Seekers Require Untraditional Counseling by Sunny Massad, Ph.D.
People seeking help with the ordinary
challenges of life, and especially those who
consider themselves to be on a spiritual path,
may find that "getting in touch with feelings,"
"rehashing the stories of the past," or taking
medication to treat symptoms can be more of a hindrance than a help.
In fact, the types of people who seek out my services are generally
not suited to the standard therapeutic approaches available to them
through their health insurance companies. Many are looking for a
more direct approach that will resolve the root issues of their current
dissatisfactions. Others report failing to experience substantial changes
in the way they feel about themselves or the manner in which they
interact with the world around them despite years of therapy.
Because health insurance often covers mental health costs, more and
more people seek out counselors to serve as mentors and confidants.
Others use them as spiritual guides who can help them to delve into
existential issues relating to life's meaning and purpose. But most people
do not realize that in order for their insurance to cover the cost of
treatment, their counselor must designate a diagnosis in accordance
with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)
to justify their visit.
While there is a movement within the mental health field toward
a more holistic approach, the current system is laden with specialists
who are trained to diagnose and treat from their specific paradigm.
Nevertheless, it is the system with which most people are forced to
contend when their goal is to get the most out of their high insurance
premiums. This is not to say that psychiatrists and clinical psychologists
do not do a great service for the populations they are trained to serve.
The advancements made in regards to psychiatric and psychoactive
medications over the past fifty years have exponentially improved the
quality of life of millions of people.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated
26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable
mental disorder in any given year. In fact, you may unknowingly be
classed among the 48 million Americans who are considered by the
American Psychiatric Association to be mentally ill. This does not mean
that one in four adults actually has what you or I might consider a
mental disorder. It simply means that the one in four Americans
who turn to therapists for help in coping with life's challenges
end up with a label that implies that they have a mental disorder.
Psychologists and psychiatrists alike are educated to help their
patients develop personality strength in areas of their lives that are otherwise underdeveloped or
compromised, sometimes as the result of a
traumatic experience. Clinical psychologists
are trained to assist such people to build
stronger, healthier, well-functioning egos
so as to become more adaptive and thus,
more productive members of society.
Many people are unaware that
until recently, psychiatrists, who, unlike
psychologists, are able to dispense
medication to their patients, received very
little counseling training. Because their
education is focused on pharmacological
intervention, this can often mean that when
a person books an appointment to see a
psychiatrist, they will more often than not
leave with a prescription for a medication
that will help to relieve their symptoms.
Many patients, however, are unaware that
the reason they are prescribed medication
is because that is what psychiatrists
are trained to do. Likewise, if you go to
see a surgeon about a knee injury, the
surgeon will assess your knee according to
whether or not she believes that surgery
would remedy your problem. She would
not necessarily consider other methods
of treatment that are not within the
parameters of her expertise.
If you choose to work with a coach
or a counselor as a way to move yourself
out of a life of mediocrity, consider finding
one who will help you to investigate the
causal connections of your experience
rather than merely focusing on symptoms.
Nontraditional counselors will, before
referring you to a licensed practitioner,
work with you in a very different way.
They were not trained to work within the
model of pathology that tends to look at
symptoms as they relate to diagnosable
conditions. So, if you are a healthy, wellfunctioning
person who enjoys a periodic
"tune up" and you feel worse when you
leave your therapist's office than you
did when you arrived, consider finding a
counselor or coach who works outside
of the DSM model of mental health.
Sometimes, a wellness-oriented counselor
is better equipped to serve seekers and
other such individuals who do not require,
and indeed, might even feel impaired
by the more traditional therapeutic
Dr. Sunny Massad is the author of UnTherapy: A Positive Psychology for
Enlightened Living who certifies coaches in Honolulu. www.untherapy.com
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