4 out of 4 stars
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Wounded Workers: Tales from a Working Man’s Shrink by Dr Bob Larsen is a collection of stories detailing Dr Bob’s journey of becoming an occupational psychiatrist and the various patients he has encountered. Dr Larsen runs the Center for Occupational Psychiatry that he started in 1985 in Downtown San Francisco. His patients are mainly referrals from employers, insurance companies or judicial orders to help determine the outcome of a claims compensation after a workplace injury. The stories are presented in short chapters with a preceding photo before each that captures the tale’s essence. They detail his professional life, parts of his personal life and a myriad of patients. He shows those he ensured got the help they needed, those he could not help due to denial of their issues and those whose options were limited and their compensation couldn’t match their injuries. The book is informational, emotional and enjoyable in equal parts.
I liked that I gained a myriad of insights into psychiatry without being lost in medical jargon. I understood the difference between psychologists and psychiatrists and why the latter need to go to medical school. The text is easy to follow with a few big words that did not distract my reading. I also got a good idea of what it was like for Dr Larsen growing up, his time at the University of Colorado, and the Northwestern University Medical School (NUMS). A presentation from the psychiatry team at NUMS ignited his interest in psychiatry and set the precedence for his career. The patients’ stories are moving, and I appreciate that my life is not painted with the experiences these men and women have encountered. The narrations also made me respect what Dr Larsen does.
One of my favourite chapters was ‘Overcoming Victimisation’. Dr Larsen shares stories of two patients who went through gruesome trauma but were strong enough psychologically to deal with the cards that life dealt them gracefully. Another was reading about patients who showcase exaggerated symptoms and their classifications based on whether the symptoms were physical representations of their psychological distress or whether they were outright lying. The number of people and the amount of time involved in settling a compensation claim amazed me. The psychological effects that the injuries had on the workers were unique, even where the injuries were similar. It was also interesting to read about the various limited scenarios where a 'home' visit by a psychiatrist would be relevant.
Dr Larsen’s stories developed in me a deep admiration for him. He was open-minded as a young adult and involved in what he terms as 'losing-but-just causes'. I also loved the extents he went to provide compensation for patients referred to his office, such as one named Jane, whose initial psychiatrist gave an underwhelming recommendation that wasn’t as helpful. The chapter ‘We Don’t Work Alone’, where he shares his views on the people who work at his organisation, made his office sound like a lovely work environment for me. Dr Larsen has created a fantastic team of people doing incredible work. He also injects humour from time to time. He opines the only reason his driving instructor let him pass his practical test was so that the instructor wouldn’t have to ride with Dr Larsen again. As his parents weren’t keen on teaching him to drive, his driving caused a few people to believe there is a god.
I found nothing to dislike about this book. One small area for improvement would be to provide the whole meaning for MUNI or BART for readers who may be unfamiliar with these. I found a few minor errors, and as such, the book is professionally edited. For these reasons, I rate Wounded Workers: Tales from a Working Man’s Shrink four out of four stars.
I recommend this book to people who enjoy inspirational stories as well as memoirs. Dr Larsen’s personal stories are enjoyable to read and give personality to the book. The patients’ stories are moving. Several serve as reminders that there is life beyond tragedy, while others serve as a cautionary tale. Readers are sure to leave this book enlightened from the plethora of information and be sufficiently entertained.
The book has a few borderline profanities, and the words can be a bit complex at times. That and the gruesomeness of some of these experiences make it ideal for a mature audience.
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