lab coat and the degree on the wall, you feel woefully unprepared to be the expert your job says you are. And yet, you learn by doing, you get better at it as you go, and at some point you give yourself the grace to say “Maybe I’m not such a train wreck at this as I thought I was.”
There are differences, of course. For one, pastors can’t prescribe drugs, and self medicating is generally frowned upon. Also, in my field, not everyone who hears voices is delusional. We actually encourage it. In all seriousness, pastors really do believe that God is guiding us and can provide wise counsel to those who seek him.
And while I can’t imagine doing my work without this core conviction that a benevolent God guides my steps, there is a point at which we pastors could benefit from the kind of cohort Dr Stern describes. I wonder how much more effective I would be as a pastor if I had had a period of residency, where I was closely supervised by veteran pastors. Where we would meet once a week with our colleagues to process the difficult cases that came our way that week. Where we would meet once a month for a “Morbidity and Mortality” review of how we responded to losing a church member. Without a doubt, we would have healthier pastors, and it is highly likely that we would have healthier churches as well. If pastors could adopt the “Never Worry Alone” maxim of the Harvard school of psychiatry, I’ll bet we would have fewer burned out pastors who need a psychiatrist.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being a pastor. I hold to the conviction that God guides me. But just because God is all I need, that doesn’t mean I have to act as though God is all I have. I need to find me a feelings class.