Finding Balance: A New Book Extends a Helping Hand to Hurt, Harried Healers

“Dead doctors serve no one,” Lee Lipsenthal, MD, likes to remind his medical colleagues. And dysfunctional, diseased, depressed doctors aren’t much help either. With his new book, Finding Balance in a Medical Life, Dr. Lipsenthal has created a self-help guide for an audience that sorely needs help but is historically reluctant to seek it: other doctors.

Dr. Lipsenthal, formerly medical director of Dean Ornish’s Preventive Medicine Research Center, and past-president of the American Board of Holistic Medicine, has focused his work on helping doctors deal with perfectionism, workaholism, narcissism, and other “isms” that take a devastating toll on their lives.

Exhaustion, burn-out, rage, depression, divorce, substance abuse and suicide are all alarmingly prevalent among doctors. To be sure, it’s easy to blame managed care, the government, the stalling economy, non-compliant patients, or any number of other external factors. But Dr. Lipsenthal insists doctors bring about a lot of their own misery, and it is only by looking within, at their own personalities, choices, and attitudes, that they will find a way to happiness.

Finding Balance draws on a vast array of psychological and spiritual practices, including Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis, the Hoffman Quadrinity Process, 12-step programs, cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness meditation and HeartMath. It offers many exercises: some simple and intended for short daily practice, others deep and complex, demanding longer periods of serious reflection.

Throughout, Dr. Lipsenthal shares his own experiences as a clinician, researcher, husband, father, workshop facilitator and lover of life. His keen knowledge of neurophysiology and biochemistry illuminate the details of what’s happening when a burnt-out physician blasts away at an office assistant, or on the other hand, when a recovering Type A doctor stops for a moment and meditates on life’s blessings.

Through his Finding Balance workshops, he has heard many physicians talk about their frustrations, failings and broken dreams. He’s also helped many heal their lives. Their stories find their way into the book, punctuated by wisdom from the likes of Sun Bear, St. Augustine, Victor Frankel, Carl Jung, Friederich Nietzsche, even Star Trek‘s “Bones” McCoy.

Dr. Lipsenthal knows doctor psychology very, very well. He treats his subject with humor and compassion, two essential sparks that seem to have disappeared from so many doctors’ lives. Finding Balance is all about re-igniting them.

Here are a few excerpts:

On Stressors

    “Those outside the medical field believe that the stress in medicine comes from dramatic events such as the ones they see on TV. For most physicians, that level of excitement and challenge is fun. What is more stressful are the routine, mundane, day-to-day occurrences like paperwork, phone calls, dictating or typing charts, and repeating the same information over and over to people who may only be half-listening or half-understanding. The routine was killing me.

… I was, by all external standards, a success, and yet I was in a state of panic and depression from being simultaneously overworked and bored to tears.”

On Children

    “One of the greatest lessons from my children was letting go of control. … With our first child, I struggled with my need for control, but the love of a little girl helped me surpass that need. As I am a slow learner, that lesson was reinforced with the birth of our son. I had to accept that it was no longer my life, it was our life. … It may take a community to raise a child, but it takes a child to raise a parent.”

Playing the Victim

    “We all have patients who take on the sick role for secondary gain. Many of us take on the victim role for the same reason. It gets us attention, it binds us together against a common enemy (usually HMOs, IPAs, or administrators), and it gives us a reason not to spend the energy to make necessary but difficult changes. The changes you need to make may be large, but being in the role of victim will not change a thing. It only perpetuates frustration, drains energy and keeps you trapped. Get over it!”

What Is Balance?

    Balance is being realistic about what you can control and what you can’t.
    Balance is learning to accept and appreciate your own limitations.
    Balance is the willingness and courage to evaluate your self and make changes when needed.
    Balance is remembering to love those people in your life who give you meaning and purpose.
    Balance is finding reasons to love even the difficult people in your life.
    Balance is learning to love your self. You may be one of the difficult ones.
    Balance is to remember that “they” might be right.
    Balance is learning to understand, love and embrace the part of your personality with which you struggle.
    Balance is taking care of yourself first, so that you can take care of your family. Then, coming from a stable and loving home, you can serve your patients.
    Balance is listening with your heart.
    Balance is taking care of the body you’ve been given.
    Balance is knowing that you will make mistakes, and learning from them.
    Balance is being open to new ways of thinking.
    Balance is exploring and learning.
    Balance is seeing the Big Picture through love and spirituality.
    Balance is service.
    Balance is knowing that today is a good day to die; that you have lived fully, lovingly, and without remorse.

To order Finding Balance in a Medical Life, or to find out more about Lee Lipsenthal’s Finding Balance programs, visit 800-769-0638.

Dr. Lipsenthal will lead a special Saturday evening experiential workshop at Holistic Primary Care’s Heal Thy Practice: Transforming Primary Care conference, at the Westin La Paloma, Tucson, AZ, Oct. 31–Nov. 2.

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