Annual Meeting
Generations Urged to Explore Shifting Views of Identity
Psychiatric News
Volume 46 Number 7 page 9-9

"Who are you?" sang The Who, and maybe there's more than one answer for each of us.

APA's Council on Minority Mental Health and Health Disparities will tackle the question of identity, or perhaps "identities," on the shores of Waikiki at the APA annual meeting in May.

That may be just the right spot. After all, Hawaii has found ways to keep multiple, sometimes competing, identities within the bounds of civil discourse.

"Identity" in the United States has tended to refer to race, ethnicity, gender, or religion, but everyone has more than one identity, a reality that can spill over into one's professional world, said Sandra Walker, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and chair of the council.

Start with age, she suggested.

Younger members of the psychiatric profession see their identities differently from their older colleagues, said Walker in an interview.

"They grew up in a digital world," she said. "They have different ideas about privacy, for instance. What does it mean to have —€˜privacy—€™ in the age of Facebook and YouTube? Is it just a myth?"

Those technological differences intrude into even the simplest interactions, said Walker, who knows firsthand. Her son, like so many other young people, seems available to her only by cell phone text messaging.

Young people's generational context in turn affects their views on everything from politics to their professional lives. It is no secret that their virtual communities may be replacing real ones—€”such as some professional organizations—€”and creating divisions between young and old. Many younger people may not find those organizations relevant to their lives and their careers the way their older colleagues did.

That becomes important when different age cohorts are required to interact, formally or informally.

"For instance, what happens when older psychiatrists mentor their younger colleagues?" asked Walker. Plenty of unexamined assumptions are likely to crop up on either side of this generation gap.

Walker and several colleagues will take up these issues in a special session at APA's 2011 annual meeting in Hawaii. The session will be held Sunday, May 15, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Hibiscus Room II in the Kalia Executive Conference Center, Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel.

This "Intergenerational Dialogue" will also address possible differences in how members of different ages perceive their opportunities and goals as psychiatrists. In addition, it will explore differences in how psychiatrists see the relationship between their identities as psychiatrists and their other life roles, and ways in which younger members struggle with multiple roles.

The idea for the dialogue arose from discussions among APA/SAMHSA minority fellows about an APA rule on minority caucuses stipulating that a member can belong to only one caucus, said Helena Hansen, M.D., Ph.D., in an interview. Hansen, who completed a combined dual doctoral program in medicine and cultural anthropology at Yale, is a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Fellow at Columbia University.

The fellows, who are all residents, wanted to know why they had to choose among several of their identities, said Hansen. What if, the fellows wanted to know, a member was both black and Hispanic, or an international medical graduate, or some other combination?

Older members might not understand the importance of that dilemma, said Hansen.

"The identity politics of 20 or 40 years ago had to do with loyalty to a specific ethnic or gender group," she said. "For current PGYs, different caucuses might meet different needs."

Perhaps there has been a shift in thinking from conventional group identity to processes of understanding of intersecting aspects of cultural identity, she said.

At the Intergenerational Dialogue session, Walker and Hansen hope to attract a variety of psychiatrists at different stages in their careers with an interest in identity politics.

"We hope the group will get a new perspective on what matters to others and why, as well as a new perspective on themselves that they hadn't examined before," said Hansen.

Ultimately, the dialogue may spark a process of institutional change within APA to re-examine and possibly realign minority caucus policies to reflect the needs of early career psychiatrists, said Walker. 9_1.inline-graphic-1.gif

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