What Good Are You?

August 13, 2010
Shrink Rap

How can a psychiatrist respond to the question "What good are you?" from a patient?

This post originally appeared on Shrink Rap.

"What good are you?"

It sounds harsh, but sometimes that's what I hear from my patients. When a prisoner first comes into my office, he may announce a list of things he wants me to do for him: get in touch with the public defender or case manager, look up a court date, make a phone call, give him the lower bunk, order extra portions of food, etc. When I explain who I am and add that I am seeing him only for psychiatric treatment, I hear "the phrase": "Then what good are you?" Apparently, I'm not good as a concierge service.

Defining the physician-patient relationship is the first step in correctional treatment. Life is simpler when it's clear what you will or will not do for a prison patient. Inexperienced correctional physicians feel uncomfortable doing this because they want to be "nice" to the patient or because they're afraid that denying a request might harm the physician-patient relationship.

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