Glen Gabbard: You Cannot See the Self in a Brain Scan

Greetings from New Orleans and the APA! I’m still here with Roy. ClinkShrink has gone home, but I’m sure she’ll be here soon to tell you about the rat on Bourbon Street. I did not scream as loudly as she’ll say I did.


It’s been a busy day. I started at a lecture by Glen Gabbard, and that’s what this post will ultimately be about. I then went to lunch with a gentleman I met once for 15 minutes, 5 years ago when I was down here after Katrina. You’d think it would be a little strange to have lunch with someone I don’t know, but it wasn’t…more like like seeing an old friend, and I tried to persuade him to do a guest blog post, so he’s thinking (and dreaming) about it. Lunch was punctuated by a stream of urgent text messages from Roy: he wanted me to come interview a beauty queen with him, and so we met with Dr. Gariane Gunter, the former Mrs. USA, who is also a psychiatrist, and a podcast with her will be out soon (right, Roy?). Yes, she’s beautiful, and very personable and accommodating to meet with us. I then went to a symposium on the Neurobiology of Obesity where I learned that rats prefer sweets to IV cocaine. Off to dinner shortly, but first let me tell you about Dr. Gabbard’s talk.


I’ve heard Glen Gabbard talk before. He has a gift for being able to so clearly articulate what it is we do in this strange practice of psychotherapy. He’s the only psychoanalyst who speaks a language I understand. Roy asked what I was going to hear him talk about, and then stopped himself to say “I guess it doesn’t matter.” No, it doesn’t matter, Dr. Gabbard could talk about how to take the garbage out and it would be inspiring.


The talk was part of a prestigious award presentation and was titled Why I Teach. His stories are wonderful, and he started by talking about how patients want to be remembered, and how touched he was when a medical patient told him, years ago when he was a student, that she’d always remember him. There was the story he told of the woman in Africa who cares for children dying of AIDS and how she holds their hands and tells them they will live on in her heart. “Our patients fear they will be forgotten.”


Why else does he teach? To alleviate his existential dread, to altruistically have an impact, to teach, to learn, and to preserve a dying art (that would be psychodynamic psychotherapy). “Teaching forces you to clarify and articulate your thoughts.”


Sometimes during lectures and professional meetings, I do what the kids do…I make my grocery list, I text my friends, I play games on my iTouch. But this was inspiring, my thoughts scrambled around, but not to the grocery list. I thought of people who I want to remember me, I vowed to at least try to resolve an unresolved relationship where I’m not happy with the memories, I thought about teaching a course on psychotherapy — I’d be good at this — should I go talk to my chairman about this? Should I ask someone to teach it with me? — I identified a potential victim. I designed the course in my head and reminded myself that I’m trying to slow life down, not take on even more projects!


I went to the exhibit hall and bought Dr. Gabbard’s book, and told him how I much I enjoyed the talk (along with everyone else….we all want to be remembered). I suppose the mark of a good lecture is that it moves you to think just a little differently.


Good quotes:
You cannot see the self in a brain scan.
Psychotherapy is not a popularity contest, we take people to places they don’t want to go.
When in doubt, be human.
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Related posts:

  1. Glen Gabbard: You Can Not See the Self in a Brain Scan
  2. Glen Gabbard: You Cannot See the Self in a Brain Scan
  3. Memorial For A Brain
  4. Charlie Rose: The Brain Series: Mental Health

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