Mental-health counselors must knock down the barriers between counselor and client if they want to help people with mental illness, according to a national expert on the subject, who said the principle can be applied to any area of helping people.
"I hope you can remember to shed the roles we've been given and the titles we've been given and get in touch with your powers as a human being," said Elizabeth Gowdy, training associate at the School of Social Welfare's Mental Health Laboratory at the University of Kansas. Gowdy was a keynote speaker at the first Utah public mental-health conference, held this week in Ogden."Empowerment happens when we can shed job titles and our own humanity comes to the forefront."
Gowdy espouses what she calls the "Strength Principle" of counseling people with mental illness. It is not just for counselors, however, but for anyone who wants to help someone with mental illness. The principle has four parts:
- "Clients or consumers are seen and treated as human beings with a future," Gowdy said. "We tend to forget that people had a life long before I came along and they will have a life long after. Find the client's strengths, then tailor the work to those very unique aspects of their lives."
- According to Gowdy, an important part of that is "expecting positive outcomes." Focus should be shifted away from how something is to be accomplished and placed on the goal.
"If I want my kids out of foster care, I might listen to you about parenting skills. But if you just try to get me to take a parenting class . . . ."
- Successful people are those who are "learning for a living." These individuals don't just work, "but seek out feedback, have open forum and are there for you. They go out of their way to figure out how to do it better and are not entrenched. They ask, lend and borrow knowledge and they put their own work under a microscope," she said.
- Finally, it is important to learn how to "make something from nothing. As Joan of Arc said, `The future is not a place we are going; it's a place we are creating.' "
To do that, people must develop creativity, "a blythe indifference to the word `no,' " learn to break a problem down to bite-size and have persistence.
"The hardest thing always is changing the norms," Gowdy said. "We need to get out and reach out. Sometimes that's hard."
The two-day conference was sponsored by the Division of Mental Health, the Public Mental Health Association and the Utah State Hospital.