My father trained as a psychiatric nurse after the Second World War. During his career he witnessed firsthand many of the systemic changes (and fads) within mental health care. He trained in the remnants of the soon to be disbanded Victorian asylum system. He saw the ascendancy and decline of Freud’s theories of mental health, as well as the rise and ultimate hegemony of biological psychiatry. He was a pioneer in the fields of community care for serious mental health problems, and even worked in secure mental hospitals.
We didn’t spend much time talking about our work and careers, so when he was dying from the cancer that was to take his life, I was curious as to what he thought was the single most important factor in promoting mental health. His response was instant, clear and shockingly precise “insight”. He didn’t need to explain, I knew exactly what he meant.
Most of us, most of the time, are reactive. Life carries us forward as a series of responses to stimuli. We get angry about the same things … over and over again. We get demoralised about the same things … over and over again. We choose the same kinds of relationships with the same kinds of people … over and over again.
If we are lucky, our swing through the reactive jungle of life is rather pleasant. We may not be aware of anything, or even ever make a truly ‘free’ choice … but we are happy.
For most of us at some point in our lives, the reactive somnolence no longer works. We are in psychic pain and we need to stop, reflect, and become aware of the way we are living our lives. It is in these moments of awareness, what my father called ‘insight’, that we are truly free to choose a different, perhaps more rewarding way of life.
The tragedy is that we can all benefit from waking up. We shouldn’t need to wait until we are so unhappy we need professional help. Developing insight and awareness into one’s life, also sometimes called mindfulness, doesn’t even need a therapist. All you need to do is start to meditate every day. The best thing is to join a class, or if you can’t manage this, try an app or an mp3 download.
Whatever you do this year … learn to do it with awareness.
Dr Phil Tyson is a Men's Psychotherapist based in Manchester in the UK. He offers:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (cbt) for men in Manchester
- Counselling for men in Manchester
- Psychotherapy for men in Manchester
- Telephone and Skype counselling for men wherever you live
- Supervision and consultative support for therapists in Manchester
- Mediation for employment disputes in Manchester and the UK