Peering Behind the Proverbial Curtain of Mental Health
**Wizard of Oz spoilers contained herein**
The Wizard of Oz
As a child, I enjoyed watching the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. While my memory isn’t tarnished by controversy surrounding the movie, I’ve long since appreciated one particular scene during which the main characters discover the truth about the great Wizard of Oz.
Destined to return home from a faraway enchanted land, Dorothy and her dog Toto team up with the Scarecrow who is searching for a brain (knowledge), the Cowardly Lion who searches for courage (bravery), and the Tin Man who is in search of a heart (compassion).
Hope fuels the quartet as they merrily journey through Oz, facing trials and tribulations along the way. Once they arrive to the Emerald City and have an opportunity to witness the fabled Wizard of Oz, the characters are taken aback when their expectations no longer align with reality.
During the pivotal scene that I’ve cherished throughout my lifetime, Toto pulls aside a curtain concealing the wizard and reveals a feeble old man operating a misdirection machine. The Wizard was no sorcerer at all, only a fallible human being.
As it turns out, the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tin Man already possessed the features they were seeking, though the flawed so-called wizard bestowed upon them various tokens to represent these qualities. Knowledge, bravery, and compassion were ever-present.
Regarding Dorothy, the child didn’t need anything other than to merely believe she would return home. The imperfect master of deception who tricked an entire land of fantastical characters attempted to help Dorothy by providing an opportunity of escape via hot air balloon.
Although, when his attempt failed, it was Glinda the Good Witch of the North who encouraged Dorothy to tap her heels together and repeatedly chant, “There’s no place like home,” and off Dorothy went. Explaining this ability, Glinda stated, “She [Dorothy] had to learn it for herself.”
Mental health—what is in a name?
I remember that for high school senior career day, a group of students and I toured a local inpatient psychiatric hospital. Having coached other people for several years by that point, I considered going into the field of mental healthcare.
At the time, I thought everything related to mental and emotional treatment was provided by a psychologist. This was because I had no idea what the differences were between psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, social workers, therapists, etc.
As well, the ever-changing vocabulary relating to the field was confusing to me. “Mental health,” “emotional health,” “behavioral health,” “psychiatric health,” and other terms all seemed synonymous.
It wasn’t until I earned a graduate degree in counseling and began working in a behavioral and developmental health clinic that I discovered just how bewildering matters within this occupational realm actually were. It seemed as though psychological jargon was rarely agreed upon.
For instance, I recall a 2012 Texas-wide teleconference I attended during which participants spent over an hour discussing what people who sought mental health treatment would be called. There was no consensus on labels such as patients, clients, customers, or persons-seeking-care.
By the time I’d earned a graduate degree in social work and had begun working for a military veteran’s healthcare organization in 2015, “qualified mental health professionals” attended the “mental, emotional, and behavioral” needs of “veterans.” What was in a name when people simply needed help?
Understanding the complexity of continuously developing terms within the field of mental health, one may begin to imagine how complicated it is to address various symptoms, diagnoses, and conditions for which people seek help—when the agreed-upon names of today may change tomorrow.
It was during my counseling education (2009-2011) that I began studying Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). And though I took a course relating to REBT during my social work studies (2012-2014), I didn’t seek official REBT certification until 2021.
When in both graduate programs, I learned about various treatment methods which could be used to help people with symptoms of mental illness. The idea was to improve outcomes through the process of mental health strategies.
To elucidate this matter, think of an illness as that relating to an irregular condition that negatively affects one’s health, and that is not immediately due to any injury, such as arthritis. It doesn’t mean that because you have this condition you are somehow a bad, evil, or undesirable person.
Simply put, your illness is comprised of symptoms of pain, stiffness, swelling, and a decreased range of motion regarding your joints. To improve your overall health, treatment of your illness may be beneficial.
This may include medication, massage, joint immobilization, acupuncture, and other interventions. Arthritis is the illness and improved functioning and quality of life relates to health.
Given this understanding, when undergoing the educational process, I received brief instruction about how to address symptoms of mental illness while learning about effective and not-so-effective mental health strategies. Ultimately, I chose to focus solely on REBT as a method of helping people to get better.
One of the aspects of this psychotherapeutic modality I most appreciate is its no-nonsense approach to the human condition. REBT practitioners aren’t focused solely on diagnosis or pathology (causes and effects of illness) as much as we explore irrational beliefs which lead to self-disturbance.
Suppose person X seeks mental health services with me. He says, “I have a pattern of overreacting when others disagree with me.”
I don’t immediately think to myself, “What diagnosis might this guy have?” Rather, I wonder, “What might person X be telling himself about people who disagree with him?”
Using the ABC Model, I would work with person X to understand that it isn’t the Action of people disagreeing with him that leads to a Consequence. Rather, when people disagree with person X (Action), he likely Believes something unhelpful that causes an unpleasant Consequence.
I then assist with Disputation of person X’s assumption so that he can adapt an Effective new belief that may better serve his goals and interests. Use of this REBT formula doesn’t require a mental illness diagnosis in order to promote mental health.
More importantly, REBT psychotherapists aren’t necessarily promoted as magicians who maintain the remedy for everyone else’s woes—like a wizard in the Emerald City or the Good Witch of the North. Rather, we are flawed individuals who recognize that people possess an ability to treat themselves once they’ve learned how to do so.
Not unlike the wonderful Wizard of Oz’s approach with the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tin Man, I encourage my clients to seek knowledge, adopt bravery, and use rational compassion when practicing REBT. In this way, the people with whom I work may get better rather than simply feeling better through use of other ineffective treatment modalities.
Perhaps as important as the element of practice, and similar to Glinda’s invitation to Dorothy, I persuade my clients to believe they have it within themselves to change their unhelpful assumptions. Dorothy had to experience discomfort before she could believe in herself and resolve her presenting problem.
Now, with over a decade of experience in the field of mental healthcare, I’ve heard of how practitioners should refer to “problems” as “challenges,” “obstacles,” “areas of opportunity,” and other supposedly person-centered linguistic manipulated terms such as, “People experiencing crisis.”
Still, one wonders what utility it would have been for the Wizard of Glinda to dispute what terms were preferable when the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, and Dorothy needed immediate assistance. What is in a name when problems are at hand?
I think back to the times in my life when I struggled with symptoms of mental illness. One of my many nicknames is Tin Man, because I was once said not to have a heart when interacting with others.
As the Wizard stated to Dorothy, “You are talking to a man who has laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom, and chuckled at catastrophe,” as each of these characteristics aren’t foreign to me. What use would it have been for me to have sought assistance from an unhelpful system that couldn’t settle on what to call me, let alone how to treat me?
It wasn’t until my graduate studies that I learned that the help I sought all along was in me the entire time. Through use of REBT, I was able to free myself of unhelpful, unhealthy, unproductive, and unfavorable beliefs which held me back.
I didn’t need to seek out the services of a magician or witch. There was no enchantment necessary to help improve my level of function and quality of life.
Instead, I peered behind the proverbial curtain of mental health and discovered how to help myself. Now, I teach patients, clients, customers, persons-seeking-care, veterans, and people in general how to help themselves, as well. Would you like to know more about how this is accomplished?
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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