Sunday, May 16, 2010

Understanding, Insight and Ownership: Three Keys to Managing Mental and Emotional IIllnesses

"How can I support my friend with a mental illness?"
It's a great question, and one I get often from pastors, spouses, and friends of my clients who come to appointments to support their loved ones.

1. Ask them. Ask how you can be helpful. Answers are likely to range from "I don't know", to very specific requests, "Keep being my friend", "Check with me if I'm keeping my appointments, exercising, eating well, taking my medication, etc." Remember, just because a person is struggling with a mental or emotional disorder doesn't mean that they are incompetent or irresponsible. Treat them with respect and allow them dignity by asking them how you can be helpful.

2. Learn about the illness or disorder. There is plenty of information available on most conditions on the internet. Search the term and read up from reputable sources. Information is power. Check out what you learn with the person who has the condition. Ask them to teach you about it. This is also a great way to evaluate the extent to which they have accepted responsibility to care for themselves. Clients who learn everything they can about their illness, and act on recommendations to manage it are very different than those in denial or unwilling to take good care of themselves.

3. Plan for worst case scenarios. What if your loved one has a condition that is prone to relapse after periods of remission? Have a discussion with them while they are rational and responsible. Well-known Family Coach, Dr. Gary Rosberg publicly tells the story how his good friend Steve Farrar flew across the country to drag Gary out of his bedroom when he relapsed into severe depression. "That's what a good friend will do" Gary said. "I'd told Steve to come after me if ever I refused his calls, and my wife confirmed her concern for me. The first night he arrived, I refused to see him and told him to go home. He stayed through the night and confronted me the next morning. It meant everything that someone cared enough to come after me when I was in a bad place, and even was impolite to them."*

In my experience, those that do best in recovery from mental and emotional disorders understand the nature and severity of their illness and how to manage it, have insight into the effect of the disorder on their loved ones, and take ownership over their illness to do everything in their power to manage it.

Persons who have a disorder but don't take responsibility to learn about it, who don't take responsibility to manage it, and don't consider how it affects their loved ones unnecessarily extend the effects of their condition onto others. And, through their irresponsibility they ask for others to take responsibility. For instance, if it is critical for a person with Bipolar Disorder to take their medication on a regular basis to maintain a stable mood and rational behavior, whose responsibility is it to remember to take the medication? Ideally, a person with such a disorder will take the same level of responsibility that a person with diabetes takes to measure their blood sugar and to inject proper doses of insulin.

How can you help your loved one? Begin by asking how you can help. Educate yourself about the illness, and collaborate on a plan of action if a disabling relapse occurs.

And remember, keep giving the grace to try again, and truth spoken in love to help them be successful!

blessings, Jeff

*Personal conversation with Dr. Rosberg, July 2006

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Perseverance - The Way the Turtle Walked

He's trying to earn trust. She's watching skeptically after years of deception. He wants to save their marriage. She's not sure her heart can take the possibility of more disappointment. He's being diligent in counseling and working a "program"* She's mildly hopeful, but still wary. "It's going to take time to regain my trust", she said.

Suddenly this phrase popped into my mind, "The way the turtle walked." I tried it out with the couple and it made sense.

The turtle (tortoise) in Aesop's fable, "The Tortoise and the Hare" ran the race very slowly. He went as fast as he could, which was pretty slow, but he never stopped. Step by step he plodded toward the finish. And you know the rest of the story...he finished before the hare. Why? Because the impetuous and undisciplined rabbit ran the race in fits and starts. He went lickety-split one moment and collapsed in exhaustion the next.

When I see a new client for counseling I always wonder if they are going to be more like the tortoise or the hare, especially if they come in crisis...and many come in crisis. "Will they persist in doing all that they need to do, over time, to grow, to heal, to resolve their relational discord?" I wonder.

Often, clients muster the courage to ask an important question at the end of their first or second appointment. "Is there any hope for me (i.e., my marriage, my future, etc.)?" The question is akin to asking a medical doctor, "Am I going to live?"

My answer is nearly always the same, and I mean it because I've seen miracles.


"Do this God's way, and persist in doing all that you need to, and you will be surprised by the outcome."

In the natural, past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.
People will generally tend to continue doing what they have always done. Habits of thinking and ways of relating and getting needs met are hard to break, but break the must, and be replaced by new habits in order to improve quality of life and relationships when they are broken.

But for the person willing to walk in faith, who will dare to envision and believe for what is not yet reality, what they cannot see (Hebrews 11:1), the impossible is possible. This is the x-factor for the Christ-follower who wants to develop new and healthier ways of thinking and relating. And, it's my privilege as a Christian Counselor to believe in faith for the possibility of such outcomes.

Can you be well? Can your marriage be saved? Can your family relationships be restored? YES! If you will believe in faith for such outcome and then pay due diligence over time, just like the tortoise who persevered!

God's way works, and perseverance wins the race!

Jeff and Jill Williams
Co-founders, Grace and Truth Counseling and Coaching

*Program refers to recovery from addiction. Today, many addictions have been defined. Recovery usually involves participation in some form of a 12-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Celebrate recovery, Overeaters Anonymous, etc.