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Pushed to Brink, They’ve Lost Ability to Function : ‘Retreat’ Revives Flagging Professionals

Associated Press

If you’re ever in a hospital, keep an eye out for the “night riders” because they have stopped watching out for themselves.

They are doctors who work long hours at unusual times of the night, often winning the admiration of their peers. But they are really out of control, overly dedicated to work, obsessed.

Dr. Charles Boren, medical director of the Institute of Living, a renowned psychiatric hospital, is lassoing night riders and other professionals who are running on empty, becoming inefficient and isolating themselves from their colleagues.

The institute, one of the nation’s oldest and largest private psychiatric hospitals, has established a program called “The Retreat” to treat the businessmen, doctors, priests, lawyers and others who are losing their ability to function because of the stress of their careers.

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The program allows up to 28 professionals at a time to live together, talk to each other, share their common problems and put their lives back together.

In the two years since it was created, it has been so successful that it now has a waiting list.

A stay can be as short as a week or as long as six months, but the average stay is about 62 days, said Dr. Walter A. Kekich, the institute’s director of the acute, specialty and ambulatory services unit.

During that period, the professionals receive individual counseling and group therapy. They also have free time for reflection, travel and other recreation.

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One participant in the program who has spoken publicly about his experience is Archbishop John Quinn, who tenders to 375,000 Roman Catholic parishioners in the San Francisco area. Quinn, 59, spent four months at the retreat earlier this year, before returning to his job in April.

A former president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, he said he entered the program because of stress, exhaustion and depression.

“I was finding I wasn’t measuring up and wishing I could do better dealing with the problems of people around me,” Quinn told reporters when he returned to work. “You feel disappointed in yourself that you’re not doing more, and yet you’re doing so much you’re at the point of exhaustion.”

He decided after the retreat to make some changes in his life to include more relaxation. He said he planned to buy a dog, play some golf and to end his isolation by opening his residence to two other priests.

Quinn’s case fits the pattern that the experts at the institute have seen over and over again.

“These people are often used to having the answers, used to giving help, used to being looked to as someone who can ease the pain. When they reach a point when they’re in need, they really don’t know how to go to someone else,” Boren said.

“Often they have sort of kept it together and continued to function, albeit with great pain and some disability, until generally there is some kind of situation where their colleagues see that they’re having trouble. . . They may have trouble with drug abuse or alcohol. . . . The greatest problem is depression.”

The institute, founded on 35 acres in Hartford in 1822, is a 400-bed general psychiatric hospital. In the 1930s, it built a reputation as an exclusive center that catered to the rich and famous. Patients were considered guests and they were offered limousine service and such leisure activities as golf, swimming and shuffleboard.

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The institute today continues to maintain an aura of exclusivity and remains sheltered from the bustle of the city by a surrounding brick wall and steel gates. But it has broadened its services to include outpatient treatment and schools for troubled children, while offering traditional psychiatric services.


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