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Becoming a psychiatrist while having had mental illness/trauma history


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Hello everyone, I'm highly interested in the field of psychiatry but I'm wondering if anyone else there finds it "triggering" to be in this field so to speak when you have had a history of mental illness/trauma. I was listening to a podcast where a psychiatrist said kind of tongue in cheek that there are two groups of psychiatrists - those who are incredibly well-adjusted and those who entered in the field because they themselves have had history of mental illness and have coping challenges. I'm not going to delve too deeply into my mental health/trauma history but I definitely feel like it's an ongoing issue and not something that's been "magically fixed", to be completely frank.

While I'm well-adjusted enough to be functionally okay for medical school, sometimes I wonder if I should pursue another specialty where I wouldn't necessarily be exposed to people who remind me of myself. For folks who might know of colleagues who are in the same boat, is this something that is going to be an obstacle for psychiatry? Thanks so much for your insights!

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You will be exposed to trauma no matter what specialty you go into.  Medical training itself directly exposes you to traumatic things, both that you witness directly, and that you hear about, and if you have pre-existing trauma, you are vulnerable to getting triggered and/or retraumatized.  No matter what specialty you go into, you'll be a much better doctor if you learn to navigate your own trauma such that you don't avoid your patients' trauma.

Lots of psychiatrists have histories of trauma.  And I think it's a myth that you have to reach some kind of state of perfect healing for that to be possible.

The short answer is that you most likely can do it, and can be very good at it, possibly even better because of having had those experiences.  However, it can be difficult, lonely, and confusing.  Sometimes it can rip open old wounds and then you have to figure that out.  It takes a lot of work, and there aren't a lot of role models or guidance on how to do it, nor can you safely be open with most of the people in your environment while you're trying to figure out how to do it.  Being in your own therapy consistently is a really good idea.

You're welcome to PM me if you want the long answer.

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I agree with @ellorie 's response.

You will know from doing rotations and seeing patients if you think it is going to be okay for you.

I have a very competent friend with mental health concerns who decided against psychiatry because it was too trigger for his/her mental health condition. He/she is a very competent medical doctor in his/her chosen field.

Diametrically opposed, I know of someone with a primary psychotic illness who is stable who has pursued psychiatry residency because of his/her own experience.

It isn't going to be easy to avoid trauma/re-exposure/triggers in any part of medicine but if you care for yourself and have healthy boundaries you will probably be fine.

Best of luck!


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