The Yeshiva Psychiatrist

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The Yeshiva Psychiatrist:

This is not (yet) a ubiquitous position in all Yeshivas, but many currently have this type of bachur amongst their student body. While he may be sensitive and a good listener, he is not a therapist; he is an out-and-out psychopharmacologist, without any (clinical) medical training – able to tell you the pros and cons of any prescription-strength psychotropic medication without batting an eyelash. His knowledge base is deeper than that of many Harvard-trained psychiatrists.

He’s the guy you go to when your rebbi’s given up on you, and, after much time spent confidentially counseling you, suggests that “maybe you should see a professional”.

A professional? You mean like a shrink? Aren’t you considered a ‘counselor’, no, I’m sorry, aren’t you perched atop the pinnacle of guiders, what with all your Da’as Torah and all? Such are the questions you are thinking, but dare not vocalize – your ‘respectfulness’ is respectable. Anecdotally, it probably serves to repress more pain, making you that much sicker.

Your rebbi refers you to a social worker; twenty sessions and three thousand dollars later – zero headway made. Time for the big bazooka: The (aforementioned) Medicine Man, a.k.a the yeshiva psychiatrist (YP).

There is no way for you to have guessed that your yeshiva had its own resident semi-closeted witch doctor; he picks up your medication-ready aura autonomically – just one of the varied gifts present in his mental supply-kit. He catches you off guard by the periphery of a late-night dorm-room bull session, where there’s (possibly) some degree of privacy. Without much in the way of etiquette or pleasantries, he immediately recites, with zeal and determination, a Cliff’s Notes A-Z lecture on tablets of all sorts, priming you on everything from old tricyclic meds like Anafranil, to even older (chronological recitals are not part of YP’s strong suit) MAOI pills like Nardil and Parnate, followed by the modern generation of preparations kick-started by the release of Prozac.

When he’s done talking, you tell him what your symptoms are, and he rips a piece of dirty tissue that was lying on the floor and illegibly (here he’s very doctorly) scribbles what you are to take in between chunks of hardened phlegm: Start with 75mg of Lamictal, he may have scrawled, and see me in a week.

Of course, dirty tissues scribbled on by nutty encyclo-heads hold no real currency in the real world (although it’s easy for yeshiva guys to suspend their disbelief on this point, as a yeshiva is basically a hermetically sealed counter-universe), so YP included a phone number on the bottom preceded by the word “Pharmacist”. It turns out, Mr. Pharmacist is in fact a licensed psychiatrist. A licensed psychiatrist who is all too happy to ‘transmit’ your tissue-based prescription to the local druggist.

A few days later, when you open up the psychiatrist’s bill that arrived in your mail bin ($250 for a 50-minute session that never occurred), YP drops by to check up on you. You tell him the truth, that you’re scared out of your friggin’ mind. Horrible ‘electrical zaps’ are going off in your head at the oddest times, and you tell YP that you’re seriously thinking lawsuit. He nods his head knowingly, and with some vigor tries to buy some consistent eye contact time with you, doing what he can to ‘puts things in perspective’, explaining that ‘brain zaps’ do occasionally occur, and are very treatable – with a supplemental medication. His hands are busy writing up a new prescription on a doodled on piece of college-ruled paper as continued words of elucidation spout from his mouth, which is an endless fountain of psychiatric psychobabble.