It is common for people to ask therapists, “Are they mentally ill? Is it a mental illness?” This question comes up often from parents asking for their child, who is struggling. If the answer is “Yes,” and if a diagnosis is provided with some root causes added, the parent often feels some relief and is more apt to respond with empathy rather than frustration or anger. I hear this same question raised when people are talking about a public figure like a celebrity, politician or mass shooter. In these cases, the therapist does not have the ability or license to formally diagnose the person but may talk about behaviors consistent with a specific diagnosis. With the diagnostic manual and our training, our license allows us to weigh-in on a diagnosis after personal observation or testing. There are clear lines drawn that delineate if symptoms reach the clinical level qualifying the individual as “mentally ill.” Yet, rather than thinking of mentally healthy and mentally ill in a binary way—mental health goes in one pile and mental illness goes in the other pile—I have found it helpful to think of the mental health-mental illness distinction as a continuum and one that we are all on. In this way of thinking, we all have some mental health and some mental illness. This takes some courage and we must walk past the shame and stigma which would have us externalize any of the bad we see in us, dismissing or at least minimizing it. I heard one person describe it this way—mental illness is anything less than ideal in the way we process, respond to, or treat another person.
Viewing entries posted in 2018
Why the Adage to be a Parent not Your Child’s Friend is Actually Flawed
I often hear parents or parent educators utter the adage, “You should be a parent, not a friend, to your child”. I think this goes largely unchallenged in our culture. And the current ubiquitous criticism of parents as helicopter-parents or snowplow parents describes a parent who spends every ounce of their energy to remove discomfort and struggle from the child’s life and wants the child to approve of them. I believe there is a problem with this blanket criticism and the problem may start with our understanding of what it means to be a friend and only partly to do with our understanding of the role of a parent.
Families who make the difficult and courageous decision to send their child to wilderness therapy often hear from concerned friends and local professionals. These caring individuals have questions about “Wilderness Therapy.” Maybe they have heard stories of such programs or maybe the idea of sending a child away for treatment seems contrary to the notion that healing must happen in the family where the young person is surrounded by those that love him or her most.