Why a Diagnosis Is Just the Start

By | April 13, 2020

I’ve worked as a professional psychologist for over ten years. I’ve practice in New York, Louisiana, and California. I’ve also practiced in Beijing, China. For the couple of years, I’ve taken a step back from my coaching/therapy practice and have traveled while writing my forthcoming book, Toxic Insecurity. My travels have taken me to countries where people do engage in psychotherapy on a regular basis: Argentina and Europe. The only difference is that clients in Europe seem to get better. At first, I thought this was just an erroneous perception based on my professional burnout. Then I ended up in a lecture while in Italy by an American PhD who is also a Jungian Analyst and shaman. He reported that his experiences, when he travels to Europe are similar — his clients get better whereas they stay stuck in the US.

Why? This particular psychologist believes that most Europeans maintain a connection to some spirituality and thus see mental health challenges as part of their path. They are therefore more open to exploring what their symptoms may mean from a spiritual perspective and are less scared by them. They also seem to question their diagnoses at a higher rate than we do in the United States and thus seek out his consultation services as a second opinion. It seems in the US, because most of us are disconnected from our body and soul, we simply give our power up to doctors who may not be the right people to help us on our whole journey. To me, this makes logical sense — there is no one person with all the answers. We do have to take responsibility for eventually traveling our own path but few of us get an education in how to do this. It is unnecessarily painful and ridiculously lonely. Finances also make it difficult to access services that may be more appropriate (although there is ample data to indicate those that live in poorer countries but have better access to relationships are actually happier. Money does not equate happiness.).

I do not take these words lightly. My father suffered from what would be a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder with psychotic features. His first hospitalization was when I was six years old. No one told me where my father went nor ever explained why he would not return home for two plus years. His symptoms were classic — stability with medication for a few years to be followed by manic or depressive symptoms. My father also suffered from addictions to alcohol and nicotine. He tried his best to get well but, unfortunately, drowned in a tragic accident when I was fifteen years old. His illness traumatized our family and made me angry enough that I entered the mental health field where I worked with children. Yet, I always knew that someone missed something — conventional mental health treatment failed my father. Conventional mental health treatment has failed many of my former patients. We need more options and everyone needs more support.

As I’ve gone down my own healing journey and researched what was really happening to my father, I’ve come to realize that he had profound intuitive gifts and that his manic episodes were likely tied to massive spiritual awakening symptoms. It is possible he would have done much better with a shaman in South American than in the east coast’s best psychiatric hospital. He most certainly would have done better in a less controlling family that simply supported his exploratory desires. Unfortunately, he would not live long enough to try these other options. He died the year before Prozac hit the market and not one mental health professional recommended anything other than what was considered “standard care” at the time.

We all have to be brave enough to realize that conventional medicine may or may not be the right choice for all people. Talk therapy may or may not be helpful. Medication may or may not work. There is no one path to healing mental illness and yet my profession likes to think that there is. It really is up to each one of us to be brave enough to trust our intuition about the professionals we interact with and the healing journey we take. We need to trust our intuition about what type of interventions we need. We need to trust that when we are really ready to take the steps to heal, help will arrive but we will have to bravely face our fear to accept it. My profession also needs to lose its ego and help educate people on all the different paths toward healing. I’ve personally had to fire therapists for giving me a hard time for stoping talk therapy to explore somatic therapy— a decision that would be a huge turning point in healing my anxiety.

It really is the fear that something is wrong with us that stops us from exploring the right treatment options. When we live in this fear, we take the words of a professional more seriously than our intuition. If the Europeans can begin to look at their serious mental illness as a journey and trust their intuition that they haven’t found the right interventions to help — perhaps we can too. Our change of perception of what mental illness is within ourselves and in our communities will give us a better and more secure foundation for us to explore and advocate for the types of interventions that may make a difference. Most people with serious mental health issues are some of our most wonderfully emotionally sensitive and creative souls with extraordinary gifts. These are people like my father who was an inventor and engineer way ahead of his time. Our communities starve when we do not take care to support and nurture those struggling to learn how to manage their emotions. Our current mental health crisis is not only destroying the lives of amazing people but it is destroying our communities.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I write this article to not only remember my father who struggled with his mental illness until his early death but to encourage each and every one of you to keep trying. The work is not easy but we need more of you to tell your stories so people like my father know they are not alone. Fear is the barrier we all face — maybe its simply time to face the world together. You are not alone.

It all depends on how we look at things, and not how they are in themselves. — Carl Jung

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Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes is a licensed psychologist, relationship expert and the forthcoming author of Toxic Insecurity: Our Search for Authentic Love. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @jenniferbrhodes.

This post was previously published on Invisible Illness and is republished here with permission from the author.

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