Elective in Psychodynamic Psychiatry Provides Important Benchmark for Medical Student Eric Debbold
Tulane University Medical student Eric Debbold recently completed the Elective in Psychodynamic Psychiatry at the Austen Riggs Center. Debbold grew up in northern California, did his undergraduate work at UCLA in microbiology and molecular genetics (with a minor in global studies), and traveled abroad to study China’s economic and cultural development in the wake of the communist revolution. He worked at a hyperbaric wound healing center and a behavioral health clinic before applying to medical school, where he is in his final year.
“I really enjoyed third year, but the hardest thing was trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” says Debbold. “One thing that was consistent, though, was that during every single rotation I was so drawn to the psychiatric patients or the psychiatric non-patients . . . I really saw how devastating psychiatric illness can be.” That attraction, coupled with his personal familiarity with the field (both of his parents are psychiatrists), led him to chart a path to becoming a psychiatrist.
As for his path to the Elective in Psychodynamic Psychiatry at the Austen Riggs Center, it was Debbold’s clerkship director at Tulane, Dr. Ashley Weiss, who introduced him to Riggs and encouraged him to apply. “I read some of the content on the Riggs website and I was really moved . . . the content seemed directed to patients in a way that spoke to their agency and felt genuine,” Debbold remarks.
Debbold’s experience at Riggs has been “really good” – “the people here are very friendly, encouraging, and taught me a great deal,” he says. His informal interactions with patients provided him with what he considers an important takeaway: “They [patients] are so bright, insightful, and in tune with themselves and each other; they illustrate how amazingly capable people can be, even when they are struggling with severe psychiatric illness.”
Debbold believes his experience at Riggs will inform his thinking as a psychiatrist. He notes, “I am entering a field that struggles with authority versus danger to self and others – when I go somewhere else, I can look back at the very unique setting at Riggs, at what I think psychiatric care can be, and have a very strong benchmark for comparison that I can use in the rest of my career.”