Vitality: A Psychiatrist's Answer to Life's Problems

By Richard Esser | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION.
WHAT DOES A PSYCHIATRIST KNOW ABOUT THE BEST
OF LIVING?

What does a psychiatrist know about the best of living? When I started out in psychiatry some fifty-odd years ago, the answer to that question would have seemed obvious to me: nothing. A psychiatrist’s expertise concerned only the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. Most psychiatrists today would be of that same opinion, even though the term mental illness has often been replaced by mental disorder. They would consider that psychiatry has nothing to do with living in general, let alone with defining the best of living and spelling out how to go about getting that best of living. That, however, is precisely how I came to see what was at the heart of my work. When I could help people get that “best” out of living, the severe distress that brought them to me completely disappeared. Put more pointedly, I found that what pulled people out of the difficulty they were caught up in was getting a clear idea of what the best of living for them was and how to go about getting that.

At the heart of Vitality is the idea that knowing what the best of living is and how to get that comes from knowing how to deal well with the worst of living or, more specifically, it comes from knowing how to turn desperation into vitality.

This perception stemmed directly from my efforts to help people in the worst of states. It came from my need to come up with a clear, commonsense,

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