Nerissa Shaw, MBACP
As a counsellor and also as a human being who desires to be happy, I think a great deal about mental health and what it actually means to be mentally well. The phrase ‘mental health’ is a part of modern language. It’s used all the time in lots of different situations from the medical profession to singer Lily Allen, in her track ‘Smile’, telling her ex that he ‘messed up her mental health’. But what is mental health really? What does it mean in relation to our everyday lives?
When is a person mentally ill?
The dictionary defines ‘mental’ as: ‘relating to the mind’ or ‘relating to disorders of the mind’, whereas ‘health’ is perhaps best defined as ‘a person’s mental or physical condition’.
So mental health then, is a statement about the wellness of someone’s mind. It isn’t however as simple as that! Mental health seems to take in other things – our state of contentment; whether or not we can derive pleasure from things; our relationship to others and to the world; our spiritual state; whether or not how we experience the world is in line with those around us or with societal ‘norms’. Continue reading
I believe that a person is more than just the sum of their parts – whether those parts are our physical body, the contents of our minds or something more difficult to define.
In Psychosynthesis a person is said to embody of a host of ‘subpersonalities’ – all the different roles into which we fall and the different people we become in different situations. However, above and beyond all of these subpersonalities is something more – an ‘I’ – who could be described as the central core of who we are. A classic Psychosynthesis exercise that I learned from Will Parfitt , draws our awareness to all the parts of us but then helps us to see that they alone do not totally describe us. In the exercise, attention is drawn to our bodies, our minds and our emotions. Once we have noticed each of these things, it is easier to let go of the various ‘identifications’ that we carry and to look beyond them to try to find the ‘I’ at the very heart of our Selves.
In the practice, we focus our attention on aspects of ourselves – body, mind, soul, emotions and say ‘I have a body, but I am more than my body’, I have a mind, but I am more than my mind’. I found this exercise was immensely useful in expressing the idea that I was all these different things yet none of them entirely defined me. I believe I am more than all of the parts of me – there is something more.
The nature of this ‘I’, this ‘something more’ is a question that has occupied humans for as long as we have existed and the opinions are as numerous as the individual people who hold them. In some sense, this search or connection with this part of oneself can be thought of as a spiritual act.