Ed Shrinker loves to help people. It started at an early age, when he was somehow able to resolve nearly every conflict between his two older brothers. In elementary school, he would seek out and befriend the sullen, the quiet, the outsiders, and would help turn them into more confident, well-adjusted individuals (not that they ever asked him to). He even practiced his future profession by attempting to psychoanalyze his pet guinea pigs.
He always had a knack for getting inside other people’s heads, and was blessed with some powerful skills of perception. Not to mention that he had a mind built for science, experimentation, and analysis, which lent itself nicely to developing and perfecting the methodical problem-solving techniques he now uses with his patients.
In the morning, Ed volunteers at a clinic—he is there from 9-11 three days a week. The pay isn't great (see: volunteer), but it helps him get referrals, and…he gets to help people. A reward in and of itself.
The afternoon is spent at his office back at his private practice, where he specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry. Ed always found this branch of the field the most interesting, because children’s personalities and behavioral traits are still developing as they grow into themselves, which can sometimes make actual disorders sometimes difficult to spot. What's the difference between a kid with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and one who has simply taken a larger than recommended dose of Jelly Bellies? It can be a fine line…which is where Ed comes in.
His first afternoon appointment is with Samantha, whose mother, Marjorie, is bringing her in to deal with a behavioral issue. According to Marjorie, 12-year-old Samantha will be happy, sweet, and lovey-dovey toward her parents one minute, and then brooding and quiet the next. Marjorie has already diagnosed her daughter as being bipolar, which she tells Ed. Great. So what does she need him for?
Ed asks Marjorie to wait outside so that he can talk to Samantha privately. If her mother is the problem, he's never going to find out about it with her sitting there.
"It's nice to meet you, Samantha. Are you weirded out that you're here?"
Samantha reacts, a bit surprised that this stranger has already read her mind.
"Yeah, a little. I don't need to be here—my mom just thinks I do."
"Okay, well you may very well be right. We'll talk about some stuff and figure that out. But even if you do need to be here, there’s nothing awful or embarrassing about it. About two-thirds of the population has sought psychiatric care at one point or another. It's really no more unusual than seeing a physician."
Samantha releases some of the tension in her body and sits back a bit, relieved to hear this. Maybe she isn't a total freak.
Ed knows it's important for the psychiatrist to create a comfort level with his patient right up front—especially when dealing with the fragile egos of children. If they don't trust you, they’re not going to tell you the things you need to know in order to help them. Plus it makes for some awkward silences, which he hates.
"Why don't you tell me about how things are going at home for you right now?"
Samantha starts shyly at first, but builds momentum as she eventually launches full throttle into her story about home life. She talks about her dad who works a lot, her mom who always nags her about cleaning her room, her dog Murray who is her best friend, the new baby….
So new they haven't even had time to put clothes on it.
"You have a new baby sister?" Ed interrupts her to ask.
Ed has been trained not only to interpret what his patients say, but also what they don't say. As Samantha pronounces this name, he can see her whole body tighten up again, the lines around her eyebrows wrinkle.
"And how do you feel about your new sister?"
As Samantha speaks, Ed can already tell that he is not dealing with someone who has bipolar disorder. He has seen cases like this before, and he already has a pretty good idea about what has been going on. The times Samantha has become cold and distant are those times that the baby steals attention from herself, or when her parents are too tired to do something with her.
Ed will see Samantha again for another session or two to confirm his theory and, if he is right, to help her deal emotionally with her new development. But there will be no protracted course of treatment for this youngster, and no need to prescribe any medication. Although, judging from the intensity of her mother, Marjorie could probably use some Xanax.
Ed spends the rest of his afternoon in appointments, including one young boy who has begun carving pentagrams and swastikas into his textbooks, a clinically depressed girl who lost her father in a car accident three weeks earlier, and a teen who has been in and out of juvenile detention centers for the past few years but finally wants to turn things around for himself.
It isn't easy, and it certainly isn’t what Ed meant when he told his wife several years ago that he'd like to have kids someday, but he can take solace in the fact that he is really helping these young’uns out of some rough situations.