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The Power of Listening

After speaking to Dr. Fruitman, it became clear that his greatest gift, among many, is listening.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Edward Fruitman, MD, the Medical Director and founder of Trifecta Med Spa and Trifecta Health in New York. Dr. Fruitman graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology. He earned his Medical degree from Michigan State University, College of Human Medicine and went on to complete his four-year residency training program at Albert Einstein/Montefiore. Dr. Fruitman is a Diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, and a Diplomate of the American Board of Neurology and Psychiatry. Dr. Fruitman received training in aesthetic medicine by the American Academy of Procedural Medicine and is expertly trained by Allergan® to administer Botox® and Juvederm® procedures. In addition to his extensive training, Dr. Fruitman earned a Certificate of Excellence in Medicine from The American Academy of Procedural Medicine.

I was particularly interested in how Dr. Fruitman became a highly sought-after psychiatrist in New York City, helping patients overcome depression and anxiety, substance abuse, ADD / ADHD, and body image / weight-related issues and why he expanded his practice far beyond mental health and psychopharmacology to physical health, focusing on beauty and wellness.

After speaking to Dr. Fruitman, it became clear that his greatest gift, among many, is listening. Clearly, an essential attribute of a successful psychiatrist, listening, perhaps now more than ever, during these turbulent times, is a critical skill for anyone tasked with helping people look and feel their very best.

Tell us a little about your journey to a career in health and wellness

I am a practicing physician and entrepreneur, board certified in weight loss medicine and psychiatry. Additionally, I am trained and certified in aesthetic medicine.

I established Trifecta Med Spa, which now has locations in the Financial District, Central Park South and Hewlett, Long Island. Trifecta Health, with locations in the Financial District, Midtown Manhattan and Park Avenue, is a psychiatric private practice group.

My interest in aesthetic medicine started with a program I directed for medically-supervised weight-loss. Most of the enrolled patients were older adults and were referred by their primary care doctors. I observed that many of my weight-loss patients were primarily interested in improving their appearance, continuing to work with me even when they achieved medically-necessary fat-loss results. My patients were excited about non-surgical weight-loss interventions that could make them feel more confident. However, many of my patients were frustrated to hear that dietary weight-loss does not destroy fat cells, but only shrinks them in size. With time, fat cells migrate down the human body by the force of gravity, accumulating around waist line and lower face. Diet or exercise cannot eliminate these stubborn-fat regions.

A search for an answer to this cosmetic problem facing older adults led me to Coolsculpting. This new technology could allow me to electively target and permanently eliminate fat cells by freezing them, an exciting intervention for my weight-loss patients with much less risk than surgery.

Why is listening important?

I want to share a story that happened to me about 25 years ago and changed the way I listen and relate to my patients to this day.

I was a second-year resident, assigned to a rotation at a state psychiatric institution. The hospital was a gray, prison-like building with poorly-kept and enormous grounds, housing hundreds of patients suffering from severe and chronic schizophrenia. It was about 7 AM on a nice spring day, and I was in the 23rd hour of my overnight 36-hour shift, so I decided to treat myself to a cup of tea and a stroll on the semi-abandoned grounds.

The air smelled very pungent, with a strange, but oddly familiar smell. I was all alone, feeling miserable from sleep deprivation and a sinus infection. To my surprise, I noticed a patient was walking towards me, having just made it through a hole in the fence. I was very glad to see him! I was the one who gave him a home pass, only two days before, staking my reputation on the fact that he is better and ready for responsibility of handling a home visit. He already spent several years in the institution, so I felt that a successful visit home would demonstrate to the treatment team that he is ready for discharge. I was glad to see that he was friendly and apparently overjoyed to see me. He greeted me warmly, apologized for overstaying his pass, and offered me a handful of succulent blades of grass that he was enthusiastically eating. He emphatically insisted that that this gift would help me clear my sinuses. My heart sank. Just one day off his medication, and my patient was already showing disorganized behavior of eating grass, and what was even worse, it was all my fault.

He proceeded to tell me how this grass-eating behavior is a very wholesome, and vitamin-rich supplement to processed hospital food. I remarked on how the hospital food is not ideal, and both of us are working together on getting him discharged from the hospital, but that eating grass with pesticides and fertilizer can be harmful and counterproductive to our mission. The patient reassured me that in the last three years he spent in the hospital he never observed any chemical applied, and if I refused to try his homeopathic remedy, he would not go back to the ward. By that time, I was ready to eat a lawn full of grass just to get him back behind the locked door, but instead I proceeded to plead with my patient that he should not test our therapeutic bond by making me eat grass. After five minutes of my psychobabble and empathic statements, the patient agreed that I would just smell his grass blades and make my own determination.

I smelled the robust and succulent blades of grass that my patient gave me, and on closer examination, realized that it was wild chives! Chives to clear my sinuses, chives to make hospital food taste better. Wild chives, that was the pungent scent in the air! I did bring a bag of chives for lunch, to share with the clinical team, something to chew on as we discussed my patient’s pending discharge.

Is technology making it harder for people to listen?

With social media, the Internet, email we certainly have more “noise” in our lives than ever before. But we are also blessed with more knowledge. New technology has revolutionized the treatment of chronic illnesses over the last 30 years. New imaging techniques, new medications and new surgical procedures have made it possible to enjoy good health and mobility at any age.

Although there is certainly “oversharing” online and we have seen people be incredibly cruel and hurtful with the power of technology, people are also emboldening others to embrace and have greater confidence in their bodies, their sexuality and lifestyle choices, to name just a few examples. Technology can be a powerful tool for empathy and social change. 

I have seen a change in attitude toward aesthetic medicine over the last five years, which led to a rapid increase in the number of people requesting non-invasive cosmetic procedures. When attending social and professional gatherings, I am frequently asked friendly questions about CoolSculpting, Botox injections and fillers. In 2012, my friends would whisper those questions into my ear, expecting a discrete answer. I was listening, but then it was only a whisper. Now, it is frequently a subject of public conversation. I can compare the state of aesthetic medicine now to that of car manufacturing in 1920, when it went from luxury items to a primary form of transportation within a few years’ time.

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