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‘I learn from each patient’

For a ­psychiatrist, sympathy, patience and cultural understanding are a must to build a rapport with patients,

education Updated: Apr 23, 2014 10:46 IST
Aanchal Bedi

Suicidal tendencies, drug abuse, adolescent turmoil, emotional crisis… merely thinking about these problems makes one feel stressed. But for Dr Sameer Malhotra, director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Max Healthcare, ­dealing with these issues is the “art” of practicing medicine.

“Psychiatry has its own charm. To be able to help and heal people is what inspired me to choose this ­discipline and the kind of response I get from my patients keeps me going,” he says. Malhotra feels that being a psychiatrist has helped him shape his ­personality. “It has helped me understand and respect ­sensitivities of ­different people and I have also become more patient over time,” he adds.

Things, however, do not come easy. “It takes time to imbibe the skills required to treat patients ­suffering from mental illness and adapt to the psychiatric model. Skills, ­training, coping with ­behaviours and handling ­different ­personalities, this is all part of the discipline.”

With over 16 years of ­experience in the field of ­psychiatry, Malhotra has expertise in ­psychiatric and mood disorders across age range, ­child and adolescent ­psychiatry, ­psychotherapy, ­relationship and stress management, ­substance use ­disorders ­(tobacco/alcohol/drug ­de-addiction).

Talking about the ­challenges in this profession, Malhotra says, “Sometimes patients’ problems take a toll on the doctor, ­making patients out of doctors. A ­psychiatrist’s approach should be a ­problem-solving approach. Rather than feeling the pain ­yourself, you need to ­understand what a patient is going through and empathise with him/her.”

Each patient for Malhotra is a learning, as every mind has a different key. “First, we need to open the lock and then equip the person with that key so that he’ll be able to heal himself later in life. So, the understanding has to be subjective and the therapy has to be objectively tailored to suit the needs of a person,” he says.

Besides observation, ­listening and communication skills, cultural ­understanding is imperative. “Without understanding a person, his/her background and why he/she is thinking in a certain manner, a psychiatrist cannot heal a patient. At times, we have to put ourseleves in their shoes to understand what he/she is trying to convey,” he says.

Having said that, myths and stigma associated with psychiatric problems is the biggest challenge when it comes to treating patients with mental illness in India, Malhotra says. “Either families fail to understand the need for ­treatment or they are not aware that a member is in need of ­psychiatric care. Fear of society and feelings of shame are the reasons why many ­people hesitate to approach a ­psychiatrist,” he says.

On why he values his work so much, Malhotra says,“I remember many instances where people came to me with severe stress disorders. After the treatment, they were not only relieved of the stress but also could break free from the myths associated with mental illness. Often people say that had they come earlier for treatment, their quality of life would have improved further. I treasure such moments,” he concludes.

Heal deal
There is an acute ­shortage of psychiatrists in the country

Rs I take home
Rs. 50,000- Rs. 5 lakh permonth

I love my job becouse
I am able to make people smile and improve their overall quality of life

Expert gyan
There is a dearth of professionally trained ­psychiatrists in ­India. One can work as a ­clinician, academician and a ­researcher. Besides, ­professional satisfaction, one can find personal ­contentment

All you need to know about psychiatry as a career

Psychiatry is the branch of ­medicine dealing with the ­treatment and prevention of mental illness. Mental disorders are characterised by a variety of symptoms such as abnormal moods or behaviour, excessive anxiety and hallucination. Many mental disorders are believed to result from a combination of emotional, social and biological factors. To treat the patient, a psychiatrist has to first have lengthy counselling sessions with him or her to get to the crux of the problem. A couple of tests are then carried out to diagnose the ailment, and a combination of drugs and therapy could then be prescribed for a cure.

* National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore;
* Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh; www.pgimer.nic.in
* AIIMS, New Delhi ; www.aiims.edu
* King George’s Medical University, Chowk, Lucknow; www.kgmcindia.edu
* Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi; www.lhmc.in

You would need to pass the ­medical entrance, then complete MBBS, and appear for postgraduate ­medical exam followed by MD

Skills and traits

* You should be able to communicate with people in stress
* Understand and empathise with patients but remain detached from their problems at the same time