Mental health treatment: 7 truths for the journey towards healing

I came across a pretty inspiring book the other day. The book, Beating Bipolar, by Blake Levine, was located during my search to help a client who seemed to be stuck processing her bipolar disorder diagnosis. Recalling his own story of his healing journey, Levine provides an impressive account of how he managed to turn his bipolar diagnosis into strength by guiding others with this illness as a professional life coach.

Bipolar disorder is a condition previously termed ‘manic depression’ because the person experiences periods of depression and periods of mania, with periods of normal mood in between. Mania can involve racing thoughts and speech, irritability and little need for sleep that is not just a fleeting experience. Sometimes the person loses touch with reality and has episodes of psychosis involving hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there) or delusions (for e.g. the person believing he or she has superpowers). The combination of mania and depression can feel like a dangerous and destructive emotional rollercoaster.

Bipolar disorder, and in fact any mental illness, is described by Levine as a disease of choices. You can choose to take one path or another, and there will be many crossroads along the way. Ultimately, you have to choose whether you will stay stuck inside your own world of pain, or whether you are prepared to work towards emotional stability. This is your choice to make and no one can make it for you. As Levine notes, you cannot pop a pill and declare yourself well. Proper healing is not that simple. True, genuine healing is about being selective of how to live your life and adhering to those values.

In the process of exploring, learning and eventually accepting what it means to have a mental health condition, the book asks an individual to answer 7 truths. They are:

1. Accept or reject your illness. Any doctor or psychologist can give a diagnosis and tell you all about it, but you have to be the one to acknowledge it. And that takes an incredible amount of courage. Not for the sake of accepting a ‘label’ but rather in order to seek the correct treatment. By not being invested enough to take on the meaning of the diagnosis, chances are you will become stuck.

2. Accept or reject the work that comes with bipolar disorder (or your diagnosis). Life with a mental health condition can be so challenging that it appears insurmountable and unfair. It is true that maneuvering through substandard mental health units is devastating (and at times traumatising) for most people. However, being able to overcome the setbacks and learn from them, in order to continue to work towards emotional stability (and avoid inpatient mental health units in the process) creates an inner strength that will be able to see you through the lowest points of your life.

3. Accept or reject that you will most likely need medication. For bipolar, medication to tame the mania and lift the depression (and therefore bring increased emotional stability) can be highly effective. However, only if it is used consistently by sticking to the regime over time. Medication must be maintained even when you start to feel better. Finding the right combination takes time, persistence and patience (and close monitoring by your psychiatrist or treating doctor). Weight gain, a common side effect of medication, can throw extra challenges your way, however until emotional stability is achieved, attaining other goals will be futile.

4. Accept or reject that you’ll need therapy and peer support. Levine writes “We share many trials as bipolar individuals, but isolation may be the most profound among them. Feeling alone is a universal experience for people with any mental illness, particularly this one. Not surprisingly, there are many reasons for it. Perhaps you’re too embarrassed about your mood swings and the past damage linked to your illness that you don’t reach out to others. Or maybe you have too many bottled up feelings stemming from other personal baggage to connect easily. Whatever the driving force, working with a mental health professional will help you sort out your issues and learn to connect with people”.

5. Accept or reject that your family’s participation and role in your life and illness might have to be modified to suit your healing. Emotionally stable people have a support network. We all need one, no exceptions. If you have nourishing, strong bonds with your family members, they will play a crucial role in your healing. However, there could also be some family dynamics causing considerable pain and stress and you will be the one to decide whether you can rely on the people in your current network for the long haul. If there are things getting in the way of your connection with them then you will need to find and create a different type of support system. This need is critical for living life in a connected way.

6. Accept or reject that you have to change aspects of your lifestyle. The reality of the situation is this: your mental health condition and any medications you are on do not mix well with drinking and substance abuse. These both cloud your thinking and impair your decision making. If your moods are not regulated yet, they can be lethal. Even having a drink now and then should be discussed with your doctor. Abstinence or moderation combined with a healthy diet, exercise and plenty of sleep are part of living healthy with a mental health condition.

7. Accept or reject that Bipolar (or your diagnosis) isn’t an end; it’s a beginning. The choice is yours. Levine states that the knee jerk reaction to mental illness is to run, particularly if you feel there is nothing to be gained by fighting. But he states that every time we experience pain, we have a chance to see that our struggles in our lives are put here in order to teach us lessons and help us grow. You are stronger than you think, and as long as you have courage, you will face whatever comes your way. The payoff, according to Levine, is to have a life filled with the affirming 4 H’s:
Hope
Health
Happiness
Healing
Whatever your individual journey and constraints, to work towards wellness will allow you to master your illness and your life, and that has to be worth the fight. Staying balanced takes time, patience and unwavering commitment, however hopefully if you are up for the task you too can start the healing journey right now, without wasting another minute, by listening to, exploring and accepting some of these truths. I wish you wellness and great success in your quest for what we are all searching for in life: Hope, Health, Happiness and Healing.

