The Washington Post once did a study related to human perception. They put a violinist in a New York train station, at the busiest time of the day. With thousands of people rushing by, on their way to wherever they were going at such a frantic pace, this violinist played Bach sonatas, some of the most complex, complicated pieces ever written. He played for close to an hour, yet rarely did anyone notice. Occasionally a child would stop, fascinated, only to be yanked along by a parent. After an hour the violinist, who was Joshua Bell, one of the foremost virtuoso of the time, made a little more than five bucks in tips. He had played a Stradivarius worth two million. That night he played the same pieces at Carnegie Hall where patrons paid several hundred per ticket.
The conclusions for the study were hardly startling, but somewhat damning for humans. We have very little in the way of perception, interest in our surroundings, rather driven by our primordial needs. They asked that if we don't notice the extraordinary things around us, what chance do we have of noticing the ordinary things in our lives, at least with a little accuracy.
What I want to address here, and perhaps one of the last such efforts of my life, is mental health, in a time when I find it slipping in many ways. Establishing what that means in the Biden presidency is unnecessary. We each have our own private, mental experience of that.
I worked the last several years as a mental health counselor, at a mental health crisis program. Now, for a moment, imagine, suppose that you find yourself as a patient, a client, at a mental health crisis program. Whoa! Keep in mind that "suppose," or imagine is going to be very important to this discussion. This was in an old motel on Highway 99 in Eugene, Oregon, simply called the Royal Avenue Program. It had 21 beds, and you could stay, if referred, for ten days. Now that doesn't sound like much, but if you had been homeless for months, a roof over your head could sound pretty good. It didn't take very long to realize, though, that new clients, while obviously in poor physical and psychological shape, would be happy to be there at first, but falling back into symptoms by the final days of their stay. We understood this, and resolved to try some things to actually help someone with their mental health, with their outlook on life, as difficult as that might be. This is not to say that we didn't help at all, however inadvertently, it was still the help with social security, other programs, insurance, medicaid, etc. They still left in approximately the same mental condition they came in with.
We decided to try several "serious" approaches to treatment. The first was Motivational Interviewing. You can look some of these approaches up if you are interested. For the purpose of this blog, let's just say MI is a listening technique, but not entirely passive. You give feedback, an art form, and hope that the client begins to listen to what he is saying. You are his mirror. Occasionally you can ask a very tactical, evocative question, but with great care. Any "solution" that is arrived at must appear in the mind of the client first, or appear that way.
I am wondering why I am doing this blog again. It is a "rehashing" of a group I did at RAP. I guess what I am trying to say is that there were some extraordinary things that happened with mental health, for a brief period, that led me to believe that there are ways of reaching a wounded psyche, and I won't say fix it, but a process with a new outlook.
I liked Motivational Interviewing, mostly because it came naturally to me. I am more of a listener than a talker. Or maybe just quiet. I am a patient conversationalist. This can be a great skill. If you don't fill the holes in conversations, the other person will, and often a little more openly than they had previously been. Holes make us nervous, we fill them, sometimes letting our guard down, dropping the shields that prevent, often, even us seeing ourselves.
I had one client at the agency I worked at, let's call her Tina, she could be long gone by now anyway, or since we're all on the precipice, it matters little compared to eruptions on the sun. She had was a notorious crank, who had run through every case manager in the agency; still lingering always one step from total disaster. So I just listened to her, a little feedback here and there, not much. It did not seem that she comprehended me when I spoke anyway. Perhaps, you are having the same problem. She became, for reasons not easily stated, a surprising, big success, at one time working as a volunteer for the city, in an art class.
We decided that Motivational Interviewing should become biggest part of communication with clients, respectful listening. Some of us decided it was probably the way we should communicate with all beings.
We further decided that we needed to add something more "immediately therapeutic," my term. This was Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.