The Case of Ruth Daughtery: Navigating Catastrophic Illness in a Family Member
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Illness in a relative or loved one is a challenging experience, and in some ways, uniquely challenging for physicians. The role transition from doctor to family member often provokes anxiety and, in some instances, leads to the emergence of adjustment disorders or even frank mood episodes. Common defense mechanisms seen in these cases include denial and intellectualization. Physicians may struggle with balancing the multiple potentially competing interests that can arise during these periods: the needs of their colleagues and patients, the expectations of their families, and their own mental health and well-being. When indications for a leave of absence arise, doctors may struggle with feelings of guilt and shame about this. Overidentification is a common reaction experienced by the treater in such cases and is best handled with mindful use of psychotherapeutic techniques which foster therapeutic alliance while also helping the patient maximize adaptive coping.
KeywordsPhysician mental health Illness in physician and family Role transitions Work-life balance Adjustment disorders Brief psychotherapies