As a psychoanalyst, people often approach me and ask something like “what is mental health?” Usually this comes in the form of a joking question, “are you analyzing me?” I try to respond thoughtfully, recognizing that somehow a mental health professional may make people uncomfortable, as if I am judging them. I try to reassure them, I have enough on my plate and I’m not looking to work outside of the office.
There is a implied and important question here however, which I articulate as “what does it mean to be mentally healthy?” First of all, anything in this blog post is not meant to be the final word on mental health or wellness. The practical answer here is: the job of a therapist is to help people understand themselves better, and to use that understanding to improve or change the ways they interact with the world and with others. It is sort of akin to coaching, except that the therapist doesn’t prescribe how the person should live their life or making decisions, but instead helps the person think about what choices they make (consciously and unconsciously) so that the person becomes a more informed decision maker – more able to know what they value, what actions/behaviors work effectively for them, and what they hope to pursue in the world (jobs, hobbies, relationships, etc.)
An example of this can be found in everyday life -we live in a world that is rapidly changing. Every day brings local, national and international news that something has shifted, changed, etc. and as people we have to be able to adapt to this changing reality, while still meeting our basic needs for food, shelter, and companionship. This adaptation is made harder by the fact that some of the ways we have of being in the world may be problematic. We may have learned things from our families or communities (or from lack thereof) that shape our decisions but lead to really bad results. These can be extreme – like toxic relationships, drug use, etc., or more subtle like how we interact with our significant others, our children, and ourselves. A good therapy relationship should help one examine the many choices one makes every day, and try to improve or enhance the ones that are not effective, so as to create action steps that lead to a more satisfying life. The goal is not to provide a “formula for happiness” but to truly help the person feel empowered enough and knowledgeable enough about themselves, to lead a life that is more rewarding and in line with one’s values.
If this sounds like something that intrigues you, give us a call (248-514-4955) and schedule an appointment today.