Life & Style

We Need To Be Disoriented, Says Psychiatrist

Disoriented woman

“One thing we talk about in society is we’ve got too much stress. And so then we think, ‘how can I avoid, how can I pull back, how can I have less stress?’” – Dr David Kopacz

During a guest lecture at Western Sydney University, psychiatrist and holistic physician David Kopacz said we need to be disoriented in order to overcome stress.

But, before sharing his insight into how we should overcome stress, he asked the audience to share their thoughts on how they overcome stress.

Within the crowd of about 30 people, one hand went up and answered with alcohol and drugs, to which David called it a “short term solution to a long-term problem.”

“You can make the problem seem like it went away for a period of time, but then it comes back,” he said. “If you keep using alcohol and drugs as a solution to the problem, then you develop another problem. So now you got this addiction problem with the original problem on top.”

Dr David Kopacz speaking at Western Sydney University about anxiety and stress

Dr David Kopacz speaking at Western Sydney University about anxiety and stress. Image: Christopher Kelly

Another hand went up and said getting professional help, to which David replied with a difficult dilemma that he sometimes faces.

“I’ll have a patient come in and they’ll tell me, ‘oh, I’ve lost my job, I just got out of the military, my relationship broke up, I’ve got a traumatic brain injury, and things aren’t just working out the way I want them to.’”

To David, they would fit all the criteria for depression, and he could just treat the patient through therapy and medical treatments.

“But then I could also say, ‘look, you’re going through a really tough time. Anybody could see this as a tough time.’”

“So even as a psychiatrist I have a hard time sometimes figuring out, ‘is this depression that needs a treatment plan or is this more of an imbalance in a person’s life?”

For the latter, David offers a solution called transformational learning, with the first step telling us we need to be disoriented.

“You can’t have any sort of transformative learning experience unless you kind of get disoriented or distressed. Because if you’re not disoriented or distressed, you’re in your comfort zone.

You could say transformational learning is like trying to go into your learning zone, he said, but you gotta get out of your comfort zone and into your learning zone.

However, if you stay in your comfort zone and you get too overwhelmed, “then it just breaks down and you’re not actually learning.”

“So you don’t wanna be too much into the stressful zone, but you need to be moderately disoriented in order to gain a sense of crisis in order for that to resolve and for you to transform and grow into something else.”

“Because growth means you’re leaving one state behind and you’re growing into another.”

Dr David Kopacz speaking at Western Sydney University about anxiety and stress

Dr David Kopacz speaking at Western Sydney University about anxiety and stress. Image: Christopher Kelly

A common trait in society is that as human beings we much prefer to stay in our comfort zone. That we don’t want any uncertainty, or too much challenge, or to rock the boat. We prefer remaining comfortable.

“But then you end up getting bored, because you’re not having those challenges that make you reach inside yourself and find out who you are and what you can do.”

David, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Washington, shared a personal story of when he started his third year in medical school.

“I was sort of wandering around in this daze, thinking ‘I don’t know what they expect from me, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.’ And then this attending physician came up and said to me, ‘so it’s your first week on medicine, huh? Are you feeling overwhelmed, insecure and disoriented?”

David figured he could trust this guy and so he agreed that he was disoriented. And the attending physician replied with, ‘good good, that’s how it is supposed to be, I’m here if you need me.’

“That was unusual. Cause he was the first person who came up and spoke the truth. Everyone else was like, ‘you just gotta fake it, you gotta act like you know what you’re doing’ and this guy says you’re supposed to be feeling disoriented, that’s part of the process in becoming a doctor.”

Speaking to the group of students, David told them that whatever it is they’re studying, whatever it is they’re learning, you’ve got to be disoriented.

“And then, the resolution of the disorientation is you then kind of reintegrate back into a new identity. But it’s an expanded transformed identity that has more resources and it’s also more flexible.”

As well as being a psychiatrist, holistic physician, and a university professor, David Kopacz is also an author.

Dr Kopacz has published two books: Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine, and with co-author Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD.

In his work, he focuses on developing whole person approaches to healing for clients and supporting staff wellness.

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