Doctor heals and is healed

Physician heals others as he heals himself

It’s hard to ask for help when you’re the doctor, but being a doctor doesn’t mean you’re immune to mental illness and addiction.

The story of a Warkworth physician illustrates this fact. But the ‘Courage To Come Back Award’ Michael Kaufmann recently received from the Canadian Association of Mental Health also shows that his story offers hope.

Dr. Kaufmann’s predisposition and stress of daily life provoked a rapid escalation into addiction. After receiving his medical degree and opening up his own practice in his small town, his consumption of prescription drugs turned into an extreme addiction to opiates and other mood-altering substances. He thought he had betrayed his patients and colleagues, and began to neglect his marriage, patients, and himself.

He even contemplated suicide.

With the loss of respect from his peers, a damaged reputation and the constant fear of losing his licence to practice medicine, Dr. Kaufmann was trapped by his despair. He felt unable to trust anyone, including his wife, who had become fearful and isolated from him. His addiction to drugs had become so consuming that his colleagues had to intervene, and in 1986 he was admitted to the former Donwood Institute, now CAMH’s Brentcliffe site.

It was difficult for Dr. Kaufmann to accept his diagnosis. As a physician, he was trained to be self-sufficient, so he believed he could help himself. Nonetheless, he learned to accept that addiction was a part of him, and through his recovery he gained a new and better understanding of himself and addiction.

Dr. Kaufmann believed that his addicted persona didn’t belong with his doctor persona and, as a result, found it hard to share his experience early in his recovery. However, guided by his addiction physician, he became an active member of a peer recovery group and community mutual-help groups, where he learned to talk about his experiences with others and overcome his denial and shame. Eventually he was invited by his addiction physician to speak to classes of medical students about his experience of addiction and recovery.

Dr. Kaufmann went on to study addiction medicine and is certified as a specialist in the field by both the American and Canadian Societies of Addiction Medicine. In 1995, he became the founding director of the new Physician Health Program for the Ontario Medical Association in Toronto. He has written extensively about personal problems of health professionals, with the goal of shattering the myth that health professionals are immune to addiction and mental illness. He looks to help others by speaking publicly about his experiences throughout Canada and the world.

"Dr. Kaufmann has transcended a potentially devastating disease to not only help himself, but thousands of others, especially those doctors and other health-care professionals entrusted to care for others in society," said Dr. Peter Selby, Dr. Kaufmann’s nominator. "He is truly a healer who is healing others as he heals himself."

From; Northumberland Today online.


Why Can’t They Just Stop?


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