Alexis Hutson

Coaching doctors Development workshops

Doctors and the midlife crisis

05 December 2012

Medical careers reach a long plateau after training and doctors seem more susceptible than others to the midlife crisis.

Dr Carl Gray, Consultant Histopathologist (See BMJ article)
I've been thinking about the midlife crisis recently. OK, some of it is personal interest (I'm 45) but a lot of it is about my clients. Firstly, I really don't like the word crisis. It's negative and stops you seeing this period in your life as an opportunity for developing further insight into who you are, what you want and where you want to go. Carl Jung described this period as the 'Midlife Transition' which I prefer. I think his work gives us a really useful way of viewing this natural process and getting the best out of it. In summary, Jung says that in the first part of our lives we are concerned with adapting, achieving, conforming and making a place for ourselves in the world - it's externally focussed. This often involves compromise and the creation of roles/personas we develop for ourselves to fit in to society. This corresponds very neatly with doctors' education and training pathway. However, we will all usually reach a point where we might start to think, "Now what?" or "Is this it?". This can be triggered by a loss or separation of some kind, but will mark the start of a period of emotional upheaval. It often means people will want to retreat and spend time alone to reconnect with who they were and assess what they have become. If successful, the process can lead people to a deeper understanding and connection with themselves (more internally focussed) and with a greater sense of peace. I see people of all ages whilst working with Doctors, but typically my clients are between 35 and 55. Therefore many of them will be experiencing some form of midlife transition. Perhaps the upward trajectory of getting through CCT and finally getting that GP or Consultant post is such a huge task that the plateau reached thereafter can trigger a transition. Either way, it's normal and whilst it can be a bumpy ride at times, it is well worth the journey.
  • Carl Jung and the Midlife Transition - If you want a longer explanation of the Jungian theory see Dr Murray Stein's paper here.
  • BBC Story on the midlife phase and happiness, click here.
  • And apparently chimps have a Midlife Transition too! See here.