By Dr. Marie Gojmerac, B. Sc., M.D., M.A. candidate. Chair of the CPA Section on the History and Philosophy of Psychiatry.
As the chair for the Canadian Psychiatric Association Section on the History and Philosophy of Psychiatry, I grapple with the relevance of my own section. The necessity and usefulness of philosophy of psychiatry often seems precarious. Since it is not tested on the royal college exam, studying philosophy can be a hard sell for residents. The argument from senior colleagues usually states that philosophy is good because it cultivates Osler-like virtues and makes for a well-rounded physician who can remedy misinformation.
I do not think that debunking and self-inflation are the primary aim of philosophy of psychiatry. If anything, studying philosophy will generate unease regarding our scientific and professional foundations. Concerns about the current state of psychiatry—from our tenuous hand-waving over neurobiology to our stranglehold on the definition of mental well-being—are best expressed in a forum designed for skepticism. Through philosophy, a person can understand the contingency of our odd specialty and the difficulty of having true knowledge. Cultivating epistemic humility early results in a physician who is unsurprised by the vagaries of both treatment and politics. Further, full awareness of one’s own epistemic lack allows a physician to easily take on the expertise of patients regarding their own subjectivity.
After the angst of philosophical evaluation, a physician becomes better able and open to the use of intersubjectivity. This breaks the barrier between the two kinds of experts in the clinic and fosters meaningful interpersonal interactions.
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