Challenges in Mental Health Care: The Sickness v. Wellness Perspective (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Mental health care is a challenging, but rewarding field.  There are many positive sides of mental health care, and also areas that need improvement.  One of the biggest rewards of mental health care is observing and experiencing progress, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients.  Healing, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients in mental health settings requires patience, understanding, respect, and sensitivity.  Agency and organizational stability is also needed for clients in order that they receive optimal care.  While each agency and/or organization has its own culture, a culture in which workers live in fear of becoming a statistic in extremely high turnover is unhealthy in itself.

As an individual working toward licensure in the mental health profession, I am one whose perspective is from a position of wellness.  First and foremost, one must view a person as a person.  To perceive and treat a person with respect, kindness, nonjudgment, and impartiality are requirements in supporting and empowering the wellness, healing, and recovery of clients.  In the counseling profession, one based on a view of wellness in people, there exists a positive and supportive hope for the overall optimal health of the individual.

This view is different from many other mental health professions in which the general view of the client is one of sickness.  Certainly, approaching an individual with a perspective of what can be improved is helpful, and for insurance purposes involving payment for services rendered, a diagnosis of the client is required, however it is my perspective that viewing the client from a wellness standpoint is much more healthy for all involved rather than judging a person as being sick.

Those who view and describe an individual as a “sick person” have already negatively judged him or her.  They have not viewed the person as a person, but as an “ill person.”  Such a perspective held by such individuals causes them to treat the client differently, as one who needs more and more treatment, more and more medication, more and more confinement.  In these situations, the positive view of wellness is gone, and is replaced by a judgment that the “sick person” is unable to become well.

While clients have challenges to achieving and maintaining wellness, it becomes even more of a challenge when many in the mental health field view clients as sick, and only they as the professionals who hold those views have the power and expertise to make them well – or they have already judged that they will never become well.  A professional who approaches a client from a perspective of wellness (a perspective that is in the minority), therefore, faces even more challenges, not only for themselves but also for their clients when others view them as sick and unable to become well.  A person is still a person, regardless of their diagnosis or disorder.  A person is still a person, and has the capability of becoming well.  A hopeful perspective toward client wellness must exist in the mental health profession – rather than client sickness – in order that clients are supported and empowered to experience that wellness.

A further challenge in agencies and/or organizations in which a “sickness” perspective prevails is that experienced clinicians fall into the trap of believing that their views and judgments about clients are the best – that they are the experts.  Certainly, the experience of a veteran clinician is extremely valuable in treating clients, however experienced clinicians who believe that only their views, judgments, and culture of sickness are the most helpful approaches create a potentially dangerous situations for their clients.  Clinicians of all levels of experience must be open-minded to considering and perceiving different views – including those from a wellness perspective – so that their clients receive optimal care and so that they profession, itself, can grow and develop in a healthy way.

Clinicians who view clients from a perspective of illness and negative judgment place their clients at risk for further illness.  Clinicians who are set in their ways of expertise toward mental health treatment, and who are unable to be open-minded toward viewing different perspectives regarding it have already erected walls around themselves that are harmful for themselves, their clients, the culture of their agency/organization, and the field of mental health.

What clinicians must always place as a primary priority is that people are people.  As such, people should be treated with dignity, understanding, kindness, respect, and sensitivity.  If a perspective of client wellness is lacking or absent, clients will likely experience a more difficult road to recovery and may not achieve wellness.  What is healthier – being an “expert” clinician whose views of client illness cause him or her to be closed to considering a client’s optimal recovery, or being a clinician who treats a person as a person, and who applies a wellness perspective that supports rather than negatively judges the client?  You be the judge.

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“Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

It is very upsetting, discouraging, disappointing, and disturbing when one approaches another to seek improvement in and/or resolution to a particular matter, and the other person contributes to being part of the problem by not being understanding or supportive about it, rather than being part of the solution.  I experienced this several times, already, this week in relation to school situations.  The person for whom it is most upsetting and disturbing is the child who directly experiences it.  It is always discouraging to experience situations in which the words and behaviors of school employees are part of the problem.  It is encouraging when their words and actions contribute to solutions.