Sources:
Beating Bipolar by Blake Levine
Beyond Blue www.beyondblue.org.au

By: Alison Lenehan
Psychologist

The Givers and Takers in our lives:

The Givers and Takers. Are they different types of people, and are the outcomes in business the same?

By

Lyn Worsley,Clinical Psychologist

What is the differences for those who are successful?

What are the differences for those who are successful?

Researchers have recently discovered that there are three different types of people according to how they give or take from others. This is particularly evident in the business world and transferable to all parts of our lives.

Adam Grant (2013) researched a number of large companies and assessed the culture of people’s giving and taking styles.  He found three styles of giving and taking. He also assessed their success in business as well as in their personal lives.

Firstly he found there were the givers who give more than they take and feel guilty if someone returns a favour. Then there were the takers who were very good at networking with people in order to gain. Thirdly there are those who are the matchers who match what they give by expecting a return or they match what they take by giving back the same amount.

 Givers and takers choices:

Grant’s research revealed that in every successful person there are choices they make when they approach other people. The choices involve thinking about whether they should claim as much value as they can, or whether they contribute value to that person or whether they work out how much is owed for the service that is given. What was interesting is that Grant discovered there was a difference in how successful givers and takers were.  He found that the most successful people in business were the givers and the least successful people were also the givers, leaving the takers and matchers in the middle.

 Differences between successful givers and non-successful givers:

From the results of his first analysis Grant went to work out the differences between the successful givers and the not so successful givers and he found some very interesting results. There was a difference in how the successful givers gave. The successful givers had a style that genuinely sought the benefit of others. They were outward focussed, were excited about another’s success, and did not attribute the success to them-selves. Those who were the unsuccessful givers also looked outward however they gave because they felt obligated. They “should do this” etc. and they gave compulsively. This compulsive giving actually meant that they often gave inappropriately, or gave when it was not really all that helpful. So in essence the successful givers were more appropriate givers.

 Differences with Takers in business.

Grant discovered takers appeared to like to get more than they gave as they enjoyed a bargain. Takers also put their own interest ahead of others needs. Takers appeared to believe the world was a competitive, dog-eat-dog place and felt that to succeed they needed to be better than others. To prove their competence, takers self promote and made sure they got plenty of credit for their efforts. Takers were not cruel or cutthroat, but they were cautious and over protective. The dominant thought was “if I don’t look out for myself first, others will take advantage of me, and no one else will look out for me.”

A number of years ago, I remember distinctly talking to a businessman who said we can be nice and caring in our personal lives, but business is business. He told me that if you want to succeed you have to play the game. At the time it didn’t sit right with me but he appeared to be a very successful businessman, so I assumed that I must be wrong. He certainly told people he was successful and drove a nice car, and lived in a nice house.  A number of years later he poached staff from a reputable service company, rendering them insolvent. He had networked with the staff and led them to believe they would be a better off with him, rather than staying in the service company. Unfortunately a number of staff left their stable jobs, to find they were overworked and underpaid resulting in the severe burnout with two of the staff only 6 months later.

The costs of taking and giving:

If you are a taker, you help others strategically when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. If you are a giver, you might use a different cost benefit analysis, you help when ever the benefits to others exceeds the personal cost.   Alternatively you may help others without the thought of personal costs at all. Furthermore if you are a giver at work you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills ideas and connections with other people who can benefit from them.

The difference in business and personal lives:

According to a Yale Psychologist Margaret Clark, most people act like givers in close relationships. She notes that in marriage and friendships, we contribute whenever we can without keeping score but in the workplace, give and take becomes more complicated. Professionally, few of us act purely like givers or takers adopting a third style of relating. Matchers operate on the principal or fairness. When they help others they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity. If you are a matcher, you believe in tit for tat, and your business relationships are governed by even exchanges of favours.

You might find that you shift from one reciprocity style to another as you change your work roles. You can act like a taker when you negotiate your salary, a giver when you mentor someone with less experience, and a matcher when you share with a colleague. But the research shows that at work, people develop a primary reciprocity style, which captures how they approach most people most of the time. What is interesting is that this style of relating can play as much a role in the success in business as hard work, talent and luck.

Studies of success:

Grant studied medical students, and found that those with the lowest grades and the highest grades were the givers.  He also researched sales people finding that the least productive salespeople had 25 percent higher giver scores, but so did the most productive salespeople who averaged 50 percent more annual revenue than the takers and matchers. His studies with engineers showed those who were least successful were the givers as they were more concerned about making sure they could help other which prevented them from completing their work on time, completing drawings and missing deadlines.  However, those engineers who were successful had the highest giving scores and were known for their quantity and quality in their work. These conflicting results demanded further analysis and Grant continued to investigate the personalities and motivations behind the givers and takers.

