Thursday, June 19, 2008

Does Therapy Really Help?

Psychologists are healthcare professionals who rely upon scientific method to understand human behavior. Within a clinical setting, psychologists apply their expertise in a balanced manner, between a directive style and the recognition of the importance of allowing themselves to be more of a facilitator to help their clients help themselves. For most people, this approach allows for accurate assessment of presenting concerns and facilitation of personal growth.

As humans, we do have an innate capacity toward health. Physically, for example, if we cut ourselves, we usually heal. Sometimes, however, if there is an infection, the cut will likely fester, continuing to cause problems, until the wound is cleansed. Therapy can be considered a way to help clean festering, "emotional wounds" that are contributing to present concerns. Although we are a species that is fairly resilient, therapy is a deliberate way, however, to facilitate our resiliency, in order to allow positive change to occur sooner, rather than later.

Talking with an objective other can offer a unique perspective conducive to emotional growth. When attempting to be supportive, unfortunately, family and friends can often make inappropriate comments, like: "Forget it" or "Don't worry about it." Usually that tactic is much easier said than done. Although well-intentioned, these statements tend to serve to further alienate oneself from one's feelings. One's feelings (both pleasant and unpleasant) offer the useful purpose of guiding one in better understanding oneself. It is the misunderstanding or avoidance of feelings that is often a catalyst to undermining our innate process, which helps us to be resilient in the first place.

There is a growing recognition of the fact that "mental health is fundamental to a person's overall health, indispensable to personal well-being and instrumental to leading a balanced and productive life." This awareness likely contributes to the fact that about 15% of our country's population now use some form of mental health services in any given year. Nonetheless, despite effective treatments, according to Dr. Satcher's 1999 Surgeon General's Mental Health report, "Nearly half of all Americans who have a severe mental illness fail to seek treatment". The fact that nearly one in five Americans are affected by a mental disorder, reinforces the understanding that "few Americans are untouched by mental illness", whether directly or indirectly.

Mental illnesses range from clinical anxiety and depression to Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia. Anxiety disorders, the most common form of mental illness, affect more than 10% of Americans yearly. Almost 25% of Americans will suffer an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

Misunderstandings about therapy have kept many from seeking timely, effective care. Similar early misunderstandings, within the medical field, for example, had also existed within the field's early years. I trust that the continued acceptance and appreciation of the discipline of psychology will dispel any residual misunderstandings about its efficacious use and appropriateness to overall healthcare.

Is Our Society Becoming More Callous?

I am writing in response to the disheartening headline that shocked local and national media observers. A recently released surveillance video depicted a tragic hit-and-run scene, wherein witnesses seemingly ignored the elderly Hartford pedestrian, who lay motionless in the middle of the busy street. The report appears to insinuate that our society has become callous to its brethren. Although I certainly do not condone the onlookers' inaction, I do hope to offer insight into their questionable behavior.

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What happened in Hartford is likely an example of what is termed the "bystander effect." Each witness, perhaps confused and aghast at what they just evidenced, look at the other witnesses to see what they are going to do, assuming that the others will take responsibility. The sum result is total inaction. Ironically, this man likely had a better chance of getting help sooner, if there were only one or two witnesses present. When there exist more than two witnesses, the social phenomenon of "diffusion of responsibility" can bring about the bystander effect.

Understanding the existence of this phenomenon can help future bystanders break free from its effects. Additionally, if one finds oneself in the role of the victim, one should attempt to single out a particular bystander, by pointing to the one witness and requesting their singular assistance. Although the severity of his injuries certainly prevented this victim from making any requests, it is somewhat reassuring that at least some of the witnesses, in this case, did phone 911.