Psyched Up

Dodge A. Slagle gets to the bottom of Las Vegans’ problems, one life story at a time

Perhaps it’s expected when you talk to a psychiatrist, but the questions are thoughtfully considered, the responses carefully crafted, the voice soothing, the pace languid. And the common-sense advice he imparts when prompted would help anyone—the harried executive, the out-of-work welder, the anxious teen or the motorist who’s just been cut off in traffic.

“Be respectful of others, and try not to take everything personally. Many of the problems that people have are related to treating something as a personal insult when it really wasn’t,” says Dr. Dodge A. Slagle, who has been treating patients in the Valley since he was assigned to Nellis Air Force Base in 1989.

Las Vegas may have many reputations, not the least of which is the Last Chance Capital of the World. And, sure, this city has 24-hour temptations and stressors not as readily found in other parts of the country, but Slagle says the vast majority of the people here handle them well, and Southern Nevada is not that different from any other place. Those with gambling and alcohol addictions do find their way to Slagle’s Henderson office, but it’s uncommon that those are the only reasons they’re seeking treatment.

He is in business for the far tougher cases, those beyond the purview of primary care doctors who have increasingly taken more of a role in treating depression because of the scarcity of psychiatrists. Patients with treatment-resistant depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia occupy most of his time.

A fifth-generation physician, Slagle was steeped in a culture of helping people. During his rotations in medical school, Slagle always found behavior and psychology the most fascinating, and the only journals he read for pure pleasure were psychology-related.

“Every patient is different—every story,” he says. “The factors that led somebody to get to this place in their life are always very different. It’s always very interesting to me to hear those stories and put them together in a way that may help this person get better.”

Early interventions are the most satisfying, and being in one place for a long time has allowed Slagle to see the trajectory of the difference he’s making. While some patients are in emergency situations (in jails and in hospitals), most of the work is done over the long haul. “My field is an experiential one,” Slagle says. “The longer you see somebody over the course of time, the more you understand how they view the world, how they understand themselves in their own life, and knowing that helps you help them.”

The current economic climate adds a layer of anxiety to whatever underlying illness a patient is battling. Las Vegans are “stressed,” in Slagle’s admittedly biased view. “If you’re not worried about yourself, you’re worried about someone you care about.” Married and a father of three, Slagle dabbles in photography and is a historical site steward for the Bureau of Land Management. He also started teaching a Behavioral Medicine andPsychiatry class at Touro University, an experience he finds satisfying—and much-needed. “Touro is a wonderful place that’s doing a lot to help generate doctors for this community. We’re in scarce supply in a lot of areas, and most people don’t even know it’s there.”

While most people’s impressions of psychiatrists may have formed after watching Frasier Crane on television for 20 years or Hannibal Lecter in a darkened theater, Slagle doesn’t mind. “Most of the depictions of psychiatrists are either frightening or comical, and that’s OK, unless it puts someone off from coming in and getting some help.”

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