I often hear clients expressing worry that they might be wasting my time, that their problem isn’t “that bad,” that they know other people have had much worse experiences, etc. I think sometimes they imagine I’m ranking their difficult life experiences against other clients’ lives: add two points for being bullied in middle school, take away one for having a happy marriage, and so on. (I don’t, but it’s understandable that folks might imagine I’ve heard “worse” stories than theirs.)
The recently-released Weight Watchers “Kurbo” diet app for kids has received a lot of well-deserved criticism. The company’s responses–that the app is about promoting healthy choices, that it’s not a diet–have been terrific examples of diet culture’s current re-branding from prescribed restriction à la Jenny Craig to an illusion of abundance: you can eat as much as you want, as long as it’s “clean.” But anything that presents certain foods as “good” and others as “bad” is a diet.
Being a therapist in Colorado, I’ve heard more than a few comments from parents along the lines of, “I wish pot had never been legalized–now kids can get it so easily!” I understand the concern. Legalized marijuana has led to an increase in overall weed consumption in Colorado–among adults. It stands to reason that if parents are seeing more of their friends, neighbors, and loved ones enjoying legal pot, they’re going to worry about how easily their teenagers will be able to get their hands on it.
Someone asked about “relationship counseling” with their teen. I was struck by the phrasing because I tend to refer to it as “family therapy” when I work with parents and teens together, but I actually think relationship counseling is more accurate.
Sometimes in the mental health field, especially with teens, we dismiss certain behaviors as “attention seeking”–as if attention and connection aren’t deeply rooted human needs. We all need attention. We are meant to be social, to be seen by others, and to connect with others.
We all need connection with ourselves, others, and deeper meaning. Many religious traditions can facilitate meeting these needs. My clinical interest in religious trauma stems from growing up in a tradition that prescribed a rigid understanding of deeper meaning, and often required us to sacrifice connection to ourselves and others. The theologian Paul Tillich said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty.” I first encountered this concept in Ann Lamott’s writing, which I read as an Evangelical teenager. It stopped me in my tracks. In the worldview of my childhood, faith and certainty were synonymous. There were right beliefs and wrong beliefs, and the more certain you could be of your right beliefs, the better.
I’ve been interested in how chronic illness impacts mental health for a long time. On the personal side, my husband began experiencing symptoms of an autoimmune disease early in our marriage, and received a formal diagnosis several years later. On the professional side, I’ve previously worked with several clients who had chronic pain, migraines, gastroparesis, and other physical conditions that seriously impacted their mental health.