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What is Mental Health?

What actually is Mental Health?  What Does it Mean to be Mentally Healthy?  Who ever asks that question? Sometimes, it’s asking the right questions that really matters. Usually, when speaking of mental health, we actually refer to states of distress, anguish or suffering, not mental health. Be it mental, emotional, relational, or spiritual, states of wellbeing and fitness in these realms are actually be quite simple, when referring to functioning and interacting in the world.

We all experience life within a continuum of wellness and fitness. Can you carry on day after day, interacting with others while dealing with stress, conflict, or problems?

More Questions Regarding Mental Health

  • Can you make and maintain relationships with your peers? 
  • Are you functioning well and feeling satisfied with your work or school performance? 
  • Can you be humorous? 
  • Are you able to adapt and change when necessary? 
  • Do you like yourself? 
  • Can you identify your strengths and your weaknesses? 
  • Can you deal with conflict? 
  • Do you have a variety of coping strategies to draw on when you are stressed? 
  • Can you accept responsibility for your actions? 
  • Can you problem solve? 
  • Are you able to apply reason and to think clearly? 
  • Do you have insight into what’s happening to your environment or around you? 
  • Are you able to make judgements about your choices, and discern what is best for a situation? 
  • Have you contemplated questions about the purpose of your life? 
  • Do you exercise self-control over your emotions and your behaviors? 
  • Do you pity yourself and identify as a victim?
  • Have you learned to survive and handle adversity? 

Spirituality, Religion and Mental Health

To provide effective counseling services, it is necessary to look at, understand, and treat the ‘whole person’ in terms of body, mind and spirit. Therefore, it is important for a counselor to understand clients’ religious beliefs and incorporate them into therapy where appropriate. Unfortunately, in the world today, much in the world of counseling and psychology focuses on many aspects of a person’s life, and unintentionally ignores other vital components of living that have a great impact on the health of the individual, family and community. Religious beliefs are a primary example of an essential personal trait that is often overlooked, actively ignored, or downplayed. 

When a counselor begins working with you, they should complete an assessment, building an understanding of both your problems or risks, and your strengths and ‘protective factors’ which can include religious and spiritual beliefs. One powerful strength we may cultivate is our faith.

A good counselor does not place their personal values and world-view onto their clients, rather they help their client find their own way. They explore the client’s beliefs and help each client live the best and most fulfilling life they can.

A simple, basic and widely accepted model for counseling is the “strengths-based perspective.” According to Psychology Today, “Strength-based therapy is a type of positive psychotherapy and counseling that focuses on your internal strengths and resourcefulness and less on weaknesses, failures and shortcomings.”  However, powerful influences upon contemporary society now encourages of identity formation in themes of victimhood or oppression, thus positioning our perceptions away from conventional personal and interpersonal strengths, discounting a vital tool for building strong and healthy skills for coping with adversity in life. Many counselors are reluctant to bring religion into their sessions for a few reasons:

  • They tend to be less religious themselves.
  • They look at their work as more scientific, concrete and technical which conflicts with religious beliefs.
  • They feel uncomfortable talking about religion. They fear imposing their beliefs onto a client or fear not knowing enough about the faith of the client to include it in the therapeutic process.
  • Many early leaders in the mental health field lacked respect for religion which still has an impact today on attitudes towards bringing religion into mental health.
  • Including religion is not being widely taught in graduate schools so it is often an afterthought overlooked altogether.
  • However, despite these barriers, religion is still widely used to help people with mental health distress. Belief in God is one of the major protective factors when assessing someone for suicide risk.
  • The 12-step program uses a higher power and religion is usually a large component of addiction recovery.
  • Religious communities such as churches provide a social support that greatly increases mental health outcomes.

Generally, spirituality adjusts the internal conditions as appropriate so that it balances the external environment. Spirituality is an internal drive that determines resilience in individuals. Spiritual development can serve to either enhance or suppress internal drives that influence resilience. 

How Religious Faith Can Be Incorporated into Counseling

When wishing integrate belief in God, spirituality, or discuss faith in counseling, here are some ideas: 

  • Explore your relationship with God. Perhaps you are struggling with your faith or have lost faith in God recently. Perhaps there are feelings of anger, conflict, or abandonment by God due to some hardship or adversity. These emotions can be explored and processed and lead to healing with counseling.
  • Explore emotions and issues from God’s perspective. What does God think? This can be a good way to gain insight.
  • Regular prayers can be healing. They can be shared in session or outside of session.
  • Using God as a guidance. It can be helpful for people to dialogue with God, ask questions to practice discernment and wisdom, helping gain answers or insight. God may be primary as a source of support for someone who feels alone or struggles to speak to other people in their lives, and relating with God may be more naturally healing than talking to humans.
  • Processing long-term unresolved issues in one’s relationship with God or religion. It may benefit to explore these issues with a counselor and resolve internal conflicts. For example, a person may feel their religion is too rigid or brings a strong sense of guilt. These are all important topics to discuss if they are related to the issues the client and counselor are working on.
  • Help people find a higher purpose or guide them in the direction they need to go in. Religion can often help guide people on the right path. Religion can help people rise above the petty struggles of their day and feel gratitude and joy.
  • Use God for emotional support. Many people are not able to get their emotional needs met (or not be able to receive) from humans in their lives when they are in a vulnerable time. However, they may be able to receive love and forgiveness from God, which can help them on a path to healthier choices.
  • God can help people forgive themselves and others, which is often the most difficult. These are not easy, and those with stronger faith can usually let go much easier than those with no faith.
  • God brings hope. Having faith in a higher power can help people get through the most challenging times.
  • Connecting with others about God. Being part of a church or religious community gives people a sense of belonging, which is very important in human mental health. Those who do not feel they belong anywhere often become victims of predators and/or more likely to make poor choices.

Regardless of the client’s religious background, it is important for a counselor to become familiar with their clients’ religious beliefs, and collaborate with clients together on a path to healing. Roman Catholic counselors such as myself, believe in the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and we regard others as we would have others behave towards ourselves, and therefore we do not impose our personal religious beliefs onto our clients, yet we avail ourselves to lives of service to others, as counselors, with the assumption that it is natural that people hold some awareness of faith, religious belief or religious worship traditions and practices.

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