Whether professionally as a therapist/counselor or personally as one among many taking life one day at a time, the issue of health, particularly mental health, is often front and center, or at least a persistent, just below the surface, consideration. Unfortunately we often look at health, even mental health, through only one lens, with the physical or social or emotional taking center-stage. This myopic vision directs intervention through the question of “What is wrong?” and isolates a part from the whole. As if a life that encompasses so many varying relational connections to people, events and things can be seen as simply having a piece of bad code.
Looking at mental health from within the perspective of Wellness is one way to expand the vision of professional service and promote a broader understanding in the dialogue of everyday life. Many models of wellness have been offered, from the “Six Dimension Model” for Hettler, to the “Wellness Continuum” from Ryan and Travis and “The Indivisible Self” of Myers and Sweeney.
“A synthesis of the models defines wellness as a state of the totality of a person’s life as mind, body, and spirit interacting with environmental contexts. Throughout life, an individual moves along a continuum from illness to wellness through personal choices and action” (Hollingsworth, 2015).
Within this tripartite view of humanity, there are several common facets focused on, including “social, occupational (which could be considered school work for children), spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional” (Hollingsworth, 2015). Note the multiplicity of related factors, where a person is mind AND body, social AND individual, logical AND emotional. Within this paradigm a person’s wellness or mental health is a composite, not the conclusion of a simple journey from A to B.
Wellness is worked at from within a strengths-based approach, which becomes clear when considering the above related factors. A consideration of health from a single issue lends itself to seeing lack or weakness and the promotion of shame, doubt and/or judgment. This is due to at any given moment of our lives, one or more aspects of our lives being less than a projected ideal.
Wellness is strengths-based precisely because it is just as easy to note where one is doing well and/or capable of finding benefit in an area of their life. A person having difficulty with a particular idea may have great social connections; someone working through emotional difficulty may have a spiritual practice that is helpful or where social difficulties are easy to see, their physical activity is high. The key is no single facet of a person’s life is enough to condemn them or cast them aside as incapable of growth and development.
The article from Hollingsworth being looked at here contains a study focused on assessing the needs of college students, in order to ascertain where a wellness paradigm promotes self-awareness and skill-building.
“The current study included a survey of graduate students and faculty on perceived needs for which students could receive support through the university counseling center. Of 746 student respondents, 45% indicated financial issues to be a concern and 34.9% noted a concern with time management. Student comments included the observation that almost all graduate students had full-time jobs in addition to school, and some shared feelings of frustration with trying to maintain balance between family and class. Of 64 faculty responses, 91.9% indicated that students needed help developing effective time management strategies and organizational skills.”
A view from within wellness helps us move beyond the identification of problems to an appreciation for a person as a whole. Note that the graduate students are also dealing with full-time jobs and further, that they’re asking for help, not merely identifying a difficulty. In the study here, those who engaged in self-assessments and skill-building felt more competent at the end of the course. These improvements occurred precisely because time-management was not taken as an outlier, but bound within wellness relationships. Helping students identify their strengths within the social, emotional and intellectual parts of their lives, contributed to developing further the management quality needed to find balance in their lives.
A strengths-based wellness paradigm is not simply a pursuit of positivity. It doesn’t ignore the difficulties of a person’s life, rather the focus shifts from isolation to one of relational wholeness, where one or more aspects of a person’s life can and likely already does support and help other parts grow. Finding how each relates is about the expansion of one’s vision, where potential behavior that otherwise was kept in the dark, can now be brought into the light.
© David Teachout
Frankfurt, Harry G. (2006-10-31). On Truth (pp. 58-59). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Hollingsworth, Mary Ann. (2015). Wellness: Paradigm for Training and Practice. Ideas and Research You Can Use: VISTAS 2015. American Counseling Association.