Categorized | Life

The Mind Field

Posted on 19 February 2009

A prominent psychiatrist helps the famous and infamous.

From kings to criminals, politicians to prostitutes, Dr. Alen J. Salerian explored the darker edges of the human mind as a high-profile psychiatrist. But he had no idea just how dark it could get–until he was sent to interview a mass murderer 15 years ago.

Salerian found himself in a prison interview room near Washington, DC. Two guards brought in the patient: A man who converted his van into a militaristic killing machine, crashed through the gates of a corporate office park, and opened fire. Several people died; dozens more were injured. The patient answered Salerian’s questions with a decidedly matter-of-fact manner, which made the experience all the more haunting.

Salerian, who served as special consultant to the FBI throughout most of the last decade, found the whole episode unnerving. “I spent a lot of time with him,” he recalls. “To see someone so insane, chillingly and dispassionately describing what he did, and how he’d do again, was an eerie experience.”

His story is about the universality of professional skills and how they apply to many societies.

Common Ground
Salerian’s career sounds like a cross between Silence of the Lambs and Traffic–with a healthy dose of High Society mixed in. He has been called upon to fly overseas and treat the royal families of both England and Bahrain. Here at home, he might treat a criminal or a congressman on any given day.

Though he came to America as a stranger, unfamiliar with the customs of our country, Salerian’s story is about more than overcoming cultural barriers to achieve success. It’s about the universality of professional skills and how they are applicable to a myriad of societies. Salerian knows how to build sound minds, and he eventually landed in the thick of world events. Several years ago, for example, he conducted psychological debriefings for FBI personnel involved in the Waco incident. He helped several agents deal with the emotional impact of that tragedy.

Whether treating someone at society’s highest or lowest level, Salerian finds common ground. This underlying belief inspired Salerian to pursue psychiatry after graduating from the University of Istanbul School of Medicine in 1971. “Psychiatry is fascinating because it gives you an opportunity to enter people’s lives and have a sense of what they really go through,” he says. “People are, in an incredible way, so very trusting. It’s a privilege to be in a position where I see the poorest of people–five percent of my patients pay me nothing–and family members of kings and senators and congressmen.”

More Than a Job
That kind of clientele comes with respected standing. Salerian’s research has appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry and he’s made over 200 presentations on psychiatric topics. Since December 1997, he has served as medical director of the outpatient clinic for the Psychiatric Institute of Washington. In addition to the FBI work, he also teaches at the George Washington University (GWU) School of Medicine.

He came to the nation’s capital for a medical internship at Providence Hospital in 1971–and decided to stay in the states permanently. He was named chief resident at the GWU Medical Center in 1976. “What always amazed me throughout my career is that human nature isn’t any different,” he says, “whether you’re at the top of your game or at the bottom of society. Human suffering is human suffering. But the answer, always, is within you. You must fix the problem, no matter if you’re a prince or a pimp.”

When he counsels others seeking to join his profession, Salerian encourages people to be open to anything. “Psychiatry is a wide-open practice,” he affirms. “It’s a matter of risk taking and opening up your mind. That’s why I ended up in the FBI and going overseas. When the call comes in, I want to take the job. I want to cross the line. It’s not recklessness, it’s just pursuing an unfamiliar avenue.”

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Shaheen Lakhan says:

    Thanks for submitting this post to our blog carnival. We just published the 44th edition of Brain Blogging and your article was featured!

    Thank you.

    Sincerely,
    Shaheen

2 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Diary of a Smart Chick » Post Topic » SmartChick at the Blog Carnival: The Brain says:

    [...] The other posts in this blog carnival were on the topics of empathy, moral turpitude, learning, the brains of killers, antidepressants, teen cutting, ADHD, self-esteem, humor, sleepwalking through life and increasing [...]

  2. Brain Blogging, Forty-Fourth Edition | Brain Blogger says:

    [...] an eidetic memory specific to certain subject areas in life.Higher Education and Career Blog writes The Mind Field:Salerian found himself in a prison interview room near Washington, DC. Two guards brought in the [...]

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