Well, it's almost August, and for me, that means two things: my internship here in Washington, D.C. is almost over, and the lease on my house in Chicago is about to take effect. While I'm obviously excited about getting back to Chicago and returning to my day job as a student at Shimer, I'm also filled with a bunch of bittersweet emotions at completing my work here in Washington.
On the surface, I suppose that my internship doesn't seem all that strenuous. I'm usually only on campus about two to three times a week, and I don't ever spend more than a couple hours there. Nonetheless, almost all of my remaining time has been spent doing a variety of researching, reading, and writing on a variety of topics ranging from psychotherapy with schizophrenic patients to moral philosophy and medical ethics.
It is this last constellation of subjects which has, as of late, had the most profound effect on me. Headed into this summer, I would probably have sorted my graduate school/career hopes into three main categories: humanities Ph.D programs (philosophy, cultural studies, etc.), clinical psychology Ph.D programs (to give me the necessary skills to work professionally with patients), and some random combination of law school, public health, and public policy studies aimed at giving me the necessary foundations to work on reforming our country's system of providing mental health care, which I saw (and continue to see) as fundamentally and profoundly dysfunctional and dishonest. I wasn't quite sure how the last option (more of an uninformed passion than anything else) translated into an actual job, but it hung in the back of my consciousness nonetheless.
All of these different ideas continued to stew in my mind throughout the summer, as I found myself immersed in a variety of different ideas and authors, and as of the end of June, I didn't exactly see myself as any closer to finding out exactly what I wanted to do with my life (or at least with the next 7 to 10 years of it). This changed when two things happened in remarkable conjunction with one another. First of all, I picked up a copy of Robert Whitaker's new book, Anatomy of an Epidemic (everyone, read it!). I was mostly just looking for a good read, but I found something else altogether. In short, Whitaker is interested in trying to figure out why the number of disabled mentally ill in the United States has more than tripled since the middle of the 20th century. In trying to solve this problem, he provides a scathing indictment of the biomedical paradigm of care that is currently dominant in the United States, showing not only that it is driven above all else by a desire for profit (not all that big of a surprise), but also that it lacks the very scientific evidence on which it claims to rest.
Second, on the day I finished the book, I went into work to find, oddly enough, the very same book waiting for me on my chair? As it turned out, Dr. Ver Eecke had just received a free copy of it from the publisher, and wanted me to summarize it for him and start doing research into many of the topics that it touched upon. A providential coincidence if I've ever heard seen one! I've thus spent the last few weeks reading, writing, and generally working with a number of different ideas: the conflict between the market and scientific freedom, the problem of ghostwriting in academic psychiatry, and the questionable ethical status of the implementation of the 'best practices' in today's mental health system. Along the way, I linked up with a number of different organizations that are aimed at doing the same thing, most prominently PsychRights and The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, both of whom I am interested in eventually working with or for, and doing an internship with next summer.
In the long run, I'd like to think that the last month has provided me with the arguments, the questions, the ideas, and the basis for what I think would be a career that would be undoubtedly be extremely challenging (given the power of the pharmaceutical industry in this country), but would also hold the potential to be immensely gratifying and stimulating. In the short run, it's given me a reason to start studying for the LSAT along with my GRE prep. Great.
This isn't to say, however, that all I've done is work. I spent a weekend in New York late in June (my first engagement with the Big Apple since I was 11), and had an amazing time. I don't think that I could ever live there, but it certainly provides for a great visit. I spent more money than I should have at used book stores, watched the USA-Ghana game in an insanely rowdy South African restaurant, and generally attempted to soak up as much of the city as was humanly possible in a weekend.
Similarly, I spent a recent weekend down in Charlottesville, Virginia, visiting a friend who goes to the University of Virginia and just generally taking in the expansive beauty of the area. For those who don't know, Thomas Jefferson designed most of the campus and many of the buildings, and it shows. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, unfortunately, ain't got nothin' on our third president.
Between Georgetown and UVA, psychiatry and bioethics, and Dupont Circle and Greenwich Village, I'd say that it's been a summer very well spent. Now, onto Chicago and Shimer.