Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 8, 2014


Are psychiatrists/psychoanalysts gadflies? I wonder. Creating discomfort, in an effort to make greater comfort, is the theme of my work; it is the defining struggle of my work existence. Clara, forty-one, comes to mind. “I love my life,” she says, making me confused, as to why she is in my office. “Go on,” I say, remembering these two words as a possible means of going deeper. “I mean, I want to love my life,” she says, highlighting the wish in her previous statement. I think to myself that sometimes I add the word “wish,” but this time Clara tuned into that, or at least I think so at the moment. “So, what is stopping you?” I ask, thinking that she likely will point to an external constraint, whereas I will highlight the internal constraint, and in so being, I will be the gadfly. “I have my elderly mother who is like a ball and chain. I cannot leave town, and if I do, I feel so guilty it is simply not worth it.” Clara says with the certainty that she must be tied to her mother and there are no other options. “Maybe you could find a way to loosen those chains,” I say, knowing that I could be accused of being cold-hearted, and not valuing family loyalty. “Yes, but when I leave or I am not attentive to my mom, she misses me, and then I feel awful,” Clara says, as if there is only one way to deal with her mom’s need for her. “You need to take care of her, but you also need to take care of yourself, and how you navigate those waters is, in large measure, up to you,” I say, stating the obvious, but hoping to open up a discussion of possibilities as opposed to rigidly adhering to her previous schema. I know I am being provocative, but Clara understands that this perturbation is in an effort to create new ways of understanding family boundaries. Scripts in families are often carried out unconsciously, and so to bring these scripts to consciousness may bring up defenses of anger and attack. It is my job to tolerate that discomfort, knowing, that as a gadfly, good things can come from shaking the cage.



4 Responses to “Gadfly”

  1. Jon said

    My answer to your leadoff question is that good psychiatrists/psychoanalysts are gadflies when they need to be. A goal is to have the patient think about things in a different way. This will allow new thoughts and feelings, and perhaps, a new path of action. Does this require conflict? My guess is that it is scenario dependent. Your lead-in graphic is a quote of the well respected American philosopher, John Dewey, stating that conflict is the gadfly of thought. Does Carla’s situation need conflict to promote thought?

    Of course, mixing the words gadfly and philosophy in my mind, conjures up one of the greatest gadflies and philosophers of all time – Socrates. In his student’s writing (Plato’s Apology (as in explanation)) Socrates characterizes himself as a gadfly to bring people out of complacency. In my opinion, there are hard any better exemplars in life.

  2. Shelly said

    Your opening few sentences remind me of a previous post, of the gentleman who has retired and enjoys retirement and his family and various activities. He claims that his life is good. Yet upon digging deeper, perhaps, he may be discontent because his life lacks spontaneity and excitement or the cognitive demands of a career. Then this post veers away into Clara’s scenario where she feels guilty when she wants to do something for herself. I don’t think you did anything wrong by stating the obvious to Clara. Sometimes it is difficult to hear the dilemma restated in someone else’s words.

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