The telephone rang as Deborah Peel was driving to the airport outside Austin, Texas, a few weeks ago. It was one of several long-distance calls she’d had that day with someone, though not a patient, who nonetheless was seeking Peel’s help and support.
For Peel, a physician trained in psychoanalytic psychiatry, her end of the conversation was a blend of delicate probing, empathic listening and full-bore affirmation.
When the phone call ended, Peel smiled, knowing that even though the problem was not yet fully resolved, her caller was in a better place. “Everybody needs to be listened to,” she explained. It’s a phrase that isn’t on Peel’s business cards, but perhaps it should be.
According to Peel, 55, who is winding down her solo psychiatric practice of 30 years, she’s listening to far more patients than have ever been through her Austin office, with its Oriental rug, cloth upholstered couch and four glass-fronted bookcases stuffed with texts, including 23 light-blue volumes of the writings of Sigmund Freud.
The way Peel tells it, her patients now include every U.S. patient, whose medical privacy is being unethically and even illegally invaded by healthcare’s paparazzi—the multibillion-dollar medical data-mining industry—and the pharmaceutical and insurance companies the data-miners serve. She also believes federal officials are hellbent on promoting healthcare IT, but aren’t listening to patients’ concerns that their most intimate information, once digitized, could be lost, stolen or stored and held against them.