Monthly Archives: March 2011

Doctor, First Diagnose Yourself, and Do No Harm (First published on Technorati, 3/17/11)

You might imagine that Charlie Sheen, given the number of people who have commented upon his recent activities, has a fairly lengthy shit list. But, so far, he’s only publicly challenged one person to a punch-up: Dr. Drew, AKA Drew Pinsky, M.D., addictionologist to the stars. Said Charlie: “I think me and Pinsky should jump in the ring and he can see how unstable these fists of flaming fury really are. I’ll show you how unstable I am. Bring it! Bring it little man!”

So what’s Charlie’s beef? He has taken issue with Dr. Drew’s armchair diagnosis, made on, that he was in a manic state, and should be hospitalized on an emergency basis.

Dr. Pinsky is not the first physician to draw broad conclusions about a public figure from few established facts. Years ago, psychoanalyst Dr. James Brussel, author of the book, “Instant Shrink: How to Become an Expert Psychiatrist in Ten Easy Lessons” (take note, Dr. Drew), was asked to profile the notorious “Mad Bomber” who terrorized New York City in the Forties and Fifties. 

Dr. Brussel quickly painted a detailed portrait of the Bomber, George Metesky, that included a strong likelihood that he favored double-breasted suits. When apprehended at home, Metesky was wearing pajamas, but, (Aha!) changed into a double-breasted suit for his trip downtown. Dr. Brussel was praised to the heavens.

In a 2007 New Yorker piece on criminal profiling, Malcolm Gladwell wrote: “If you make a great number of predictions, the ones that were wrong will soon be forgotten, and the ones that turn out to be true will make you famous… It’s a party trick”. 

My point? Today’s armchair diagnosticians, enabled and empowered by a celebrity-obsessed culture, are, like Dr. Brussel and Dr. Pinsky, performing party tricks. Why not impress and entertain a credulous public with fancy medicalese and psychobabble, while getting to bask in the reflected glow of their celebrity targets?  

As a psychiatrist, I am most familiar with the American Psychiatric Association’s  position on diagnosis at a distance, although other professional organizations take a similar stance. “It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.” 

Diagnostic labels, particularly in the highly sensitive fields of mental health and chemical dependency, are scarlet letters that stick, and they should not be recklessly applied to public figures by mediagenic, attention-seeking, gossipy types who end up perpetuating negative stereotypes of their chosen professions while serving little constructive purpose.

My Views on Proper Attire for Boomers: letter to the New York Post 3/6/11

Tracey Jackson needs to lighten up (“Hey Baby Boomers, Grow Up!” PostScript, Feb. 27).

As a so-called Baby Boomer, I take issue with her opinion. Jackson appears rigid and conventional in her thinking, expressing views that seem out of touch with the times.

Older people are being increasingly spared the invisibility, prejudice and stereotypes that have prevailed for years in our youth-oriented culture. Plus, many are forced to continue working years beyond retirement age and are living much longer.

People should be permitted to wear whatever they wish, whatever their age, even if it’s a Marilyn Manson T-shirt or plumber’s butt pants. I can’t help but imagine that, at 65, Jackson would prefer seeing me in dress trousers belted at the chest and white shoes with big gold buckles.

The admonition to “grow old gracefully” is ageist and nonsensical. One of the blessings of getting older is not caring so much about what others think of you and being free to express yourself, verbally or otherwise.

Here’s the link to the article in question: