What is Mental Health? How Do We Create it?
As mental health practitioners and part of a national network of independent therapy and life coaching centers in New York City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco, we are inviting you to join an international conversation on mental health. As community therapists and coaches we are concerned about the impact of living in a world that is in crisis. In order to help people create the conditions for their well-being, we are organizing a dialogue with progressive therapists and their clients to create a conversation that will explore how we understand and respond to the mental health needs of our communities in such uncertain times. What is mental health? How do we create it within our communities? We look forward to hearing from people with a wide range of viewpoints and experience as practitioners, patients and people from all walks of life. Please join the conversation and pass this invitation on to others you know who may be interested.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to this online conversation on mental health. I'm Hugh Polk, a psychiatrist and social therapist at the Social Therapy Group in NYC. My STG colleagues – Christine La Cerva (NYC), Jenn Bullock (Philadelphia) and Murray Dabby (Atlanta) – and I will take turns hosting the conversation, with me kicking off the first week.
A word or two by way of introduction: I'm a traditionally trained psychiatrist. Early on in my career – this was back in the ’70s – I experienced the limitations of psychiatry in helping people who were in emotional pain and started looking for what else was out there. A friend introduced me to the late Fred Newman, a philosopher who had begun practicing a new, non-diagnostic, group-based, development-focused therapeutic approach that grew out of the radical cultural perspective of the ’60s. Along with Christine, Jenn, Murray and our colleagues and clients throughout the U.S. and abroad, I have been learning/practicing/teaching this approach, called “social therapy,” for the past 30+ years. We’re among the growing number of practitioners who are creating/practicing highly effective approaches that are focused on health and growth rather than illness and symptom control.
But enough about me! I’m eager to hear from you – practitioners, therapy clients and others who want to share their concerns about the state of mental health. We may find the conversation awkward at first, in part because it’s not often that people who “do” therapy and people who are “in” it get to talk to one another about this or anything else outside of office hours. In some circles, as you know, doing so is actually a no-no. But I think we have a lot to talk to each other about.
To start with, I’d like to know what in particular you’re concerned about regarding mental health. The avalanche of drugs being prescribed for ADHD? The seemingly contradictory fact that so many youngsters, as well as adults, aren’t getting quality help with their emotional problems and pain? The indiscriminate labeling of people as mentally ill and/or cognitively impaired? The rampant bullying among children and teens? Psychiatrists controlling the diagnostic process? What else?
And what about the unspoken (and often unexamined) assumptions of Psychology? What do we mean by the terms “mental health” and “mental illness”? Is the medical model the best way to understand and treat emotional pain? Is diagnosis a necessary or helpful component of helping people?
Along with your concerns, tell us what’s working. What are you discovering about how to live an emotionally healthy life?
I’m eager to hear what you’re thinking about…let’s talk!
Looking forward, Hugh Polk