The Pain and Joy of Caregiving

BOOK REVIEW

The Wounded Healer: The Pain and Joy of Caregiving

by Omar Reda, MD; W. W. Norton & Co, 2022

200 pages, $24.95 (paperback)

Reviewed by H. Steven Moffic, MD

Give yourself and your colleagues a mental health gift in these difficult times of caregiver burnout: Get and read this book. There is none that I know like it. Not only that, but it is a model of the best in the challenge of caregiving—as is the author, Omar Reda, MD.

Not that I am surprised. Let me self-disclose why because I am not coming into this review with clean objectivity. I came to know Dr Reda because a colleague recommended him as someone who could appropriately write a chapter on the book I was editing on Islamophobia and psychiatry. Since then, we have worked together on other projects, sometimes with disagreements, but always resolved for the better.

Most recently, Dr Reda led the development of a rare, perhaps unique, group of multicultural mental health professions in the widest sense of the term multicultural. It is called SPIRIT (Social Psychiatrists Interested in Recovery from International Trauma). Several articles on behalf of the group have appeared in Psychiatric Times™. My wife and I were also grateful to meet him when he came to Milwaukee and bring him to a book club we attended. Naturally for him, he brought up a controversial point that was worth the discomfort in discussing it.

Thought the title Wounded Healer is an apt description of Dr Reda and most of us in professional caregiving, I would extend it to another metaphor: the heroic journey popularized by Joseph Campbell, so I will temporarily retitle it as “Wounded Healers on Heroic Journeys.” The hero, for personal or divine reasons, sets off on an internal and external journey and is met by obstacles and dangers, receives physical or mental wounds, overcomes them with the help and love of others, and brings the treasures—often psychological ones— that he or she has found to the world. Think Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Gandhi, and the Rev Martin Luther King, Jr., among the most famous, but the journey can be for anyone and for any kind of caregiver.

The book has 4 long sections about Dr Reda’s personal development, and what he has learned about child rearing, clinical care, and harmful systems, but the main points he makes weave in and out of the chapters and composite fictional examples. It is like viewing the polished facets of a diamond previously in the rough from different angles. He learned from many others, including family and loved ones. He also quotes many scholars, teachers, and mentors, though some of the best, I think, are his own, such as:

-“The first law of medicine is to do no harm. That means to do no harm to ourselves as well.” (page 29).

-“Yet, like moths, we are so attracted to the flames of our field that we do not know how to keep a safe distance.” (page 168).

-“The ice that needs to melt is often within ourselves.” (page 176).

If there is one—perhaps stunning—point that can sum up this book, it is the admonition by his mentor and expert on refugees, Richard Molica, MD:

“There is no healing without beauty.” (page xxi).

Beauty is not often mentioned in psychiatry in terms of clinical care or administration. That is somewhat similar to love, which I recommended for all psychiatric administrators to convey to staff when I gave the lecture for receiving The Administrative Psychiatry Award from the American Psychiatric Association in 2016. Dr Reda’s love for his loved ones, his patients, refugees, and colleagues, suffers this book.

There is great beauty and love in this book. Why has psychiatry been ignoring the best of humanity and the world? A love of beauty and the beauty of love. Terrible beauty and missing love at times. Reading it and finding more beauty and love will help your healing—guaranteed.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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