Fake happiness vs. Mental health
I always have some words of hope for my clients when I feel they are most in need. What I say might surprise you. I say, "My goal for you is not for you to be happy. My goal is to help you confidently experience what it means to be truly alive."
To be sure, I would like to see my clients happy! However, I define mental health as being able to see the human condition clearly, and respond positively. For a trauma client (for instance), this often means being able to take responsibility for the things he or she should, by moving beyond the false guilt that consumes and blinds him or her. Mental health is 1) a growing realization that life is not as it should be, 2) a growing confidence that the individual can respond positively to that brokenness, and 3) a growing courage to act on these conclusions. This leads to spiritual questions that are mostly beyond my scope of practice, but are of the greatest importance. I see my role, at its core, as preparing clients to encounter such questions without the distraction and distortion caused by depression, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, marital strife, etc.
While mental health in this sense is not synonymous with happiness, what good is happiness without truth? Happiness experienced without sanity and a clear mind is not only fake, it's fleeting. In fact, fake happiness is almost always a temporary attempt to hide from shame--drug use and anonymous sex are good examples. True happiness is not personal pleasure. True happiness is being able to share the intimacy of marriage, to share the suffering of a friend, or to give one's life to the cause of human dignity. It's about relationship and humanity, and the resulting movement toward an authentic spirituality. I want to facilitate that freedom, and I find happiness in being a part of the journey.
So what I read in the following articles saddens me, in that some therapists and researchers are using drug-fueled experiences to treat clients, by tricking the client's mind into a false sense of well-being.
The first article below describes a new therapy that uses the club drug ecstasy to facilitate numbing out a traumatic experience. This apparently takes 24 hours in total, and what's sad is that EMDR trauma therapy not only takes a fraction of the time (often a single one-hour session), EMDR does so by focusing on reality and giving the client a new confidence. The measure of a good therapy is how much it moves clients toward mental health, not symptom removal. Symptom removal is the side effect of that journey. This distinction is why many scientific studies of therapy "effectiveness" are misleading. Fake happiness. It is a travesty to rob clients of the dignity of experiencing reality without fear.
The second article describes research I find truly revolting. I need not explain why getting people high when they are dying is the height of despair. To shortcut finding meaning in life at the very end of life, is sad beyond belief. It is the height of the arrogance and patronization that unfortunately characterize my profession: the therapist so often pretends to care about the client's search for meaning while deceptively leading the client toward fake happiness.
Click the links below to visit the articles referenced above.
(Note: This blog post has been reposted several times due to its overwhelming popularity. Due to the original post now being two years old, the original article cited is no longer online. The above article on ecstasy use for PTSD is a substitute.)