Grant found that there was a myth around givers, that they are nice and altruistic people. He noted that the givers at the top of the success ladder had goals for their own achievement, and they were as ambitious as the takers and matchers however they had a different way of pursuing the goals.

The differences are clearer when the successful giver wins, or achieves success. When takers win, there is usually someone else who loses. Research shows that people tend to envy successful takers and look for ways to knock them down a notch. So you often see someone who is going well in business for a while and then they collapse. It is likely they are a matcher or a taker rather than a giver in business. These differences are very subtle.

In contrast when successful givers win, people tend to cheer on and support them. Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them. The differences lie in how the giver success creates value instead of just claiming it.  It was also found in the research that those who were successful givers had taken longer to achieve the success than those who were takers, and when they achieved the success they maintained it because they had the supporters with them. So being a giver is not good for the 100 meter dash, but is valuable in a marathon.

Changes in our society of giving and taking:

Grant, as an organisational psychologist noted a number of changes that have occurred in the process of doing his research. He noted that in the 1980’s the percentage of people working in jobs that provided services to others was 50%, and that today, 80% of people are providing service sector work. He surmised that this would cause a shift in the expectations of the people you provide a service too. That is, since they are paying for more services they would expect a greater service (ie. if they are takers, they want more than they pay for and if they are matchers they will want a quality service)

This shift means that to succeed in business you will need to exceed the expectation of the general public.   So for a successful business, you want to have people working for you with a giver style of relating, can see the best interest of others and see the benefit for others outweighs their personal effort. Basically he notes that if we want to do well in business we need to employ people who are givers. However to employ successful givers we too, need to be givers and not takers.  The simple truth of this is that your business needs to work for the clients and serve the clients, and the measure of success for the business should be the gain for the client not the financial turnover.

 It comes all back to you:It is up to us

If you give first, and people are out there seeing the value of your work and come away with feelings of satisfaction and value added, they will hold onto that feeling and either pay it forward or let others know.

If you give in both your work and your personal lives, the success will be slow but will be evident in your life through the close connections you have and the readiness of others to learn from you. After all, when our lives have a positive impact on others, we see our significance and purpose in this world.

References:

Grant, A (2013).  Give and Take: A revolutionary approach to success. Weidenfeld             and Nicolson,  London UK

Clark, M.S. Mills, J. (1993).  The Difference between communal and exchange             relationships: What it is and is not. Personality and Social Psychology             Bulletin 19: (pp 684-691)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Challenge Your Internal Critic

loving self image
“I can never do anything right” . “I always say the dumbest things”. “Why am I so stupid?”. Have you ever said these things to yourself? If you’re like the rest of us, chances are you have. Often. However, if these thought patterns continue as a form of running commentary all day every day (meaning they are left virtually unattended), they have potentially damaged your sense of self. We get so used to these whisperings that we do not even notice they are there. So they shape our lives.

According to a type of psychotherapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), our mind is like a master storyteller continuously telling us stories. It is in a constant monologue with us from the second we wake until the second we go to sleep. In fact, even as we sleep our storyteller continues to tell its stories or replay memories (often painful ones). According to this approach, very little of what your ‘storyteller’ (your mind) tells you (via thoughts) is fact where there is a ‘true’ and ‘false’. Rather, the stories are opinions, judgements, criticisms, beliefs, assumptions, and ideals. They are simply a reflection of the way you see the world. And these stories can be changed. So, the mind creates a narrative based on interpretation. Once formed, this narrative is hard to dismantle.

A thought is just a thought. It is neither ‘you’ nor reality. It arises, lingers in consciousness for a relatively short while then fades. It is just a mental event that passes through the mind like clouds or weather patterns passing through the sky. We are always explaining the world to ourselves, and we react emotionally to these explanations rather than to the facts. All the feelings we feel are brought on not by the events in our lives, but rather the interpretation of these events.

We can be drawn into thinking our thoughts are true and they are us and we are them. Once we become them we can fall into ruminative brooding, basically going over and over an event in our minds, all the while pushing our emotional buttons and increasing our stress and anxiety levels, causing overwhelming demoralising feelings.

The ‘blueprint’ for how we treat ourselves was formed when we were children via the emotional availability of our parent or main caregiver . When an infant cries, the emotionally attuned parent attends to the infant. The process that ensues of soothing, reassurance and nurturance are all displays of ‘love’ that, when repeated hundreds of times per day, are critical to that infant’s identity development and sense of self.

So, why is it that the same person with the same ideals can be the nurturing, kind, positive support to their best friend when something goes wrong yet be the harsh, rude and stern internal critic to themself when they face the same type of experience? Do you treat yourself the way you would like others to treat you?

