Dear America: an unusual plea for help

If I sound desperate, I am. I’ve tried everything I can think of to reach you: reason, confrontation, repetition, humor. It’s not in my nature to give up. In fact, just thinking about it, depresses me. So, this time, I’m writing to ask for help. But it’s not the usual kind of help such as donations of food, clothing or money. Rather, it’s about helping me to help you.

It truly pains me to watch you, everyday, make self-defeating decisions – knowing as I do how avoidable they are. Trust me. No matter how many books, articles, songs, and movies are sent out into our collective conscious, you won’t learn from them. Nothing will change as long as you ignore your mental health.

When I was a US Army Social Work Officer, a Commander once told me, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” What if I told you don’t need to worry ever again? That you have the instincts to make good decisions? That arguing is avoidable? That no matter how alone or inadequate or misunderstood you feel, you’re not? You’re a lot more complicated and your problems a lot more complex than you give yourself credit for. If they weren’t you would have solved them by now. But that’s what I’m here for.

As a psychotherapist, I’m used to the skepticism, even ridicule, of mental health. In fact, the irony is no one understands your reluctance more than I. But by dismissing mental health, you’re rejecting yourself. You’re wandering through life avoiding the essence of who you are. Do you have any idea how self-destructive this is – not just to you personally but to us, as a society?

The Coronavirus Pandemic reminds us that, regardless where we come from – China, Iran, United Kingdom, Italy, America – we’re all human. We need air to breath and food and water to sustain us. And there’s one other thing all human beings have in common: emotions.

I have an expression: “Chocolate versus vanilla ice cream? That’s easy. But most things in life we have mixed feelings about.” There’s a reason for that: survival. Feelings are information to help you meet your needs. You have multiple feelings because you have multiple needs. Anytime you ignore a feeling you ignore a need, leaving you perpetually dissatisfied, regretful, resentful, conflicted, guilt-ridden, and more.

Imagine what would happen if you put your hand on a hot stove and couldn’t feel pain. You’d leave your hand there and damage it. Uncomfortable feelings work the same way: they protect you from making personally harmful decisions. Now, imagine if you felt pain but couldn’t locate where. That’s where psychotherapy comes in.

Despite what you think you know, a therapist’s job is not to give advice. There are plenty of people in your life already doing that. It’s not to judge or criticize. You’re already doing that to yourself. And it’s not to fix your problems. Nobody can do that for you.

Psychotherapy is a journey of empowerment. I like to think of myself as a trail guide, leading you through the peaks and valleys of your past, present and future. Along the way we take time to understand you and teach you how to be understanding of yourself, help you access your innate abilities and reach your full potential.

I find it ironic some people think, “Going to therapy means you’re weak, mentally ill or crazy,” as though not going to therapy means you’re strong and psychologically fit. Unfortunately, most people go through life driven by emotions they’re not even aware of. By acknowledging your feelings, you can be proactive as opposed to reactive and make deliberate, healthy decisions.

I frequently tell my patients, “You don’t have a crystal ball, but you can have a tool box full of coping skills.” This is how you achieve control over your life: not by anticipating every problem and controlling every aspect of a situation or by avoiding mistakes. But by arming yourself with emotional, cognitive, problem-solving, and behavioral skills to adapt.

Without these, it’s like going on a journey without a map and supplies. The best you can hope for is survival.

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