Posted by Dr. Vollmer on April 8, 2013
‘Iron Lady’ is a remarkable film, layered with so much of life’s challenges and disappointments. Meryl Streep did an Oscar worthy performance as a remarkable female leader in a man’s world, supported by the love affair with her husband, with the background music from ‘The King and I’. What is remarkable about this film is that a life unfolds in a messy way. There is the young Margaret Thatcher. There is the powerful and confident Margaret Thatcher. There is the smitten Margaret Thatcher. And sadly, there is the elderly, deteriorating Margaret Thatcher. The richness of seeing these various stages of life makes this a movie that I imagine only appeals to a more mature audience in that one has to appreciate what it is like to look back on so many chapters of one’s life, with both clarity and haze. There is also the wonderful thread of a woman succeeding in a man’s world, with conviction and confidence which seems almost magically based. It is not clear from the film how she was able to be so tenacious. What I loved most about the film was watching a woman trailblaze British government, while at the same time maintaining a deeply meaningful relationship with her husband. So often, movies depict lives in which one chooses one or the other: ambition or love. The title “The Iron Lady” does not speak to a woman capable of caring for another, but that is the delight of the movie-indeed the delight in life. The idea that Margaret Thatcher hit that delicate balance between work and home, gave me great admiration for her. The movie also depicts her sunset years, which are both terrifying and rich with memories. Those scenes are hard to take, yet they give us perspective on the arc of life. Ms. Thatcher, ‘The Iron Lady,’ has had quite the arc. The music from “The King and I” pointed to the great irony, that she was the “King” and yet, she loved the dance. “The Admirable Lady” might be a better name for this movie.
Posted in Movie Review, Women's Issues | 4 Comments »
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 11, 2012
“Mad Men,” the title of a hit television series plays on words “ad men” which is the center of the story, set in the 1960s, where smoking, drinking and womanizing are part of the everyday workings of an advertising agency. I am intrigued by their choice of the word “mad” in the title, as the association with mental illness catches my ear. In the last episode of this season (no spoiler, I promise), a woman is placed in a mental hospital in order to ”control” her mind, according to one of the partners, Pete Campbell. His rage about this action gives heart to his otherwise heartless and sad character. It is fascinating also that the title is “Mad Men” as opposed to women, implying that only the men are relevant to this story. The women are mere accessories. Yet, the women, including the Sally, the daughter of Don Draper, the main character, give spice to the drama of men running an advertising agency with ruthlessness and charm. The women add a sense of a previously persecuted gender which is now on the verge of developing self-assertion and personal power. The men are “mad”, but the women are moving towards more sanity, thereby making the men less “mad”, or so I hope the future seasons demonstrate.
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Posted by Dr. Vollmer on May 25, 2012
Psychiatry, particularly child psychiatry, is a female-dominated profession. Although I don’t have statistics handy, over the last twenty years, more than 50% of the trainees have been women. In this year’s fellowship program at UCLA there are six women and one man. In the incoming class at UCLA the gender distribution is the same. Yet, when I go to administrative meetings of the voluntary clinical faculty, I am the only female in the room, besides the administrative assistant. “The women have kids,” the chair of the committee says glibly, as if that explains why the women do not attend. I have a different take. Men feel more of a fellowship at these leadership meetings, whereas women might feel them to be cold and empty, especially when compared to chatting with a girlfriend, or hanging out with a dear family member. It seems to me that as men and women have different brains, they have different signals of pleasure. Going up a professional ladder might be more inherently rewarding for most men, but not for most women. Of course, there are outliers, but I am speaking about the folks under the large part of the bell curve. Regardless, I am lonely at these meetings because I feel like an outlier. Any time one’s brain does not match one’s peers, isolation ensues. The gender gap is yet one more example of the importance of neurobiology. That is what makes sense to me.
Posted in Psychotherapy, Relationships, Women's Issues | 2 Comments »
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 3, 2012
”The young woman is looking for some sort of control over her life,” I say to fourth-year medical students, as a way to help explain the self-destructive behavior that might underlie Anorexia Nervosa. “What does she say when you ask her about how it feels to have control over her life by not eating,” an eager, soon to be primary care physician asks me. “Well, she would deny the experience. She would say that she does not have a problem; that her parents are overly concerned and they always have been. Her denial of her problem, stimulates a question about what is going on, on a deeper level of her brain. This leaves us, the clinician, to speculate that it is possible that on an unconscious level, there is a positive affirmation in her starvation, in her ability to control her bodily urges.” I say, wondering if these future physicians are looking at me glassy-eyed because they are tired or because I am not explaining the unconscious very well, or both. “So, what is a primary care physician supposed to do?” Another eager and enthusiastic fourth-year medical student, interested in Internal Medicine, asks me. “Well, as with so many complicated diseases, the primary care physician, needs to shepherd the patient through the health care system. The patient will need monitoring of her electrolytes, her weight, her blood pressure. She will also need to see a nutritionist, along with, a mental health provider. The primary care doctor needs to coördinate care; provide the patient with a “medical home,” the new buzz phrase. The student looks at me with recognition, maybe a little embarrassment that the answer was obvious, and yet because we are dealing with mental health issues, the clarity of the situation gets blurred.