Try these 5 immediate ways to challenge your internal critic as outlined in The Happiness Trap (they’re so simple they may seem unrealistic, but they work):

1. Anytime you feel stressed, anxious or depressed ask yourself ‘what is my mind telling me now?’ Then ask yourself “Is this thought helpful? Does it make me the person I want to be?” If it is unhelpful, practice being more mindful of it using the techniques below.

2. When a distressing thought arises, repeat the thought in your head after inserting this phrase: “I’m having a thought that…”. When you practice this repeatedly you will find some distance being created as if you have ‘stepped back’ from the unpleasant thought.

3. Identify your mind’s favourite demoralising stories then give them names, such as ‘The Loser Story or the I’m Worthless Story. Then, when they pop up say ‘Ah yes, I recognise this familiar story’.

4. When a common self-critical thought comes into your head, defuse its hold on you by singing it to yourself to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Jingle Bells’ or another tune. As you practice this over time you will realise the thought is simply a collection of words, just like the lyrics of a song.

5. Remember, the story is the story. The story is NOT the event. Avoid holding on to these too tightly.

By practicing letting go of disparaging and demoralising thoughts, we are removing the shackles that keep us trapped in the prison of our own minds. Only then can we begin to learn how to observe the same respect for ourselves that we so readily offer others.

As the common Buddhist saying goes: “You can explore the universe looking for somebody who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and you will not find that person anywhere”.

References and further reading:
The Happiness Trap, by Russ Harris.

The Mindful Way Through Depression. Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness, by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn.

By: Alison Lenehan
Psychologist, Alpha Psychology

Hope

by May Lim
Registered Psychologist
Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre

Hope.

HopeA reason for surviving. A reason for living. A reason to keep going despite facing adversity.

I really do feel encouraged and hungry to know more every time someone introduces me to Hope. This thing called Hope – it’s amazing and powerful. I’ve seen it when it’s full and generous; when it’s fragile and fading and also when it’s been lost and found.

When I encounter people who have experienced suffering in their lives, I like to be respectfully curious about what has encouraged them to persevere. My experiences supporting asylum seekers and refugees living and waiting in detention has further allowed me to witness the significance of hope in keeping life alive. I would invite them to consider, “If you are a candle and your hope is your flame, what would your flame look like now?” Many responses communicated that their flames were weak and faint. Despite the condition of their flames, one thing was for sure – though their flames were often flickering unsteadily, they certainly were not extinguished. Though their hope was not at its strongest and at grand heights, it was still alive and served a purpose.

Despite living through trauma and torture, witnessing atrocities and death, being displaced from their homes, enduring separation from family as well as facing an uncertain future for an unknown length of time, just how did Hope manage to stay alive and keep its job?

From my conversations with people I’ve met, it was love.

A strong and steadfast love for their family and all of its members – children, their spouse, parents, siblings and grandparents. A hope for a future filled with safety, promise and new beginnings for themselves and their loved ones. How powerful is love in its ability to protect and engineer hope? I witnessed how individuals can grow and strengthen their hope as a result of deriving meaning from suffering. It is truly encouraging to experience the positive changes that occur when one’s relationship with suffering shifts into a purposeful one.

Friedrich Nietzsche stated “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”.

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears towards a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how” ” , Viktor Frankl outlined in Man’s Search for Meaning (2006), detailing descriptions of life and spiritual survival in Nazi concentration camps.

Frankl continues to describe, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which would determine whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become moulded into the form of the typical inmate”.

“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity- even under the most difficult circumstances- to add a deeper meaning to his life” (Frankl, 2006).

I am inspired and encouraged by people who have met adversity and suffering with a deliberate attitude of hope. Moreover, it is of such value when experiences of suffering become much more than just a narrative – when there is meaning accompanying it. This distinction often makes the difference in the growth of hope for the person as well as others who later learn from this.

It is also noteworthy to highlight that suffering is not necessary to find meaning, only that “meaning is possible in spite of suffering” (Frankl, 2006).

Hope has a beautiful recipe of turning challenges into triumphs. It can propel us to choose how to cope with difficulties, draw meaning from it and coax us in a forward facing direction. Hope can be instrumental in the formation of helpful attitudes and can also be contagious.

When we reflect on the “why” and our purpose for travelling through hard times, this may be unique for every person. Perhaps it’s out of love and commitment to loved ones, a promise made to ourselves, a test of our spiritual faith, a relentless goal for the future, a need to experience positive changes, a lesson longing to be passed down to the next generation, a desire to acquaint ourselves with a stronger developed self, a hope for healing and restoration, a want for reconnection to others or maybe a search for a deeper meaning in life.

Whatever your reasons are for persisting through hardship, may they arm you and fuel you with Hope and more of it.

 

 

Reference:
Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning. Massachusetts: Beacon Press.

May Lim is a Registered Psychologist at Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre.
Read more about her @maylim