Mental health symptoms from a psychology perspective
When a client comes for psychological therapy, they often begin by sharing their “mental health symptoms.” The client will describe symptoms of anxiety, worry, panic, depression, obsessional thoughts, compulsive behaviours, suicidal thoughts, angry outbursts, difficulty sleeping, sleeping too much, alcohol and drug addiction, relationship difficulties, social phobias, unexplained bodily complaints….the list of mental health symptoms goes on. We begin to unpack when their mental health symptoms first showed up, and suddenly we have moved into the opening of a story.
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Mental health symptoms as unspoken stories
A story may go far back in time to infancy or beyond. It could be a quiet story that unfolds over time, or it might be a single event that shakes us to the core. Whatever way our stories happen, they demand to be heard. There are parts of the self that do not want these stories to be told. Not to anyone, and they get cut from the script and stored away behind the locked doors of our defense mechanisms. These parts of the self are trying to protect us. They want to stop us from feeling overwhelmed by emotions such as shame, grief, horror, and helplessness.
Mental health symptoms as a cry to be heard
Mental health symptoms distract away from the original story, which feels like a safer option. We might start to become afraid of flying, germs or social situations. We might start to use alcohol and drugs, take to the bed, or develop physical complaints and illnesses with no medical explanation. Before long, these symptoms becomes the only story, as they slowly take over everyday life. This is when support can help.
Psychological therapy for sharing the unbearable
Sharing what happened in the past is a difficult and often frightening process. A client must feel safe and ready. Our most painful stories are not only shared in words, but through emotional release from the body. Words come as we try to make meaning of what happened. It is a slow and gentle turning towards the truth of our life, and as we take each step along the journey, it gets a little easier. With skilled and compassionate support, we realise that these stories do not need to overwhelm us and can help us to learn about who we really are. We often realise that we have held some unkind and untrue beliefs about ourselves. We can cultivate a more compassionate way of being with ourselves, and we can re-write the script.
Psychological therapies: The stories we feel are the stories that heal
Having worked as a clinical psychologist for many years, I have seen traditional talking therapies evolve in such hopeful and inclusive ways. The growing recognition of traumatic memories being held in the body, is reflected in the rising popularity of yoga, craniosacral therapy and kinesiology to name a few. Some therapies also include working with the energetic and spiritual bodies. There are techniques to resource people so that a client can feel safe and not overwhelmed. There is so much support we can now offer in telling the story of what happened, what did not happen, what needed to happen, what can be let go of, and what can be integrated for a full and meaningful life.
Are mental health symptoms taking over your life?
There are a variety of therapists here to help at the Carrigaline Wellness Centre. You can read more about Sheila’s work as a clinical psychologist by clicking here: Dr. Sheila Boland – Clinical Psychologist Cork
Some helpful resources related to this topic:
Bessel van der Kolk’s book is a great read for anyone interested in how trauma is held in the body and what therapy can do to help. Here’s a link to Bessel’s web page: Click Here
Information about mental health symptoms can be found here: Click Here
and also here: Click Here
For more of my writings you can read my blog, which includes a personal story of grief , trauma, loss and healing: Click Here