Lawmaker Offers Congressional Therapy

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) serves a dual role in Washington these days: he's not just a congressman, but he's also calling upon his experience as a former psychiatrist. Lawmakers struggling with the stress of their jobs have asked for his advice recently. McDermott talks to host Andrea Seabrook about dealing with Capitol Hill pressures.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Welcome back to NPR's All Things Considered. I'm Andrea Seabrook. It would be an understatement to call the scene on Capitol Hill this weekend hectic. The marathon meetings between high-powered negotiators, the sheer size of the economic bailout proposal, and the pressure to get it done, like yesterday; a better word to describe it might be traumatic. That's what Democrat Jim McDermott of Washington state is calling it. And he should know. Congressman McDermott is also a psychiatrist. How are you, Congressman?

Representative JIM MCDERMOTT (Democrat, Washington): I'm tired, and I'm also good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: It sounds like the bailout negotiations are having a real psychological impact on you guys up there?

Representative MCDERMOTT: Well, there's no question there is an enormous amount of pressure, pressure from the size of the problem and the suddenness with which it was sprung on us. And then secondly, this is right in the middle of an election. Everybody who votes on this in the next few days is going to have to go home within 30 days and face the electorate.

SEABROOK: So, how does that affect you guys working up there? I mean, how do other members of Congress tell you the work is affecting them?

Representative MCDERMOTT: Well, it clearly has a very physical effect on people. You can't be under this much pressure for this long without beginning to have flaring tempers and shortness of willingness to suffer fools. And then when you go home at night, you're all wound up and people are having sleep troubles, people are having just - I had several people say to me, God, I keep eating. I'm gaining weight. I've gained three pounds this week. So some people deal with their stress one way, and some deal with it another way, but everybody is feeling it.

SEABROOK: So, Dr. McDermott, what do you advise your colleagues to do?

Representative MCDERMOTT: Well, the advice a guy gave me was, hey, go home, go to bed, don't drink, don't eat too much, and get up in the morning and exercise, because they're going to put you through this day after day after day after day. And that's really the best advice you can give to people is do some exercise, because that will get rid of a lot of the tension in your body if you go down to the gym and work out or go walk a mile. One of the people on the floor said to me, I got up so angry yesterday morning, I had to go walk for an hour before I could come to work. So exercise is important. And probably the less alcohol you use and the less food you have, the better off you're prepared for dealing with the stress of what we're going through.

SEABROOK: Washington Democratic congressman and psychiatrist Jim McDermott. Thanks very much, sir.

Representative MCDERMOTT: OK. Bye-bye.

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