Once in a while, usual prejudices are on the money


May 31, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

BOSTON -- I guess I had the usual prejudices when it came to psychiatrists. I believed in the usual stereotypes:

1. Psychiatrists are the craziest people on earth.

2. Except for their children, who are even crazier.

I have had only one acquaintance who was a psychiatrist and she didn't seem significantly crazy, but she was just starting out in the profession and still had time to grow.

So when I got an invitation to participate in a conference made up of psychiatrists and journalists sponsored by the Center for Psychological Studies in the Nuclear Age, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and by the John W. McCormack Institute for Public Affairs of the University of Massachusetts, I had but one question:

Who's paying for the plane ticket?

As it turned out, they were, and so I went. This is part of my ethical code that boils down to: "You buy; I fly."

The conference was titled "Psychology in the Political Process" and, according to the literature, was supposed to answer two questions:

1. What can the existing fields of psychology, politics and mass NTC communication teach one another about mobilizing the public and revitalizing the political process?

2. What can a dialogue among these fields show us about gaps and inconsistencies in the way each profession thinks about human beings?

To which my first response was: "Huh?"

But after attending the conference and taking careful notes, my response shifted to: "Whuh?"

The problems began the night before the conference when five of us went to dinner. The group was made up of a psychiatrist, two clinical psychologists, a TV journalist and me.

We went to Legal Seafood, one of the most popular restaurants in the city. It was packed, but the TV journalist used clout and we were immediately led to a large circular table.

The five of us sat around the table, leaving three empty seats. Sounds normal, right? Not something you'd even take notice of, right? But that's because you don't usually eat with psychiatrists and psychologists.

Psychologist: "This table is structurally unsound."

Me: (jiggling table) "Seems OK."

Psychologist: "No, the structural dynamics are wrong. For conversation. We need another table."

Me: "Are you kidding?"

[A discussion followed in which the relative merits of round vs. rectangular tables were evaluated. We eventually moved to a rectangular table where the conversation resumed.]

Psychiatrist: "Have you ever taken LSD?"

Me: "No."

Psychiatrist: "It's a very revealing drug."

Me: "Isn't it addictive?"

Psychiatrist: "No. That's because it's a very unpleasant drug. It doesn't make you feel good."

Me: "Then why take it?"

Psychiatrist: "To learn things about yourself."

Me: "There's nothing about me I want to know that bad. Have you ever taken it?"

Psychiatrist: "Many, many times."

Me: "And what happened?"

Psychiatrist: "Well, if you take it long enough, you relive your own birth."

Me: "Do you actually relive your own birth or do you just think you are reliving your own birth?"

L Psychiatrist: (picking up a bread roll) "That's immaterial."

Psychologist: "Do you know where Lukas went wrong with the sequel to 'Star Wars?' "

Me: "No."

Psychologist: "When Darth Vadar reveals to Luke that he is Luke's father. That was terrible, psychologically speaking."

Me: "I don't think it was meant to be real life."

Psychologist: "That's immaterial."

Me: "Does anyone want another bottle of wine?"

Psychiatrist: "There is only one person in my life that I have ever wanted to kill."

Me: "Who?"

Psychiatrist: "My wife. I was standing on a rock with her by the ocean, and it occurred to me that I could kill her and get away with it. And I really wanted to."

Me: "What happened?"

Psychiatrist: "We got divorced."

Me: (chuckling) "Well, I guess you don't do much marriage counseling."

Psychiatrist: (offended) "On the contrary, I have counseled hundreds of couples."

Me: "Really? Do you help them?"

Psychiatrist: "I would like to point out something. Throughout the evening, you have asked more questions than anyone else, but have revealed the least about yourself."

Me: "Really?"

Psychiatrist: "That's another question."

Me: "OK, so I'll tell you the reason: When I was 3, I saw my mother in the shower."

Psychiatrist: "I see."

Me: "Hey, wait. That was a joke. A joke!"

Psychiatrist: (leaning forward and gently touching my sleeve) "There are no jokes."

So what did I learn after two days of this?

1. Psychiatrists are the craziest people on earth.

2. And if their children are even crazier, I never want to eat dinner with them.

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