ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Regaining Thinking Ability

Jack Bragen
Thursday July 31, 2014 - 09:21:00 PM

A psychotic episode and the ensuing recovery (and this generally includes being put on medication) can leave a person with somewhat of a blank mind. Or, on the other hand, the mind can be plagued with residual symptoms. Either way, a psychotic episode and recovery from it can sometimes leave a person not knowing how to think, and needing to relearn that. 

Many persons who have a psychotic problem must rely on "partial hospital" or "day treatment" programs that provide counseling as well as "milieu therapy." This "milieu therapy" consists of spending time in the company of other persons who are receiving treatment. 

It is often helpful to be around other human beings rather than isolating. Thus, while milieu therapy won't put a man or woman on the moon, it has its uses. 

A psychotherapist can be like an instructor, or, if you get a lemon, could be destructive to the thought processes. My experience is that most people in the psychotherapy business are here to help. I have had a problem with the ones who automatically assume that I am ignorant, and who treat me accordingly. 

I recently had a therapist who tried to get "under the hood" of my psyche before establishing trust. When I resisted, this therapist became more pushy, proving to me that he did not deserve to be privy to my underpinnings. This therapist was also condescending—eventually to the point of being mocking. He wasn't a very experienced therapist. Perhaps he had big ideas about himself, much as I once had. 

A bad therapist or another negative influence can be destructive to structures of thought that normally make us able to function in our lives. Negativity is contagious and so is nonsense. Thoughts, like many things, need to be cultivated, maintained, and sometimes pruned. Bad speech and actions are initiated by bad thinking habits. 

In this column, one dilemma I have is whether I should encourage mentally ill persons to seek treatment and cooperate, versus encouraging assertiveness and standing up for ourselves. I believe that both of these things can be done, but I don't want to encourage combativeness. Without some level of cooperation, someone with mental illness may not have the benefit of receiving treatment, and treatment is often needed. 

Mental illness can be a debilitating disease, or it can indirectly be a fatal disease. Accepting treatment can make the difference between tragedy and triumph. Asserting your intelligence should be a lower priority. 

When relearning how to think, there is the dilemma between independent thought, which can sometimes be dangerous, versus learning how to think from doctors, which can be less independent, which might run the risk of conventionality, but in which you will not be, as they say, "reinventing the wheel." 

When recovering from mental illness, in our thoughts we can adopt the following premise: "I have a mental illness which means that my mind has the tendency to fool me." When this acknowledgment is a part of the basic thought process, it makes room for the mind to be corrected by other people or even to catch one's own errors. An adjunct to this premise is the basic idea that: "I am seeking more accurate thinking." 

Reminding oneself of the basic ideas above can allow the power of the subconscious and conscious mind work on your behalf and not against you. 

None of this is intended to replace medication. However, in the recovery process, it can pick up from where medication leaves off.