Healer heal thyself (to the mental health professional)

This is an excerpt from the end of a much longer post that I wanted to highlight.  See the original for context here: The foundation of healing mental distress and of becoming a mature human adult

I spent about 15 years in social service agencies in the United States as a social worker serving folks with a large spectrum of mental health issues. What I learned is that, as a generalization, most mental health professionals are not comfortable with their own unchartered psyches and therefore, project their fear onto the people they are charged to help. This unconscious habit is a large part of what leads to the incredibly unsuccessful mental health system in our country.

One of the many harmful ways it manifests is in the massive over-drugging of  individuals who exhibit difficult psychic material, emotions, feelings and thoughts.

I have never been one to say that psychiatric drugs are always unnecessary. They certainly have a place in crisis care and I imagine on some occasions they are likely to be necessary beyond that. We don’t really know given we don’t allow people to find out at this point. We have a system that reflexively puts everyone on medications without any other considerations and we do it while damning them to an entire life-time on them. This is ludicrous to say the least. I now know hundreds of people who have been told this who have freed themselves from the drugs who are now doing far better without them.  It is no exaggeration to say that this reflexive habit  to medicate and the refusal to seriously and sensitively engage the pained psyche of those who look for help in mental health services is destroying lives in a multitude of ways.

I want to say, simply, “Healer heal thyself”

And to wrap this up I also share a small excerpt of this article I wrote:  Bridging the patient/professional divide:

Clinicians are trained to never, ever identify with the client. Why? What is wrong with recognizing shared humanity, even a weakness or flaw, and bonding in that? In providing a safe container from that understanding? The mere instruction to avoid such intimacy at all costs seems like a violent denial of oneself and clients both. It seems indicative of a deep fear of ones own dark parts. How do we help others find their way out of the dark if we hide from our own darkness? Such identification may not always be appropriate to share, no doubt, it may also not be present with many clients. But when it is present and appropriate to share from such a place, with adequate boundaries in place, it can be an incredibly healing experience for both parties.  I believe that all our psyches contain a full spectrum of the content of the human psyche within it…some people experience more or less of this or that, but we’ve all got it in there. Healing ourselves and others both require deep familiarity with all its parts. This is not understood particularly well among most mental health professionals, in my opinion.

Most mental health professionals not only know next to nothing about the deepest part of the psyche, they are terrified of it, adding another layer of obfuscation to the problem. When people in mental distress are terrified the last thing they need is to be met by a “healer” who is equally terrified of the clients thoughts and behavior.

Changing our system of care for those in mental distress requires deactivating the knee-jerk response of professionals and non-professionals alike towards those in psychic pain.(continue reading)

I’m going to close with two quote by women who are wiser than I am who also seem to agree with what I’m talking about:

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.

Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. Pema Chödrön


Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul….

…Serving is different from helping. Helping is not a relationship between equals. A helper may see others as weaker than they are, needier than they are, and people often feel this inequality. The danger in helping is that we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity or even wholeness.” — Rachel Naomi Remen


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