I Won’t Analyze You.

“Oh, you’re a psychiatrist? I hope you won’t analyze me!”

I never know what people actually mean when they say that upon learning that I work as a psychiatrist.

I think they’re[1. I can’t remember an instance when a woman said to me, “Oh, you’re a psychiatrist? I hope you don’t analyze me!” The men who offer that response are almost always trying to make someone laugh—me, them, the people who are observing the conversation.] saying, “I hope you’re not going to spend our time together trying to discern my flaws.” Nobody wants people to seek out, highlight, and exploit their vulnerabilities and faults, so I can understand that. Of course, that’s not what psychiatrists do.[2. Unfortunately, there are psychiatrists who focus on discerning and amplifying individual vulnerabilities. This is abuse of power and is not limited to psychiatrists.]

Anyway, let’s just take the statement at face value—that people hope that I won’t “analyze” them—regardless of what the underlying concern may be. Let’s also assume that when laypeople say “analyze”, they mean “do the things you do when you’re working as a psychiatrist”.

I cannot speak on behalf of all psychiatrists, but let me assure you: If you and I meet in a non-clinical context, I won’t “analyze” you. These are the reasons why:

1. It takes a lot of energy to “analyze” someone (a.k.a., “do the things psychiatrists do when they’re working”). When I’m working, these are the things I’m attending to:

  • What is the person saying? What words does he choose to express himself?
  • How is the person saying what she want to communicate? What is the tone of her voice? What nonverbal signals are present?
  • Is what this person is saying congruent with what this person is doing? What about his facial expressions and other physical movements?
  • What are the underlying or recurrent themes behind what this person is saying and doing?
  • What are the underlying assumptions the person has about himself? How are these underlying assumptions manifesting in what he says or does?
  • Is this person avoiding certain ideas or perspectives? If so, what are some possible reasons?
  • How did these ideas and behaviors come to be? Were they helpful or lifesaving in the past, but are now causing problems for the person? How do these thoughts and behaviors help this person now?
  • Is there something else going on that might explain this person’s thoughts and behaviors? Maybe this isn’t psychological; this might be a medical problem or related to substances (prescribed or not).

While attending to those tasks, I’m also:

  • Doing all the nonverbal stuff—often with intention—to let the person know that I’m listening
  • Saying things and doing nonverbal stuff to help the person feel both physically and psychologically safe in disclosing information to me. If I don’t receive accurate data from someone, I cannot help them as much as I possibly could.
  • Tracking the conversation and putting mental bookmarks in places to either revisit later during this dialogue or in the future (is this the right time to ask that question? how about now? should I phrase it differently now?)
  • Making mental notes of the important details I need to put in my note later
  • Gently (or more assertively, as the case may be sometimes) steering the conversation with questions and comments to make sure I get as much relevant information as possible, given the current circumstances (amount of time, condition of the individual, setting that we’re in)

All of these actions—not always visible, but definitely happening—require active listening, which means I shouldn’t space out.[3. When I’m working, I shouldn’t space out, but I have. The goal is zero instances of spacing out. Still working on it.] I need to be present and focused. We all know when someone isn’t paying attention to us.

When I do speak, I try to ensure that every sentence serves a purpose.[4. When I’m feeling more ambitious, I try to ensure that every word I say serves a purpose. Sometimes that makes me sound pedantic or brisk, which often makes people feel uncomfortable. I learned early on that most people feel more comfortable with a psychiatrist who is a human being, not a psychiatrist who could be a robot.] Sometimes I ask questions when I want to make a statement; sometimes I say nothing, even though the individual may want me to fill the space with something (reassurance? confirmation of inaccurate ideas? answers that no one has?). I’m frequently generating hypotheses and testing them (is this person experiencing paranoia, or would he say more to another colleague? if this person intoxicated, or is there a medical issue present? does she actually want to die, or is she feeling powerless in the face of adversity?), while trying to show empathy and kindness.[5. Kindness is often associated with warmth. However, people can demonstrate extraordinary kindness without warmth. Consider people who put themselves in danger to protect others. Warmth is often absent there, but kindness overflows.] I don’t want to come across as an automated flow chart.

All of that—and more!—is happening when I’m doing clinical work. That takes a lot of energy. If I don’t have to use that energy, I won’t.

2. I don’t know how to “analyze” people. Upon hearing the word “psychiatry”, some people conjure up images of New Yorker cartoons with couches and stodgy psychiatrists sitting behind them. Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals usually go through extra training to learn psychoanalysis. The tradition of “analysis” goes back to Freud and, well, I’m not a fan.

Now, to be clear, there are some ideas that stem from psychoanalysis that I think have some value (for example, Malan’s text on psychodynamics offers interesting and, at times, useful perspectives on symptoms and behaviors). However, I don’t think everything boils down to love and work. Or sex and violence. I don’t think women are envious of men because men have penises. I think we all probably have an “unconscious” or “subconscious”, but I can’t prove it. I also don’t think the unconscious/subconscious is simply an arena where good and evil, depravity and virtue, and other polarities are constantly duking it out.