When a family is spending more money on a private school education for their child, they expect more in every area.  Expected is more support, more understanding, more sensitivity, and at least, fairness, particuarly in situations about which upper administration and administration are informed, regardless of by whom they are informed.  Expected is a positive experience for their child.  Expected is fairness, without bullying of the child by either peers or adults.  As one often finds, unfairness and a lack of sensitivity and understanding may be the norm.  Such a norm should not be tolerated or accepted by anyone, nor experienced by the child.

Therefore, people – particularly those in education who work with children every day – can be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.  I much prefer that they be part of the solution, and that it be a positive solution at that.  Situations in which a particular child is repeatedly blamed for standing up for himself or herself to peer bullies who belittle and degrade him – especially in a Christian environment that is supposed to promote Christian values – are particularly frustrating. 

Worse is the educator and/or administrator who can say nothing positive about the child who has stood up for himself or herself, and instead, always finds fault and harshly punishes the child.  Such educators and administrators should be ashamed of themselves for their repeated unfairness, for repeatedly supporting the bullies.  Never do those child bullies receive any consequences for their actions; their words and actions are repeatedly supported.  The victim of the bullying is repeatedly blamed.  Psychologically, this is the blaming of the victim routine.  Unnecessarily, it typically happens to the same child or children who stand up for themselves to the bullies.

It was the same for me when I was in school.  A bully provoked, and provoked, and provoked, and finally, when I stood up for myself, I was blamed and punished by school officials.  The bully who provoked the situation received no consequences, and behaved as though she was the victim to garner more support.  The same types of situations occurred toward my parents and other family members when they were in school.  School should not be a place in which people experience bullying, however it is and has been throughout generations.

I try to teach my child to be patient with others, that when others bully or provoke him, it is their problem.  However, it is difficult and challenging for any child to tolerate or accept being bullied.  In a Christian environment, with a Christian background and upbringing, I try to teach my child to turn the other cheek.  However, others typically perceive those as weak who are patient, kind, and who turn the other cheek. 

Unfortunately, and from what I have found throughout my own life experiences, the most productive way to cause a bully to stop bullying you is to give the bully back some of their own medicine.  For people who are kind, nice, caring, and compassionate, it completely goes against one’s personality to do so.  However, in doing so, the bully typically leaves you alone after that.  They discover that their perception of you was incorrect.  They discover that you have surprised them by standing up to their bullying, to their provocations, to their harsh words and actions. 

I want the best for my child.  I want my child to enjoy going to school.  My child receives and excellent education, however I repeatedly encourage the practice of increased sensitivity, patience, positive reinforcement, support, and understanding.  I do this every year.  Some are more supportive and understanding than others; some will never change. 

There are few who hold the high standards that I do of being caring, compassionate, patient, supportive, sensitive toward, and understanding of children.  To those few, I deeply appreciate you; you are part of the solution.  However, it is those who refuse to see and practice a different and better way who are part of the problem, who contribute to the regression and/or detriment of the child. 

Those who are part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, should not be in education.  They are not positive role models for children.  In this day and age, we desperately need more and more positive role models for children.  So, when are things going to change for the better rather than for the worse?  Positive change and a reassessment toward needed support for children who are repeated targets of bullies is imperative – it is imperative!  Fairness and support are imperative, rather than unfairness and a lack of support!  It is exactly this type of unfairness and lack of support that leads to bullicide – the suicide of students who are bullied, by peers or by adults.  By then, it is too late, and another life has been tragically lost.

Therefore, I encourage each of you to be positive role models for children, and to always be part of the solution – whether in education or any other area – rather than part of the problem!  Be a positive role model for children.  Be open to thinking of saying or doing things in a different and better way.  Be sensitive toward, and considerate, understanding, and supportive of children, for the sake of their mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and physical well-being!