Dr. Hagan

Terry Hagan M.D.

Hello, I am Dr. Terry Hagan. I have been practicing general outpatient psychiatry for the last 17 years after completing my psychiatry residency at the University of Louisville. Before that and after graduating from U of L Medical School in 1979, I did a neurosurgery residency at U of L and then practiced neurosurgery here in Louisville for 16 years. I am board certified by The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Play Video

I came to love the process of developing insight into one’s own psychology. As I closed my neurosurgery practice and completed a residency in psychiatry, I was so grateful the entire time for the opportunity to turn myself into a psychiatrist.

Most people are impressed to learn that I was a neurosurgeon before becoming a psychiatrist. When I was a medical student, I found the workings of the brain to be quite interesting enough. I chose to specialize in it, and the idea of doing a particularly difficult and lengthy residency in neurosurgery was not a problem for me. I knew I would finish by the time I was 30 years old. Graduating from the University of Louisville School of Medicine in 1979, I completed my residency in neurosurgery at U of L in 1985. I practiced neurosurgery for the next 16 years.

About a year after I started practicing neurosurgery, a close friend recommended that I see a psychologist. She saw that I was struggling. The issues I had with my father were very much like the issues she had had with her mother, and she said that therapy had really helped her to get her head straight.

I saw Al for about a year, and it was about 3 months into it that he taught me one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned. I had grown up as the oldest of three sons, in a very small town in which my father was the only doctor. Mom and Dad prided themselves on being two of the three college graduates in town, and the pressure was on me to be a high achiever as well. My father was a very good father for the most part and was a well-respected physician, but then he had several drinks every night. He often became a raging alcoholic, viciously critical of anyone and everyone. Sometimes my mother would have to close the kitchen window so our neighbors would not hear the ranting. I grew up in that environment.

Want to learn more about Dr. Hagan?

So the lesson Al taught me was about my lack of happiness related to feelings of inadequacy. Even though I had become a brain surgeon, I did not have a healthy self-regard. Al explained to me that my father, in his drive to succeed and to push me to succeed, would never let me savor a victory, that whenever I achieved something important, he would ask, . “How could you have done it better?” Or “what is next?”. He was setting the bar at perfection, such that nothing less than perfection was going to be good enough. Al said, “Nobody is perfect”, and that I would be much happier deciding what degree of imperfection I was going to settle for. When one sets the bar at perfection, then every effort falls short of perfection and is therefore a relative failure, it becomes yet more evidence of one’s belief that he is fundamentally flawed and inadequate. He said that we are all always doing our best, and that is not fair for my father or for me myself to tell myself that I am not good enough. It was the single most important piece of wisdom that I would learn for the next several decades, and I have told this story many times to those who, like me, grew up to have similar issues.

After seeing Al for a year, another year or two went by. One day at church I was listening to a talk from a psychotherapist who had grown up in a family in which his mother was an alcoholic and his father was a workaholic. His story sounded so much like mine that I decided to see him professionally to “learn more about this garbage in my head”. I saw Paul for two years.

A few years later, life had become quite stressful. I was married with three small children, practicing neurosurgery full time and doing some farming on the side. It was at this time that I started seeing my third therapist, the one that I would see for most of the next 10 years. Keith was a psychiatrist, an MD like me, who did only psychotherapy. A few months after starting my therapy with Keith, I realized that I liked what he did better than what I did. The process of therapy is that of developing an increasing awareness of how one got to be the way he or she is, starting with childhood issues. Specifically, this type of therapy is called “psychodynamic psychotherapy”.

Three years into my experience with Keith, I made the final decision that I would rather be a psychiatrist, because I came to love the process of developing insight into one’s own psychology. As I closed my neurosurgery practice and completed a residency in psychiatry, I was so grateful the entire time for the opportunity to turn myself into a psychiatrist. “Who gets to do that?!” Years later a patient was looking at the books on my bookshelf and asked, “So you were a neurosurgeon; did you like it?” I had been asked many times why I decided to give up neurosurgery to become a psychiatrist, but no one had ever asked if I liked neurosurgery. The answer had to be that no, I did not. I did not like who I was. But I have loved psychiatry from the very beginning, and I really appreciate the contribution it has had in my own personal development.

But because of my heavy early experience in psychotherapy, I also became proficient and experienced in both psychodynamic psychotherapy and in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). And I attended the Cincinnati Psychoanalytic Institute for a year to take my psychotherapy skills to a higher level.

During the 17 years that I have been practicing psychiatry, I have continued to grow. The most gratifying experiences I have had have been when I have settled into a psychotherapy relationship with a patient, while there have been many, others with whom I have combined psychiatry with psychodynamic therapy, practicing psychodynamic psychiatry.

During these same years, I have also been on several mission trips, which have given me perspectives that I would never have learned otherwise. The concepts of loving your neighbor, giving of your time and resources, being kind and gentle and gracious, have come to define me.

I have always been at the head of my own practice, managing my own business. I have experience with other businesses as well, such as being a successful alpaca breeder for 10 years. “They do not teach business in medical school.” In a growing psychiatry practice, running the business is something you learn from necessity.