By Dr. Jonathan Olds
During my final week of my medical student elective at Austen Riggs , I was asked to reflect on my experience. I was flattered, and eagerly agreed to do so. I am writing this reflection after having started work as a foundation doctor in clinical oncology in my native UK. It took a while to settle back into life post-Riggs, as a lot has changed for me since my experience. I honestly don’t know where to start. When friends and colleagues ask me about my time at Riggs, I struggle to contain my excitement to share my experience. Furthermore, I find it difficult to find the words to do justice to my time at Austen Riggs, so here goes…
Firstly, Riggs bestowed on me the sense of responsibility for my time there. I had excellent supervision, and a guided curriculum with clear objectives. How I was to meet those objectives was very much down to me. Luckily, I already possessed a passion for the truth, and an interest in what it is to exist as a human being within a society. Riggs will challenge you as much as you wish to be challenged. I found that through the excellent supervision I had, exploring a question led not to answers, but to more questions, through which clarity would percolate only with persistent exploration. Now, I’m the sort of person who likes to ‘get my hands dirty’, and therefore, I spent a large proportion of my time with the patient community at the Inn. It became quite evident, very quickly, that the dichotomy of being part of the Riggs community, whilst maintaining healthy boundaries, not only on a professional level, but on a personal one too; was going to prove challenging. This is where my supervision became not only useful, but vital for my sense of emotional safety at Riggs, but also for my ability to learn. The learning opportunities were vast. From discovering the unique power of the Rorschach testing and TAT analysis, as well as attending a seminar series on the schizoid phenomena, through to the one-to-one sessions with my preceptor, the opportunities to gain psychodynamic psychiatric education were immense.
Finally, I want to impart the huge impact that being at Riggs had on me. I found the experience challenging; but in a healthy way. I was left with a desire to live a more ‘authentic’ life, having been immersed in the wonderful psychoanalytical search for the truth for four weeks. Since leaving Riggs, I have graduated from medical school, have terminated a relationship that I had been idealising in order to make it ‘work’, and have rebuilt healthier relationships with my friends and family. If, like me, you have a deep desire to understand what it is to be human, are not afraid to be challenged, and feel that one is able to truly make a clinical difference to someone through the power of analysis and perseverance, I cannot recommend a medical elective at Austen Riggs highly enough. The experience has changed not only the way that I practice medicine, but the way that I live my life.