My disdain of psychoanalysis stems, in part, from cultural reasons. Freud and his buddies came from Western Europe (particularly Austria and Switzerland). America is a product of Western European ideas, and while I was born and raised in the US, I was raised by people who were not. I was inculcated with Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist ideas. The psychologies of these traditions don’t refer to constructs like ids, egos, and superegos. They instead focus on filial piety, the importance of community over the individual, harmony as a paramount virtue, and the reality of suffering. These manifest more between, rather than within, individuals.

3. I’m not my job. Yes, I have been fortunate enough to go through medical and psychiatric training and do the work that I do, but that’s just one aspect of who I am. In my youth, psychiatry was not a part of my identity. If I am lucky enough to live long enough to retire, psychiatry will be something of my past. This is just a long phase of my life.

So, rest assured, I won’t analyze you. If I ask you questions, maybe I just want to get to know you.


Luke 24:5.

During my visit to the optometrist this past week, the technician reviewed what I had told him before about my family history of illnesses.

“Anything else?” he asked.

“My mom had lung cancer.”


After typing this into my medical record, he asked, “How is she doing now?”

“She is deceased.”

“From that?”


We sat in silence as he continued to skim through my medical chart.

While it is true that I think about my mother every day, it’s not like I think about her every day. It’s more like a reaction: Someone has eyes that are shaped like hers. An older woman walks through the grocery store clutching her purse the same way my mom did. I purchased that Sakura Pigma Micron Pen during a visit home before she died.

Then there was that one time I was walking through a park in Seattle and I saw a tree. The branches were full of pink flowers. Half of the tree was dark with shadow; the other half was doused in sunlight. I know it sounds weird, but that tree was my mother. After staring at the tree for a few moments, I gave up trying to understand why I believed that tree was my mother.

I waved good-bye to the tree.

Sometimes I’m not prepared to think about my mother, but the occasion requires it. Like when the optometrist’s technician asked me about my family history. I was chiefly prepared for questions about which image was clearer: one, or two.

Or when the website asked me a security question because I changed my browser: “What is your mother’s maiden name?”

You mean, what was her maiden name.

Today is Easter Sunday. Christian clergy across the world shared verses from the Gospels today, perhaps even this one from the Book of Luke:

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen![1.
Luke 24:5-6.]

Sometimes we do not even seek the dead among the dead. We know that they will be there; we know that they have not risen.

We don’t need to seek the dead among the living. They appear throughout our lives, sometimes when we least expect it.


Content for Consumption.

My father, a man approaching 70 years of age, told me about his recent explorations in pop music. This included an extended analysis of Macklemore’s Can’t Hold Us and commentary about why youth in Taiwan like Justin Bieber. However, I currently lack the creativity to craft a pithy post about that.[1. What I lack in creativity I make up for in alliteration.]

Since I am having difficulties generating content, let me at least provide some other content for consumption:

Manifesto of a Doer. It is reminiscent of Ze Frank’s Invocation for Beginnings, though without the profanity and… artistry.

Life in a Tiny Apartment. This is a collection of posts about making the most of and staying organized in small living spaces. She and I do not share the same aesthetic, though I do like her principles.

You To Still Die One Day. Because death is the Great Equalizer, puts everything in perspective, and “you are still going to die one day and there is nothing you can do to prevent it.”

Marmot Sings Mozart’s Queen of the Night Aria. No matter what my mood may be, watching this marmot sing an aria makes me laugh out loud.[2. Biggie Smalls feat. Thomas the Tank Engine also makes me laugh, but it is not safe for work or children.]



Niagara Falls

Posting will be sparse for the next week or two as I am currently relocating from New York to Seattle… and marvelling at some sights along the way.

In the meantime, I invite you to browse the archives.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.



He walked into the shade of the alley, where the walls stretching up from the street were windowless and the thick metal doors down below leaned into plastic crates. Muffled voices of grocers drifted outside. His eyes scanned the stack tied with string. After pulling away the one he wanted, he tucked it under his arm. The corrugated edges rubbed his calloused fingertips.

Passersby carried Louis Vuitton bags, brooms, torsos of mannequins, floor lamps, ladders, and miniature dogs. He carried the flattened cardboard box.

He made a wide turn into the building to get the box inside. It banged into the banisters as he climbed the four flights of stairs to his apartment.

After shutting the door behind him, he dropped the box onto the floor of his austere bedroom. He pulled the knife from his pocket, extended the blade, and drew it along the heavy fold. The box slumped open.

Not long ago, he would have put it on a heating grate during winter. In the summer, he would have put it in the shade of scaffolding. The box didn’t have a soft surface, but it was smooth. It was more forgiving than concrete.

He didn’t want the mattress. It was flimsy. It moved when he moved. He liked the feeling of the solid earth beneath him. It was one of the few reliable things in his life.

He pushed the cardboard to the space on the floor next to his bed. Shaking his head, he pulled the mattress down to the floor. He picked up the cardboard and placed it directly onto the platform. He nodded.