I just read an article by a colleague that draws an important distinction between the terms Mental Health and Mental Illness. The term Mental Health is often erroneously used to describe illness: mental health counseling, mental health diagnosis, mental health concerns or issues and so on. True Mental HEALTH has gotten lost in the translation and obscured by the concept of mental illness. Traditional graduate programs in psychology and psychiatry don’t teach anything about Innate Mental Health, they only teach about mental “illness” and “disorders.” They don’t focus on innate Resilience or have any explanation for complete recovery from so called disorders, except to say that someone is in remission or was not properly diagnosed in the first place.
While people who are suffering psychologically deserve help and their symptoms should be considered “medically necessary,” labeling them as ill or disordered is counterproductive. Early in my career as a Mental HEALTH Therapist, I facilitated Day Treatment therapy groups with people who were diagnosed with “serious and persistent mental illness.” Just writing the words ‘serious and persistent’, pains me. Many of my clients in those groups took their labels very seriously and therefore had a narrow and limited view of their ability to recover, be well, thrive and so on. They were subdued into believing they were ill for life, they could only learn to “cope” with their symptoms and that medication was a life long necessity. Many believed they were fundamentally flawed or broken.
Then, I came along and told them they were whole, undamaged, resilient and wise. I helped them rediscover their innate capacity for enduring peace of mind through an understanding of the principles behind the human experience. They learned to view mental illness symptoms, whatever those may be: depressed mood, feeling anxious, auditory hallucinations, paranoia, mania, psychosis, delusions, flashbacks… as the result of thoughts being brought to life via consciousness. They came to understand their trauma symptoms as manifestations of the stress response activated and reactivated overtime. They learned, that brain chemistry is altered if a person unknowingly thinks depressing, fearful, stress producing thoughts all day, every day, week after week, month after month and year after year. They learned that underneath all that mental activity lies pure spirit untouched by any “illness symptoms.”
In case anyone reading this is wondering, I always made sure my clients feel NO BLAME for their symptoms. No one means to pick up thought habits or get out of balance. Just as we don’t intend to collect lint on our clothing, it just lands there. It is a fact of human nature that we get conditioned and naturally collect thought habits, some of which work against us by bringing a bad feeling or low mood or nervousness or anger or hallucinations. We are like fish in water that don’t realize they are swimming. We don’t see the power of thought and consciousness bringing our experience through us in the moment. But it is only and always through the gifts of Mind, Thought and Consciousness that we can have any feeling, mood, perception or memory. I will go into further detail on these principles in part two of this article.
The results I saw working in those groups were amazing. Those who had insight into how the mind works and saw they were innately mentally healthy got better. Many reduced symptoms and had an easier time abstaining from street drugs and alcohol. Many recovered completely and tapered off their prescribed drugs. Some stayed about the same, but felt more hopeful.
Several years later I was being trained in Diagnostic Assessments for licensure as a Mental Health Professional. The man who was training me was questioning a young woman about her symptoms. Every time she did not provide the proper answer according to him, he would wind around and ask again, and again, and again… Finally, she would admit to something like voices or delusions or whatever. I was stunned! I saw him as interrogating and pressuring her for a response that he wanted rather than really listening to her. He defended himself by saying that many clients are not “good reporters” and therefore need prodding and repetition to get the right answers. He was well intended and meant what he said. I knew he was innocently doing the best he could. He was just doing what he had been trained to do.
That day was an eye opener for me. I saw how innocently off course the behavioral health field is. I witnessed this same theme over and over again while working in different agencies. The focus on diagnosing illness, to get the proper treatment is pervasive. It is no mystery why the DSM V is bigger than IV and will continue to get bigger as new “diagnoses” are “discovered.” I wonder if these diagnoses would exist if people weren’t looking for them. Diagnoses are not Things. They are simply a collection of thought/feeling/behavioral patterns with labels.
I feel so fortunate to have learned the principles behind how the mind works and to know beyond any doubt that human beings are born with pure mental health available to them 24/7. Therefore, when I meet with a client I don’t put any limits on their recovery. I am so grateful to be able to work with people from a place of compassion and hope while listening deeply to them as human beings and not their “diagnoses.”