A Conceptual Revolution

The creative side of culture change

Can We Create Mental Health?

A nationwide call for creating community solutions to the mental health crisis.

There’s an important dialogue on mental health taking place online right now, and I urge Psychology Today bloggers and readers to join it. It’s called What Is Mental Health? How Do We Create It? 

I’ve logged in to the site and am reading many voices, both therapists and clients (and others who are neither, but interested and concerned). So far, it’s a serious and intimate conversation, one well worth joining. One thing I particularly like about it is that in the midst of the not surprising number of comments from people frustrated with the narrowness of the therapy business and its institutional constraints, the facilitators and commenters are also speaking of what can be done—given that. Here’s an example of what I mean, as Dr. Hugh Polk (a psychiatrist and one of four social therapists facilitating the conversation) commented after a series of comments from therapists.

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“Most of the practitioners who’ve posted comments have expressed concerns about the limitations of diagnosis and your feelings of being trapped in a system that requires it. I’ve certainly felt that way myself when I have worked in similar settings. Is there anything we can do to free our patients/clients, and ourselves, from the trap? One thing that I’ve found effective in all the places I’ve worked—including inpatient units in psychiatric hospitals—is to ask my patients if they want to work with me to figure out how to create the treatment together. I make it clear that as a practitioner, I don’t have the answers; I can’t fix them—but I do have skills and experience that can be helpful. I say—and I mean it—that they are not a problem to be fixed, nor an object to be labeled—they are creators of their lives. I’m here to collaborate with them in creating the cure. The question I pose is: ‘How shall we create this treatment together?’ Then you’ll have to deal with them saying they don’t know what you’re talking about! But that’s OK. They don’t have to know, they just have to be willing to do the not-knowing work of building it with you. When you’re doing this with your clients, you’re not diagnosing or labeling them, you’re creating growth with them as partners.”   

Part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health, this conversation is one of several taking place in the Civic Commons initiative, Creating Community Solutions—in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Polk, led off the conversation, which began February 3, saying:

“As mental health practitioners and part of a national network of independent therapy and life coaching centers in New York City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco, we are inviting you to join an international conversation on mental health. As community therapists and coaches we are concerned about the impact of living in a world that is in crisis. In order to help people create the conditions for their well-being, we are organizing a dialogue with progressive therapists and their clients to create a conversation that will explore how we understand and respond to the mental health needs of our communities in such uncertain times. What is mental health? How do we create it within our communities? We look forward to hearing from people with a wide range of viewpoints and experience as practitioners, patients, and people from all walks of life. Please join the conversation and pass this invitation on to others you know who may be interested.” The conversation will continue through March 3.

Can we create mental health? It’s THE question of the day. Let’s get everyone involved. Join the conversation today!

Lois Holzman, Ph.D., is the director of the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy.

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