I am back to wondering my age-old question. Do medical students, our future physicians, need to understand human behavior? If so, what is the best way to teach them? If not, should their psychiatry curriculum be limited to psychopharmacology? My answer is clear. A major challenge in being a physician is to help people, help themselves. Understanding how patients get in their own way is critical to helping all patients stay on a good path. This seems both obvious and neglected.
Posted in Doctor/Patient Relationship, Eating, Medical Education, Mind/Body, Musings, My Events, Professional Development, Weight, Women's Issues | 8 Comments »
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 21, 2010
Marjorie, forty-five, pretty, financially successful, smart, from a stable family, never married, often encounters “you are so lovely, why are you not married?” Together, we dissect this comment as both an insult and a compliment. “Why do I have to be married?” Marjorie wonders aloud. “Why does that prove to people that I am normal?” Again, Marjorie ponders the assumptions that her friends and family make when they offer up their thoughts about her life. “Is marriage somehow the crown jewel?” She asks. I began to think about gender, knowing that many people in Marjorie’s world would probably say the same thing to a man, so this issue of marriage as the stamp of “normal” does not seem to be gender specific. At the same time, a single woman experiences a certain prejudice; a feeling that she is defective because she does not have a husband. Marjorie explains to me that if a woman is married, friends and family do not need to “worry”. The quality of the marriage seems to be less important then the fact of the marriage. Similarly, a single woman might have a great support system, but this issue does not fall in the radar of being “OK”. I tend to think that Marjorie’s well meaning friends and family want her to be happy; in their worlds, happiness comes with a family. A family begins with a marriage. I can see that, but I can also see that there are other ways to find happiness in the world. Marjorie is not so sure.
Posted in Musings, Relationships, Women's Issues | 23 Comments »
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 29, 2010
Heidi, twenty-nine, suffered painful feelings of guilt and inadequacy after the birth of her first child. Eventually, she felt more confident, but then after the birth of her second child, she had a recurrent postpartum depression. On a routine postpartum visit to Dr. Little, her obstetrician, she explains her mental difficulties of handling her two children. By Heidi’s report, Dr. Little hands her a prescription for Zoloft 50 mg, a one-month supply with three refills. “Time to blog” I immediately think to myself. “Should I call Dr. Little?” I wonder. “What would I say?” I could try to get more history on Heidi. Maybe I should educate her about prescribing psychotropic medications and the importance of good follow-up. Perhaps I should say that medication, especially in the post-partum period needs to be given along with psychotherapy. Then, I think, maybe I could give a Grand Rounds presentation to the OBGYN departments at local hospitals, entitled “Medicines for the Female Mind.”
As I learn more about Heidi’s history, I continue to wonder about Dr. Little. How did she learn how to prescribe SSRIs? Was she trained by a psychiatrist? How does she think they help her patients? Why would she give Heidi so many refills? Why would she, (again, according to Heidi) not refer her for psychotherapy? Did she get any training on the importance of the mother-child relationship? Does she appreciate the value of a good attachment in terms of primary prevention of mental health issues in the child? Is she open to learning more about maternal bonding?
I wondered what Heidi thought about receiving a mood altering medication from her obstetrician. “She is a great doctor” Heidi tells me. Heidi appreciates that she can receive Zoloft from Dr. Little since she does not have to have the “shame” of seeing a psychiatrist. “If it were up to me I would not take any medication,” she tells me. “Who is it up to?” I ask. “Well, that is not what I meant. I meant that I wish I did not have these problems.” “I can understand that” I reply.
I wondered if Dr. Little colluded with Heidi’s wish to minimize her psychological pain by “medicalizing” her suffering such that, as with hypertension, the doctor prescribes a medication, gives multiple refills, and then briefly checks on the condition many months out. Mental suffering is hard to contend with, both by the sufferer and the observer. Women who struggle after they give birth are doubly stigmatized. Society looks at all women as if they are made to have babies, and hence a newborn should make the mother happier than she has ever been. When a mom feels depressed after giving birth, the shame of depression is compounded by the shame of not enjoying her child. The depth of this shame, layered over the depth of despair, layered over multiple hormonal changes, layered over changes to the family structure, can be profound. Psychotherapy, along with medications, are the mainstay of treatment for these complex feeling states. Dr. Little, I hope you are reading this.
Posted in Musings, Women's Issues | 8 Comments »