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Psychiatrist Seeks to Not Just Treat, But Stand With Patients

One World Publications

It used to be that medicine was carried out with a certain degree of secrecy. We turned our health over to the experts and they prescribed what was right for us.

However, more recently patients are demanding doctors who are better communicators. And the Internet age has accelerated that trend - we have more insight into medicine than ever. 

Christine Montross

But there are still many mysteries out there for patients and doctors alike. Doctor Christine Montross takes readers along as she learns about anatomy, morality and the workings of minds in turmoil.

Montross is an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University and a staff psychiatrist at a hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.  Her latest book, Falling into the Fire: A Psychiatrist’s Encounters with the Mind in Crisis, brings unique insight into the world of psychiatry, with examples and lessons learned personally through the course of her career and patient encounters.

"We have an inclination as a society to sort of hold up a hand to those who have mental illness and who struggle with the symptoms," explains Montross. "I feel like there's a way in which we try to distance ourselves from them, and I think part of that is because it's terrifying."

Montross seeks to take the frightening elements out of mental illness and instead show the humanity in which all people who struggle with mental illness have. Montross herself needed to shift her perspective of mental illness after she changed career paths from writing poetry to psychiatry. During the course of earning a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from the University of Michigan, Montross saw the thematic value in madness of the mind. However, this changed once she started treating her own patients.

"I started seeing these very pragmatic ways in which mental illness was playing out in contrast to the kind of romantic ideas that I had had as I was writing poems about madness," she says.

Montross' goal is to take mental illness and the issues that surround it to a more positive and accepting place. "Our task as physicians is not just to treat our patients, but is really to join with them and stand with them and the illnesses that they face," she says. "I think that's a radical idea, even if an ancient idea. So I think that is critically important."

Christine Montross was in recently Milwaukee as the 10th annual Medical Humanities Lecturer at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.