Inspiration Journal - Body - Mind - Spirit
Issue 47 Inspiration Journal, April - May - June 2011

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 interventions.

Dr. Sunny Massad is the author of UnTherapy: A Positive Psychology for Enlightened Living who certifies coaches in Honolulu. www.untherapy.com and www.hawaiiwellnesinstitute.org

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