Creativity in Physicians: Vital to Our Lives, and to Medicine Itself
with a new coach the other day, as part of a business-building program. "Why
are you focusing so much on physicians?” he asked. “There are so many other
people out there, after all."
It seemed a reasonable enough question. Yet my first response (kept to myself) was thinking that in his eyes, I was doing something "wrong."
I felt inadequate and shamed – as if caring for my colleagues as a psychiatrist my entire career, was lackluster. These people have always sought me out, everywhere I’ve worked. They've been in all stages of career, from medical school through retirement; many have also been medical leaders. Helping them through whatever they’re experiencing, has come very naturally to me.
Beyond my office though, I knew many physicians were suffering even if not diagnostically ill. What about them?
Thousands were slogging through burnout, just as I had multiple times myself. I knew they didn’t need psychoanalytic “there and then” approaches so much. While being heard with compassion for their past, they now needed more focus on their present and future. To respond more effectively in these areas, I sought additional training as a coach. Over the years in fact, I’ve graduated from multiple coach training programs, and decided to certify in several.
Clearly, I've been honing my skills for a definite purpose -- even though this may have been unclear to that coach. 😉
Life transformation for physicians and other creative souls is a perfectly legitimate focus. It's something I know a lot about personally and professionally. In the words of Carlos Castaneda and Jack Kornfield, it’s a path that has heart for me. And there’s a definite need for it.
My initial shutting down at the coach's question though, was curious to me. Like most long-term trauma survivors, I dislike feeling misunderstood, judged, or dismissed. I've come to know this is simply my human desire for love and acceptance, but I can still get hung up there. It’s also true that wanting to "fit in" can lead to shutting down creativity and spunk in general, especially when others seem to be brushing us off.
Many of my physician clients have also experienced trauma in their personal lives, training, and practice (particularly through the COVID pandemic). No less sensitive than me, they've shown the same "self-squelching" tendency that I'd had with that coach. Though coming from all different specialties, they frame their distress similarly. Some common ways I've heard:
- "I feel like Medicine [or my specific job] is crushing my soul."
- "I feel like I've lost my soul [in Medicine]."
- "I've given my heart and soul to become a doctor, and it's not at all what I thought it would be."
- "I feel like nothing is left of me. I feel numb all the time, and don't know who I am anymore."
experiences illustrate huge suffering for individual physicians, their
families, and their teams, of course.
What's often overlooked though, is the losses to healthcare itself when intelligent, high-performing physicians dare not express themselves fully in their lives and work. What if they don't ask questions, share clinical observations, or research unfamiliar areas? What if they don't seek out and find ways to apply promising new treatments for their patients’ illnesses? What if they don't review and improve service delivery, making sure all is completed efficiently and safely? For starters, Medicine and healing never advance, patients can't access the help they need, and some may even be harmed.
physicians stay connected with their sense of soul and unique perspective, they can be
more present with their patients AND enjoy their personal and professional
lives much more. Also, unleashing their collective creativity allows their
insights to improve and heal Medicine itself.
To me, this connection between soul and creativity is direct for all of us, despite differences in background and vocation. Impressions and intuitions are coming through us all the time when we simply listen. These are vital to us all as a species sharing a planet and universe.
When these insights are fresh though, they can be very tender; we can feel vulnerable to others' criticisms. About this situation, Martha Graham (one of the 20th century's most influential modern dancers and choreographers) famously said:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
Physicians are some of the most creative, loving, and skilled people I know,
though many may temporarily squelch anything they feel might make them "odd." I feel called to help them revive
their sense of soul and creativity in their lives and work, so that they can
express this vital, authentic energy Martha Graham described. Everybody
benefits, not just physicians personally.
Our work combines non-religious spiritual understanding with practical strategies for the issues showing up. Some of my clients naturally move into new pursuits beyond Medicine. Others gradually reconfigure the way they're practicing Medicine, to better align with their deepest felt and most unique expressions in life. Some find new jobs that work better for them, at this time in their lives.
Though I work successfully with all kinds of creative people, my background uniquely positions me for supporting other physicians through these deep transformations. We may not know all the specific outcomes when we start, but we know the results will include feelings of aliveness, fun, and spaciousness that elude us when living through "I've lost my soul" times! Though painful, I believe even these times can be transformation points for each of us.
I wish I'd been able to say all this when that coach first questioned my interests, but I wasn’t. He may not have been able to hear me anyway. The important part is that eventually, I did.
Peace begins with me – your loving disruptor,