Dr. Kass served as Clinical Vice Chair and Interim Chair of Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry, and as Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. He founded and developed the psychiatry service for Columbia Doctors. With an ability to motivate people to achieve their full potential, Dr. Kass has consulted to the CEOs of major corporations and to sports franchises such as the New York Yankees and the New York Giants. He is highly respected as a clinician who provides care in even the most challenging cases. At New York Presbyterian, he established new clinical services for underserved populations in Washington Heights, including a model program for mentally ill homeless people.
I was raised during the Fifties in San Antonio, Texas, a town with a rich Mexican heritage. At that time, however, most Mexican Americans there lived in dispiriting ghettos. I remember getting up at 3 AM to accompany my dad, a cardiologist, to the local hospital. He felt that his patients would be more comfortable seeing the doctor they knew and trusted, and that he could enhance the care they would receive from the intern and resident. My father accepted indigent patients turned away by other doctors because they could not pay; at Christmas, I remember always looking forward to the homemade enchiladas and tacos he would be sent in gratitude. Meanwhile, my mother was known by all the local veterinarians because she routinely brought in every emaciated stray dog and cat in our neighborhood. While we lived comfortably, it felt to me that we were the poorest doctor’s family around. I knew that if I were to survive in this world, I would have to make my own way and earn my own living.
In April 1962, I threw my books in the air when I came home from school to find an acceptance letter from Harvard College. Meeting my classmates that September, I concluded that my admission must have been based on geographic diversity. Despite the social upheaval, a sense of optimism and hope prevailed in the Sixties. We believed we could spark real change in our institutions and ourselves by working together. Popular music reflected the new social consciousness, for example, John Lennon's “Give Peace a Chance” and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”
The books I read during college impacted my clinical practice as much as my lessons in medical school and during my professional training. I remember, in particular, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and Jerome Frank’s Persuasion and Healing. Frank pointed out that none of the 400 types of therapy he had surveyed was any more effective than the other. As the Dodo Bird says in Alice’s Adventures, “Everyone has won and all must have prizes”. While the many evidenced-based treatments available today do not guarantee good outcomes, research indicates that the qualities of the psychotherapist and a treatment plan focused on the patients’ background and needs are better indicators of success than the type of therapy provided.
As a psychiatrist I have had many wonderful teachers, the most impactful of whom was Roger Mackinnon, a psychoanalyst. Roger taught me that effective psychiatry is not intellectual wizardry; rather, it is the sacred commitment to respect and to listen that matters most. A mother once asked him if she should bring her five-year-old son to grandma’s funeral. Roger replied, “Only if you want him to feel like a member of the family.”
After 40 years at Columbia, I am saying goodbye to dear colleagues with sadness, but I am energized by this new opportunity at Rappore. We are creating a company that embraces mutual respect, autonomy and creativity. Music has always been a source of inspiration and solace for me. Anyone who has heard John Coltrane’s, “A Love Supreme” can appreciate how the saxophone depends upon its unique shape to deliver an extraordinary range of sounds and the opportunity for personal expression. At Rappore, our goal is to empower the voices of each member of our team and every patient whom we serve.