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, and humor. It’s not in my nature to give up. In fact, just thinking about it depresses me. This time, I’m asking for help. Not the usual kind of help, such as donations of food, clothing, or money. Rather, it’s about helping me 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.

As a psychotherapist, I’m used to the skepticism, even ridicule, of mental health. In fact, no one understands your reluctance more than I. But when you ignore your 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 for you personally but for society?

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 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, inadequate or misunderstood you feel, you’re not? Human beings are a lot more complicated than they give themselves credit for. Otherwise, we would have already solved our problems.

Regardless of where we come from – China, Iran, United Kingdom, Italy, America – the covid pandemic reminded us of our shared humanity. We need air to breathe, food and water to sustain us. And one other thing human beings have in common: emotions.

Imagine what would happen if you put your hand on a hot stove and couldn’t feel pain or starved yourself without feeling hungry. You have feelings for the same reason. They are a survival mechanism – information of a need or threat you’re ignoring. Anytime you ignore a feeling, you’re ignoring a need – leaving you perpetually dissatisfied, regretful, resentful, conflicted, and more.

I have an expression: “Chocolate versus vanilla ice cream? That’s easy. But most things in life cause mixed feelings.” You have multiple feelings at the same time because you have multiple needs. In order to make good decisions, you need to be mindful of your all your feelings, identify what in life is causing them, and identify what’s in your control to change your situation. And you need coping skills to make those changes. That’s what I’m here for.

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. It’s the difference between being proactive and reactive. How would you prefer to live your life?

I frequently tell my patients, “You don’t have a crystal ball, but you can have a toolbox full of coping skills to take with you wherever you go.” You can’t not anticipate every outcome and control every variable. But you can “arm” yourself with emotional, cognitive, problem-solving, and behavioral skills to adapt to life’s adversities.

Without these tools, you’re like a hiker without supplies. The best you can hope for is survival.

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