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JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS  - October 2017 - Kansas City

Transforming Our Approach, Is it Mental Illness or Gift?

By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.


It is time to re-think our ideas of mental illness based on scientific data, new kinds of research, and a different perspective of the human body-mind. 


Gail Saltz.MD, says in The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius, that having this perspective, “can make the difference between a diagnosis dooming one to a life of insecurity and unhappiness or a diagnosis that helps someone access their unique gifts and open up a world of opportunity.” 


She asks, “What are the traits—learning differences, distractibility, anxiety, eccentric thinking, melancholy, cycling mood, and lack of relatedness—associated with the most common brain differences? What are the potential gifts, talents, tendencies, and particular sparks of brilliance or insight that often accompany those traits?” Looking at traits or behaviors as indicative of brain differences helps us to de-stigmatize and look at behaviors more constructively.


The British Psychological Society published a landmark document in November, 2014, entitled “Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia.” The authors state that hearing voices and feeling paranoid are common experiences, and are often a reaction to trauma, abuse, or deprivations. “Calling them symptoms of mental illness, psychosis or schizophrenia is only one way of thinking about them, with advantages and disadvantages.” 


They further state that ‘talk treatments’ are very helpful for people with these issues. They report that anti-psychotic drugs may make the experiences less frequent, intense, or distressing but that there is no evidence that it corrects an underlying biological abnormality. This is a radical departure from the vision of severe mental illness held by many Americans and mental health professionals. 


In 2013, Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, announced that psychiatric science has failed to find biological mechanisms associated with specific diagnoses. The genetic underpinnings or neural circuits that had been identified were mostly common across diagnostic groups. Diagnosis was, in this new understanding, neither particularly useful nor accurate for understanding the brain and would not be useful in guiding research.


A new criteria of research called Research Domain Criteria (RDC), stating that all research must begin from a matrix of neuroscientific structures (genes, cells, circuits) that cut across behavioral, cognitive, and social domains (acute fear, loss, arousal). This means, for example, that researchers will no longer study people with anxiety but will study fear circuitry.


What does this mean for anyone who has a trait or behavior that would be diagnosed as a mental disorder? It is important to look at possible genetic links, history of trauma or abuse, any underlying medical issue, personality type, and current situation. It is important to recognize the situation, validate the experience of the behavior and then look at ways to re-focus that energy differently. 


Dr. Saltz talked about the experience of David Sedaris, best-selling author, who experienced anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. As a younger boy and adolescent these symptoms “interfered with his quality of life to an exceptionally painful degree.” As he matured, his ability to focus obsessively on something became more a discipline, enabling him to be a productive writer and humorist. I suspect he may also have utilized counseling and medication to support the changes.


The key point is that each person can find ways to identify and manage any challenging traits in a way that can be helpful and then experienced as a gift, a talent, or a special genius. Each person is different. Counseling, nutritional support, supplements, yoga, meditation or imagery, exercise, medication, and enriching and purposeful activities are some of the many ways to help channel the energy in a productive direction. Energy can only be useful if it has boundaries and direction. Riding the wild horse of energy takes effort, awareness, the acquiring of new skills, and persistence.


I hope you will re-vision your idea of mental disorders for yourself, your family, friends, and others in our community and world. It is time for a transformation in our approach to working with different brains and behavior. They just might be a gift!

Evolving Magazine

Kansas City

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Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC, is a counselor, educator and author. For counseling appointments, seminars, training, speaking engagements or information on Neurobehavioral Programs or Imago Couple therapy call 913-322-5622. For more information about Jude LaClaire or the Kansas City Holistic Centre go to


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