[Originally in Health Beat, Richmond Register, May 2014]

   In February, I had the honor of giving a presentation to the Madison County Homemakers.  But I think I learned more from them.  What struck me was how willing members of this body of distinguished ladies were to share resources.  And not just their money and delicious foodstuffs, but psychological resources. 

    We use the term “psychological resources” frequently in mental health.  We diagnose people as being “low” on them.  We describe capacity for them while consulting with each other in staff meetings.  However, it’s in examples like the Homemakers’ where I realized we counselors don’t really define the term well.  I think it might be important to do that, since your resources are the mortar and bricks for psychological work. 

    Let’s try this:  A psychological resource is a pool of aid that you can tap to help you respond well to life’s vicissitudes.  Now let’s discuss three examples:

1.  RELATIONSHIPS.  Whatever the social networking world says about “friends,” all social connections in your life are not created equally.  Some have more distant orbits from you and your concerns.  Regardless of how you laughed and shared together at the water cooler in that workplace from five years ago, some contacts have comparably less to offer.  Know who understands you, how much they can provide support, and the limits their own personal problems place on their responses. 

    Blood being thicker than water, as the saying goes, family are often the first people we consider when we need support.  Be aware, though, that while family may have stronger ties of obligation, along with such ties can also come old resentments and jealousies which can develop from sharing closer emotional circumstances.  Older family members–parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles–often have warm feelings toward you, but they can also carry a frozen image of you in their minds, a “you” far younger than you are now.  So before you tap the smart phone and call them, be sure they’ll take your adult concerns into consideration and not see you instead as a distraught teenager. 

2.  MEANING.  Some life events are simply not changeable.  For example, death of a loved one, termination from a job, chronic illness.  Here, you need the resource of skilled meaning-making.  How can you use a bad event to spur you in a positive direction you may not have considered without it?  Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl stated that if we are to weather traumatic events, we must love something or make something.  Write a journal, pick a new career path, or dedicate your life to bettering others.  The ability to get beyond the negative change and use it meaningfully is a measure of this resource.  And one for which counselors are ideally suited to help you.

3.  WORDS/EDUCATION.  As a teenager, I slipped on icy porch steps, fell on my back and knocked my wind out.  Ow.  My father asked desperately if I was alright, what was wrong, why wasn’t I answering!?  Without any breath, I couldn’t say anything!  Finally, my lungs spasmed, I drew air, all was well. 

    On a psychological level, we’ve all had that experience of the “blob of badness” which others want to understand so they can help us.  But since we can’t articulate exactly what is wrong, everyone is frustrated.  The most common phrase I hear from clients?  “I wish I could explain it to you.”  Luckily, the more we study, and learn new vocabulary, the more educational resources we have to express ourselves.  We have to learn the language of suffering.  That’s why pop music about lost love or tragedy can become so famous; because many people find in it a way that they lack themselves for expressing pain. 

    Some resources, we can increase.  Others are more difficult, limited by factors in our past that we simply can’t control.  Luckily, everyone can maximize the resources they have, or learn how to best allocate them for the problem at hand.  Personal counseling can help you with goal-setting, problem-reframing and evaluating the relationships you’ll need to get through the tough times.

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