BringChange2Mind

September 30, 2010

Mental Health: A Healing Profession, By Kim Glazer, LGSW

Filed under: Guest Blog, Story — Tags: , , , , , , — BringChange2Mind @ 6:31 pm

Kim Glazer

A professor of mine once said to me, “It’s selfish working in the field of mental health.”  Perhaps “selfish” isn’t the best word to describe the experience of being a mental health professional; but I think my professor was on to something. What my professor was describing was how powerful, moving and healing working with individuals with mental illness can truly be.  The relationship between the clinician and client is not one sided; the client is able to help the clinician just as much as the clinician is able to help the client.  How “selfish” it is to have the opportunity to listen to a person’s deepest fears and insecurities, and in turn learn about my own.  How “selfish” it is for me to be granted the opportunities to gain a better sense of myself through watching others confront their challenges and limitations.

My desire to gain a deeper understanding of myself, and to analyze why we think, feel and act the way we do is what drove me into the field of mental health.  In college I thrived off of reading studies about human behavior, and what factors shape who we become.  This fascination in the strong interplay between the individual and the family, community, and culture is what led me to pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Pennsylvania.   Not only did I want to help people manage and overcome their mental illness, but I also wanted to advocate for these individuals to increase resources available to them, and decrease the stigma they experience.

Working in the field of mental health has taught me a great deal about myself, which is ironic seeing as the purpose of the profession is to help others.  But when you think about it, helping others has an incredibly powerful impact on the way we see and understand ourselves.  The feeling of satisfaction and worth that I get from trying to help others through listening, empowering, and advocating for them heals something inside of me.   This ability to find tranquility and peace through working with others is what I believe my professor meant when he referred to the “selfishness” of the mental health profession.

I have learned that in order to be successful as a professional in the mental health field, it is imperative to have a strong grasp of one’s own limitations, biases and insecurities.  So much of myself goes into helping others, that I must be able to put the innate emotions and reactions I experience aside and instead provide the support and empathy that is needed.  While it is impossible to suggest that therapists and other mental health professionals deny our emotions (after all, we are all only human!), it is important that we have the self-awareness of what these emotional reactions are.  And I believe that through modeling to clients that we too have limitations, biases and flaws – and we too must learn to cope with them, the alliance between client and clinician becomes stronger.  Besides, no matter what the differences are between clients and clinicians, we are all in the process of healing and learning together.  And without the ability to join and form a strong relationship, the process of healing and growth is impossible.

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June 27, 2010

BringChange2Mind in Seattle, by Cinda Johnson

We were two moms and two adult children chatting at the dining room table after a Seattle dinner of salmon on the grill and salad. We had met each other in person less than three months before yet we were bonded as close as family. Calen and Linea talked about their experiences hospitalized because of psychiatric illnesses. They talked about their “breaks” (these weren’t school breaks!) and how it affected their relationships with their friends. Jessie and I talked about the pain, love and profound respect we experienced as we traveled with our children through their illnesses. Jessie and Linea talked about when suicide was stalking them and how they stayed healthy and stable. We talked about my brother and the others who were no longer with us. Calen connected with Linea as they discussed how sharing their stories and voices as advocates for mental health treatment and understanding had strengthened them. It was just an ordinary evening, yet profound in our shared heartache, heartbreak, recovery and thankfulness.

Linea Johnson, Cinda Johnson, Jessie Close, and Calen Pick

Calen Pick and Jessie Close were in town to present at Seattle University’s College of Education celebration of the 75th year of educating teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, community mental health counselors, principals, superintendents and leaders in higher education. There were a few questions around campus about the connection between “celebration” and “mental illness”. Calen and Jessie spoke of their own battles with mental illness and their slow road to recovery. They shared their commitment to the very mission of Seattle University, “…empowering leaders for a just and humane world.” Yes, there were a few in the audience who looked uncomfortable as Calen described his hallucinations and Jessie her battle with alcohol in addition to her bipolar disorder. But the vast majority applauded the courage and willingness to put a face to frightening illnesses; two beautiful, wise, and “normal” (whatever that is) faces to which the audience could relate.

Mental illnesses are insidious and terrifying but also treatable, manageable and even offer opportunities to connect to others with honesty and love in ways we may have previously not been able to do. Although both Jessie and Calen and Linea and I speak to large audiences sharing our stories in order to assure understanding, resources and care for the millions of people with a mental health condition, it is the personal connections that strengthen this movement. Linea and Calen are examples of the power of young people stepping forward and changing the face and understanding of mental illness yet they are two young people in their twenties who love books and walking and music and art and deep philosophical discussions. Jessie bravely shares her own experiences struggling with bipolar disorder. Yet she and I also connect at a deep and lasting level of “mom”; mothers who will do anything possible to keep their children safe and wish with every fiber of their being for their happiness and safety.

Seattle University's 75th Anniversary Celebration

BringChange2Mind is a powerful movement with almost 13,000 Facebook fans and emails and requests for help coming in every day and from all over the nation. Requests that are responded to within 36 hours! This movement is taking hold and taking off. The conversations on Facebook are powerful, the walks across the country with our NAMI partners were life-changing for many, and the support and understanding developing within this community is awe-inspiring. Together we are an influential and significant grass-roots movement started by Glenn Close. Yes, a famous actress but also a sister who is connected to every family with a mental illness because she knows. Just like the connection around the dining room table, into the community and across the country. This BringChange2Mind community gets it. Together we can change the face of these illnesses and together we can be the leaders needed for a just and humane world for all people, particularly for those with mental illnesses.

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