On Valentine's Day, there is much ado about romantic love. However, love is rarely mentioned in psychiatry, other than the problems that romantic love can cause. This includes patients falling in love with the therapist and, unethically if acted upon, the therapist falling in love with the patient. Staff can also fall in love with one another, which often causes problems in the system.
Love in psychiatry is also commonly mentioned in regard to narcissism and self-love. We've even heard that applied to our country's presidential race. When is self-love too little, too much, or just right?
Yet, there is another kind of love which often has benefits for all concerned. This is not the short-term romantic, passionate, or sexual kind of love, but the longer and ongoing love of caring, compassion and loving kindness. It's the love that can derive from shared experiences, like working together in a clinic or hospital.
It is this kind of love that seems underappreciated in psychiatry.
But, Freud wrote in a letter to his protégé, Jung, that “psychoanalysis is in essence a cure through love.” This is the love conveyed through the rapt attention of someone who cares enough to take a careful and empathic history of your life, and then to pay attention to wherever your associations roam. This kind of love is just as relevant in other kinds of psychotherapy and even in medication visits.
Love also has an important role in quality of care. Avedis Donabedian, MD, known as the “father of quality improvement “ in medicine, was said to have said this on his deathbed.
“Ultimately, the secret of quality is love. You have to love your patient, you have to love your profession, you have to love your God. If you have love, you can then work backward to monitor and improve the system.”
Love for colleagues and staff can also be an essential ethical principle and goal for administrators. After all, who is essential to caring for patients than the staff and colleagues? Conveying love for them, along with reasonable expectations, can overcome a lot of the everyday stress and risk of burnout from working in psychiatric settings.
So, let Valentine's Day inspire you to imbue this caring kind of loving kindness into your settings. More than likely, your patients will love it, your staff will love it, and you will be loved in return.