John Weaver, Psy.D.
An Overview of Integrated Mental Health – Part 1
This will be a multipart blog, so keep watching for the subsequent updates.
Mental health has become a loaded term. Like health care and health insurance, the term has come to mean treatment for mental disorders and often has little connection to actual health. Because of that potential confusion, I am going to use the term “psychological health” in this blog series because I want to address more than just the treatment of disorders. This is about how we improve the quality of our psychological life. As you will see, that has implications for physical health, relationships, and spiritual well-being because all of who we are is interconnected.
Back when I was doing my internship, there was a lot of talk about a biopsychosocial model for mental health. This theory was attempting to incorporate a multi-factorial understanding of human function as the basis for treatment decisions.
The theory was not well-developed at the time, and the guidance for how to use this model was sometimes vague as a result. This is not surprising with a new theory that was still under development. It was also a time when new medications for depression were being developed (There were 3 new SSRI medications available). New approaches to psychotherapy were also starting to emerge (Cognitive Therapy was competing with behavioral strategies that were frequently used, psychodynamic therapies were still practiced by some psychotherapists). Some of the social critiques, offered by mental health professionals who wrote in the 1960’s, were being challenged by the optimism from the new medication and psychotherapy techniques. There was some turmoil for clinicians because of the clashes that were occurring.
These times could have sparked important dialogues that would provide a milieu of fertile ground for ongoing deepening of our understandings of human behavior. That in not what happened. For a variety of professional, economic, and political reasons the model of psychological health has become more focused on the biological dimension and the psychological and social determinants have become seen as secondary. The spiritual dimension of human experience is usually excluded from the discussion entirely, for historical reasons.
I want to be clear, there are important and legitimate dimensions to the biological dimensions of psychological health. The advances in neuroscience have helped us to begin to appreciate the role that brain functioning plays in allowing us to live healthy and satisfying lives.
Perhaps because the neuroscience is attempting to study a very complex biological process, it has seemingly become the central explanatory factor (and primary focus of treatment) for psychological health. This is a model that is both helpful, but inadequate for a truly integrated understanding of human behavior.
As this series of blogs unfold, I will look at four dimensions of psychological health that function in an integrated way to increase our well-being. Biological dimensions interact with psychological, social, and spiritual dimensions of our human experience and each contributes to, and supports, the other dimensions in important ways. If any of these dimensions are omitted, it will hamper our abilities to live our best life.
In the next few blogs, I will spend time with each dimension. I will highlight its importance as well as discussing how each dimension interacts with the others to provide a model of integrated psychological health.