So many factors are in play in running a practice and serving clients. And a session at the recent 2023 NTSA Summit focused on one fundamental to doing both effectively: mental health.
In “‘Holding’ Pattern: Is Mental Health Holding You Back?” Eric Jenkins, LCSW/Therapist at Willow Pines Therapeutic Services, offered some insights into how and why mental state is relevant and important to a practice and its reason for being.
To illustrate the importance of the matter, Jenkins outlined how active the mind is and the scope of daily mental activity: 5,000-7,000 conscious thoughts, and up to 60,000 subconscious thoughts per day.
Human beings are psychologically rigid, Jenkins told attendees. They tend to forget what it takes and means to be present in the moment, and are so focused on the past that they are not mindful of the present.
He suggested factors one can consider and questions one can ask oneself to assess the degree to which one is psychologically inflexible:
- Contact with the present moment. How much time do you spend dwelling on the past or on the future? What elements of the past or the future do you dwell on?
- Values. What core values are you unclear about or neglecting?
- Committed Action. What impulsive, avoidant, or self-defeating actions are you talking or allowing to persist when persistent action is required?
- Self as Context. What is your “conceptualized self?”
- Fusion. What unhelpful cognitive content are you fusing with?
- Acceptance. What experiences — thoughts, feelings, memories — are you avoiding? Why?
Instead, Jenkins argued, it is important to be psychologically flexible — to be able to do what it takes to be present in the moment. Further, he said, it is the ability to hold our thoughts and emotions a bit more lightly, acting on longer-term values and goals rather than short-term impulses, thoughts, and feelings.
Jenkins suggested one consider two factors in developing psychological flexibility:
1. Define what a rich and meaningful life means. What gives one purpose?
2. Identify values and use them as a framework for behaviors and actions. “Our value system has got to be the basis of our success,” Jenkins remarked.
Jenkins stressed the importance of psychological energy, and offered some questions that one can ask oneself in examining it and understanding it:
- How am I going to use my energy every day?
- What am I conserving my energy for?
- What do I need to accomplish today and how much energy will it take?
- What do I need to do to conserve energy?
- What is going on in my “background” that takes away my energy?
You ultimately get to choose what your happiness is, Jenkins said. “You have to be working toward who or what is important to you,” he remarked.
In the process, Jenkins said, there are thoughts and feelings that can serve as a “check engine” light of sorts. He suggested that one ask oneself what thoughts one regularly has that keep one unhappy, and consider what thought patterns influence unhappiness.
“Spinning tires when stuck in snow gets one stuck deeper. What are we doing in life that is spinning our wheels?” Jenkins asked. “What can we do to get us moving toward where we need to be?” he continued.
Building a Meaningful Life
Jenkins offered some tips in building a meaningful life:
- Set goals each day.
- Keep a list of empowering thoughts and emotions.
- Keep a daily gratitude list.
- Focus on having balance in life.
- Act mindfully.
Observing, accepting, and “unhooking” are all behaviors of a wise mind, Jenkins suggested.