Contrary to popular belief, psychotherapists are “the world’s oldest profession”. But both professions have a lot in common; both deal with human nature and both are controversial topics of discussion, along with religion and politics. And just like you can’t get away from reading and talking about sex, religion and politics, mental health issues are also front and center and even cross over.
I would like to focus on two recent items in the news:
1. The death by suicide of Comedian/Actor Robin Williams
2. The war between Israel and Hamas
It is interesting to note that on many international news media, Robin Williams’ death got more news coverage that day then world events such as US military interventions in Iraq.
It is only natural that the events in a celebrity’s life would draw much public attention. We often see celebrities in entertainment and sports getting involved in political causes and many articles written about the mental health of celebrities. So when, tragically, Robin Williams’ battle with “his demons” and with his depression ended with the taking of his own life, everyone is reacting. The reactions include the sadness of the loss to the entertainment industry, personal fear that if it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone, discussions of what, if anything, can help individuals with depression, is depression an illness or a state of mind, etc. This takes place because we can identify in various degrees with this event.
I was part of a professional discussion group that was asking the question: Do you think individuals in crisis-ridden and volatile environments like the Middle East are more prone to psychological disorders? There was a huge reaction. The discussion grew more into a heated political debate, rather than a look at how humans respond to trauma. I reacted by asking; since when does mental health have borders, since when does political conflict put someone more or differently at risk compared to domestic conflict or violence at school? The reaction takes place because we can identify in various degrees with the question being discussed.
The reason psychotherapists are the world’s oldest profession is because we are as old as the profession. Psychotherapists are people who learn how to help people. The “how” is the challenge that we are still faced with today. All helping, caring or healing practices started with human development. Advancement in technology assists us in understanding who we are: genetically, physiologically, psychologically, sociologically, and thereby learning how to help. But the challenge is in the paradox: we are unique individuals whose needs are dependent on our community. How we engage in our world and with others, what we do to cope, how we survive is as individual as our fingerprint. Yet, we can’t do it alone.
What is also in our nature is to blame, look for blame or place blame on others when things are not in our control. Often politicians are the first target, but psychotherapists run a close second.
The first person you need to turn to in challenging times is yourself. What can you do to regain some of that control? Can you actively take part in a cause? Can you find a safe outlet for your thoughts and feelings? If you realize you can’t do it alone, it is your responsibility to turn to someone who potentially can help. It may not be the first person you turn to or even the same person who helped you last time, but you need to reach out or at least, accept a hand that is reaching out to you.