Individual and Family Therapy for Major Mental Illness
Mental illness remains one of our society’s greatest stigmas. The fact of the matter is that mental illness – conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – are brain illnesses with biological and genetic causes.
Our understanding of mental illness has evolved greatly over the past two decades with the advent of the brain scan. Along with this understanding has come the development of newer medications which improve the prognosis for persons suffering with major mental illness.
With this new understanding of the illness has come a new understanding of the treatment. Major mental illness requires specialized treatment. Just as you would seek out a cardiologist for a heart condition, you need to seek out a mental health professional trained in this specific area to receive the best help.
The Four Pillars of Treatment
Treatment for major mental illness generally involves four components – medication, psychosocial rehabilitation & therapy, family support and skills, and healthy lifestyle.
Medication. Biological illnesses require biological treatments. Medication alone is not enough, but it is the foundation. The goal of medication management is to stabilize the debilitating symptoms of the illness so that the person is back in the driver’s seat and able to pursue their life’s goals and dreams. Advances in medication now provide more options than ever.
Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Therapy. The psychosocial rehabilitation model is one based on a person’s strengths, focusing on their self-determined goals and helping them live better in the world. It contrasts from the traditional medical model which focuses only on symptoms and pathology. Individual therapy from this model works with the person to identify goals, develop strategies to achieve the goals, and address barriers to reaching them. Critical in this model is the role of peer support. Connecting with others who understand the condition and face similar challenges in moving forward instills greater hope, reduces stigma and alienation, and provides a social network.
The most effective therapy for persons with severe and persistent mental illness is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on the thought process, helping persons understand their problems in a healthier, more adaptive manner. Further , CBT helps the person develop specific techniques and skills to manage their illness, cope with symptoms, and problem solve. In line with the psychosocial model, all of this is done with a focus on helping the person pursue their goals a nd dreams.
Family Support and Skills. Mental illnesses are family illnesses. While the person experiences the symptoms, it is the entire family which experiences the trauma. As such, families need to be involved. Further, they are viewed as an asset to treatment – not a hindrance, not as the cause of the illness. Families play a great role in the recovery process by providing the helpful factors in recovery. Family treatment includes crisis management, providing education, and practicing the research proven skills effective in promoting recovery.
Healthy Lifestyle. The more we learn about mental illness, the more we know that healthy lifestyle activities play an important role in recovery. While helpful for everyone, these become necessary given the demands mental illness poses on the person. Activities which have been shown helpful include: healthy diet, supplements, exercise, prayer and meditation, yoga, breath training, muscle relaxation, social support, and spirituality.