This week’s program of Healing Talk will feature an interview with Dr. Jacob Hess. Dr. Hess is a psychologist, writer, and research director at Utah Youth Village, a nonprofit for abused children and families in crisis. Dr. Hess has authored and co-authored two published books and 12 peer-reviewed published articles.
In his exploration of the debate about holistic mental health, Dr. Hess describes an extremely comprehensive view of research in the field: “we have identified approximately 200,000 studies immediately relevant to . . . interventions for depression, anxiety, eating disorders and ADHD in our treatment. . .”.
Dr. Hess’s review of the research suggests that the scientific model of mental health is dramatically changing in several ways. Several new concepts are particularly noteworthy.
First, The brain is now understood to be “neuroplastic”, changing and adapting throughout a person’s lifespan. This means that disorders previously viewed as permanent (my child is ADD) can now be viewed as a temporary condition that can be alleviated if the brain is effectively retrained (my son is having some struggles with attention right now.)
Second, many mental illness and brain disorders have been classified as being caused by “genetics.” However, scientists are discovering that the genetic sequences for all sorts of health problems can often be turned on and off (a concept known as epigenetics). These genes tend to be activated or deactivated by environmental factors, many of which can be altered.
Third, from a perspective of both neuroplasticity and epigentics, many components of our modern culture appear to be toxic to emotional health. A huge number of risk factors are related to emotional problems, including the stress of a very fast-paced lifestyle, the reduction of the identity of women to sexual objects, the neurological changes created by hours of computer, television and video game use, poor habits of diet and exercise, the fragmentation of nurturing family systems; and the sense of helplessness created by a belief in the “chemical imbalance” paradigm of mental illness.
Although this information has been widely discussed in scientific journals, newspapers, prominent talk shows, books and other publications, it is frequently absent in in discussions between mental health professionals and individuals/family members with mental health challenges.
In his book A long-term view of serious emotional problems: “Is there such a thing as „getting better‟ from this or not?” Critical issues along the journey to an answer, Dr. Hess describes how the information given to clients by other professionals is frequently not just condensed, but oversimplified in misleading ways.
“I often heard . . . pronouncements by . . . therapists or doctors that science had clearly proven certain theoretical explanations and treatments. . . . that research had already provided proof of the treatments that worked best. Yet from my own exposure to the relevant research literature, I knew that basic treatment questions regarding [these] problems . . .remained deeply contested—at least among scientists.
“Why then, was the general public being told so confidently that certain answers had been found? After discussing some of the research debates with a medical doctor colleague recently, I suggested that perhaps we should let clients know more about the areas where conflicted findings exist. (Italics added) His response was telling. ‘Oh, no,’ he said with a tone of admonishment. ‘You don‘t want to do that. Families and individuals facing these kinds of problems shouldn‘t have to deal with that kind of confusion.’ He went on to explain that exploring complex issues was a realm best reserved for doctors and researchers who had the training to know best how to make sense of the contradictions.
“Perhaps this kind of attitude explains some of the certainty families hear from helping professionals and other mental health educators. . . But here‘s the point: What if we don‘t really know? What if there are questions that haven‘t been settled yet and issues not fully explored? If this were the case, what would it mean to take one available view and promote it as ‘established’, perhaps prematurely? What if that view, after it became widespread, turned out to be misleading in fundamental ways?
“And what about other less dominant positions? Would they be heard as well or would they be overlooked or even minimized? What if one of these views turned out to be a breakthrough discovery, with wide implications for treatment?
“. . . With all due respect to my doctor friend, I believe that those facing severe emotional problems, their families and others who seek to assist them (friends, neighbors, teachers, counselors, consultants, etc.), all deserve clear and comprehensive information on any issue relevant to the problem they are facing. This might include issues concerning the range of potential explanations for the problem or it might take up a similar range of issues pertaining to possible answers for the same problem. Rather than sparing‘ families the full scope of ambiguities and nuances associated with the range of these issues, it seems not only fair, but also ethical, for social service practitioners and researchers to help such families and individuals be more aware of critical issues, tough questions and thorny debates. In this, the educational role of a doctor or therapist or mental health advocate is more akin to a mentor or advisor who helps others think through issues, than a missionary or school teacher that aims to deliver ‘the truth’ about emotional problems.”
In this program Dr. Hess will discuss some of the most important controversies in mental health, some of the most promising breakthroughs in holistic treatment, and the need for a more open, honest and complete dialogue about what we really know and don’t know about mental health. Dr. Hess proposes some profound changes in the way we talk about mental and emotional challenges, and in the way we view both the potential causes and the potential solutions for mental illness.
You may download Dr. Hess’ full text at the following link:
A long-term view of serious emotional problems: “Is there such a thing as „getting better‟ from this or not?”