A psychotherapist's journey of discovery

I have been fortunate to have two diverse careers: an engineer and a psychotherapist. Because of this, my approach to helping people with Mental Health conditions was unique. While the psychotherapist focused on helping, the engineer was more interested in performance measurement - speed, effectiveness, quality, and sustainability.

In my first few years, I would see people up to five times, but then four, and ultimately a maximum of three while having them measure their success. In other words, they measured my performance, not vice versa.

I could do this because of simultaneous goals: to find solutions for each individual but to do it quickly without sacrificing long-term sustainability. This required me to develop a unique approach focussed on a technique developed by surgeons in the First World War who were dealing with trauma. I learned many things about Mental Health conditions this way, and I would like to share some of these here.

The very term ‘Mental Health’ is unhelpful. It implies there’s something wrong up top; if that’s the case, only a professional can fix it. This is so disempowering. It encourages abdication of responsibility and results in doctor’s visits, medication, therapy, psychiatry, and most likely more medication. It’s a path very much needed for some, but in my experience, not for the majority. I much prefer the term ‘Emotional Health’.

We all live with emotional health, and I think of it as a continuum from happy to sad - or emotionally well to emotionally distressed. People at the emotionally distressed end will likely refer to themselves by labels such as having anxiety, depression, anger issues, stress, and a whole range of others.

As soon as I started thinking of everyone I was treating simply existing at a different point on the emotional well-being scale, the question became: What could I do to slide them back up towards emotional health? And that’s where the front-line First World War surgeons reached out to help. The wounded all had one thing in common - trauma. So, they treated everyone for the trauma as well as working on whatever surgery was required.

When I learned this, I applied it to the people I was working with. Virtually everyone had either gone through some traumatic event in their past or was undergoing it in the present. Trauma doesn’t have to be watching a comrade being blown up in the trenches. Trauma is personal. Some people will panic at even the thought of a mouse or a spider in the room, while others will keep them as pets.

Not only is trauma personal, but people’s reactions to it are also personal. Where one person may become anxious, another may develop stress, depression, or one of the other Mental Health labels that have become so common in our society.

Trauma will push anyone towards the emotionally distressed end of the scale.

So, I found it best to initially ignore the label people would bring to me and first treat them for underlying trauma. By doing this, they would move up the scale toward emotional health. At that point, it became relatively easy to help them make whatever changes they might need to make in their current lives to move fully into an emotionally healthy state.

This approach allowed me to reduce the number of times I would see people down to three, or in some cases two, yet still deliver remarkable results that would last.

They would last because when the underlying trauma was treated, this only needed to happen once. After traumatic memories were calmed down, they would stay that way.

I would happily share more, but I want to hear your thoughts first. There’s little point in me rambling on if people are not interested.

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