Why You Might Want a Generalist in This Age of Specialization

Who wouldn’t want treatment from a specialist who knew exactly how to cure or fix them? I know I would! Sadly, many (most?) people don’t have the luck of knowing exactly what’s bothering them or which specialist to enlist in the cure. That’s where a good generalist comes in.

Although the marketing coaches and the “common wisdom” these days push people in my profession toward developing a specialty, I stubbornly (!?!) stick to “specializing in being  a generalist.” Other terms I use are: “general practitioner” or (less often) “general contractor.”

My working definition of “generalist” is:

A professional who has mastered and integrated several specialties, skills, and sets of knowledge.

Take me for example. I (believe I) have mastered and integrated:

  • Specific skills in addressing depression, anxiety, trauma, loss and grief, couples and relationship issues, and men’s issues.
  • Knowledge of medication and its use and abuse.
  • Familiarity with a broad range of specialists and specialties in mental health, medical fields, and alternative treatments and processes.

This allows me to:

  • Serve as a starting point for those who are not sure where to start.
  • Know about most or all aspects of the person to make sure there is a overall treatment strategy and know when to bring in other specialists when necessary.
  • Knowingly and willingly tackle problems that will or could involve specialties beyond those I have mastered.
  • Take on problems that are ordinarily of larger scope, scale, and complexity than those addressed by specialists.
  • More effectively perform “differential diagnoses” (like House and his team on the TV show) without the “If I’m a hammer, then everything looks like a nail” syndrome of a specialist.
  • Deal with the interrelated aspects of the person as a whole, including:
    • Adapting my broad range of skills to the patient’s entire problem set, as opposed to an expert who tends to adapt the patient’s problems to his or her area of expertise.
    • Looking for the ways in which issues connect together.
    • Addressing several issues at once more adeptly than a specialist; for example: addressing career issues, relationship issues, and bipolar disorder.
  • Translate and explain actions of specialists into understandable terms.
  • Adapt quickly and be willing to “switch gears on the fly” as needed, with an easy-going personality and ability to improvise as appropriate to ensure the most effective treatment for the individual.

OK, so if you know exactly what your issues are and who should treat them, by all means seek out the appropriate specialist. If you have a “reasonable doubt,” however, I invite you to seek out a generalist.

Let me know what you think of this. Thanks!

Copyright 2013 Daniel J. Metevier

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