Western science reduces experience and other processes down to understand them. Reduction has helped the scientific community understand a great deal in the medical world.
However, when people’s emotions are reduced to something like a simple chemical imbalance there is no clear path to health. How much serotonin is too much? How little is too little? How do we test for these chemicals? If there is an imbalance, what contributed to it in the first place? And if it is a chemical imbalance why doesn’t someone experience full healing from medication? Why have so many people ended up on medication for life?
As Marriage and Family Therapists, we see the client as a whole person. Jobs, relationships, socioeconomic status, physical health, safety, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, family of origin, experience, all of these play an important part in mental health and well being. Instead of reducing down, we zoom out to capture a full picture of the person.
By zooming out, we (the client and therapist) are able to gain alternative perspectives and intervene on different parts of the persons context. This perspective also makes it easy to illuminate a path toward healing that can be discussed and shaped by the client and therapist.
A man in his forties seeks therapy. He reports he used to love running but no longer enjoys it. He had planned a trip to the Caribbean but has felt so sad and not like himself, that he decided not to go at all. He reports he has felt this way for about three months and it is beginning to affect his career.
If we look at these facts and symptoms, it seems clear this guy has depression. One could say it’s just a “chemical embalance.”
Where would you start treating his depression? How do we test to confirm he has a chemical embalance?
Instead let’s zoom out and look at the whole picture. By finding out about more in this man’s life it turns out both his parents passed away in a short time frame and he has been the only executor of their estate. It has added enormous stress to his life and has lead to exhaustion and feeling sad and overhwhelmed.
With that information the therapist and client can begin to highlight strengths he has that have prepared him for this painful task. They can work together to develop coping skills and identify healthy relationships that may help him through this time. The therapist and client can also look at the meanings and stories he has ascribed to his relationship with his parents and begin to change the way he perceives the situation. And that is just to name a few ways to intervene.