Psychiatrist Parlays Love of Sports into Successful Career

JULY 16, 2015
Ed Rabinowitz
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But sometimes life takes us on the scenic route. Such is the case for David Reiss, MD, a psychiatrist who has spent more than 25 years in private practice.
 
Reiss started college in chemical engineering, and later transitioned to biomed engineering. He eventually attended medical school at Northwestern University, but even upon graduation was uncertain as to his future. He recalls making the choice between going back to biomed engineering, or following an interest in psychiatry.
 
“When I look back, I don’t think I would have been very happy just being an engineer,” he says. “I was always interested in philosophy, psychology—so it’s not where I was pressured to go, but probably where I should have gone.”
 
Interesting Work
 
Reiss has evaluated and treated more than 10,000 patients from all walks of life during his 25-plus years or practice. But perhaps the most interesting grew out of his childhood interest in wrestling.
 
“My father, who actually was a social worker in New York, had also been an amateur boxer and wrestler,” Reiss recalls. “This goes back to the late 1950s when I was a kid. And when my mother would go out to play Mahjong he would wake me up to watch wrestling on our black and white Philco TV.”
 
Years later, Reiss would write a paper on how wrestling storylines are a recapitulation of childhood trauma. Shortly thereafter, he received an invitation to talk to wrestlers at an industry meeting. He has been invited back ever since, and expanded into doing wellness work with many of the athletes. There is, he explains, a natural connection between psychiatry and physical trauma.

Sgt. Slaughter and David Reis MD
Reiss with famed pro wrestler "Sgt. Slaughter"
 
“I’ve been in the workers’ comp industry in California for 25 years and a lot of that is physical trauma,” he says. “But with the athletes it’s connected in terms of the emotional trauma, physical trauma, and more recently the whole issue of head injury. And even at my practice where now I know to ask people who come in, did you play high school football? Many times I’ll get a history and can track issues that come from their athletic career, even if they never played in college let alone the pros.”
 
Horrific Scene
 
When the unthinkable occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Reiss was nearby in Salem, MA doing consulting work when he received a phone call. Would he come to Newtown to help the local therapists prepare for the aftermath of the shooting?
 
“I met with the families whose kids were friends with children who were killed,” Reiss says. “I also gave out information on PTSD, what the therapists in the area should look for. Also, differentiating between normal grief and PTSD. We put on about four open talks for the community and therapists. I was only there for one day, and I have to say it was horrific. It took me about a month to get totally back.”
 
Interestingly, the website that seemed to receive the most hits from the interviews Reiss conducted was a site for cross-country truck drivers. He was contacted by the outfit that ran the site for information on how to help their truckers who were on the road and felt alone and detached from their families.
 
“We’re in such a different world with social media,” Reiss says. “It used to be just what you read in the paper, some of which would be put on a back page, but you had to find it to read it. Now it’s on Twitter, Facebook, in a very personal way, so that there’s a much bigger emotional impact for better or worse for many of these events, whether they be tragic or not.”
 


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