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The President's Perspective
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By Gray Otis, PhD, LPC, CCMHC 
AMHCA President, 2011–12


As you are aware, the DSM is being revised, and the new version is currently scheduled for release in 2013. There has been quite a lot of press concerning the diagnostic criteria in the new DSM, and some controversy, too. What is not controversial, however, is that the emphasis of the DSM will be primarily on the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders.

As more than one person has pointed out, however, mental wellness is not merely the absence of mental illness. As clinical mental health counselors, our distinction in the psychology-related professions should be our focus on cognitive and emotional well-being.

The question then arises: What is mental health?

We all know individuals who exemplify mental fitness and resilience. I remember a couple, Bob and Beverly, who are 
two of the most vibrant people I have ever known. When I met them, they were already in their 70s, and you could not find two people who enjoyed their lives more. Despite Beverly’s debilitating health problems, they enthusiastically enjoyed their separate pursuits. Bob was a 21st century cowboy who had worked in a steel mill while never losing his love for horses and rodeos. Beverly relished her work in real estate. As a couple, they frequently had a twinkle in their eye for each other. All who knew them loved their zest for life.

What makes people like Beverly and Bob mentally healthy? That is a question that we as clinical mental health counselors should be constantly researching. Perhaps we are not doing formal research at a university, but in our work with clients, we are always asking ourselves what we can do for each client that will help them discover the best levels of emotional health. It is never enough that a client no longer meets the DSM criteria for Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, or PTSD.

Rather, as the specialists in mental health, we need to continue to refine our work so that clients come to realize rewarding relationships and richer, more meaningful lives. As Scott Miller, PhD, pointed out in his keynote address at our Annual Conference in San Francisco in July, successful counselors continuously seek to be more effective. We are not satisfied unless we have helped our clients achieve significantly better health and wellness.

Recently, Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, has shown that individuals fall into one of two groups:

  • Those who believe they are worthy to be loved.
  • Those who believe they are unworthy to be loved.

Her fascinating research is summarized in a free video called, “The Power of Vulnerability”. I highly recommend it for everyone who wants to promote real health and resilience.

Dr. Brown is not the only investigator whose data point to the power of self-belief in determining life satisfaction and well-being. Researchers are discovering that what a person fundamentally believes about themselves, whether consciously or subconsciously, is central to how they live their lives. Clinical mental health counselors need to understand how they can help individuals shift debilitating, negative self-beliefs so that clients can redirect the course of their lives. For those suffering from psychiatric disorders, shifting to positive self-beliefs is often the means for them to build a future of mental and emotional health.

I would add that the future of our clients is also a harbinger of our profession’s future. We already know that our work helps clients overcome psychiatric disorders. But as specialists in mental health, we need to develop ever-more-effective approaches in building therapeutic relationships, alleviating symptoms, and then, enriching mental vitality. In truth, our profession is established by every client who comes to us seeking relief and leaves our care with both real relief and a greater sense of resilient well-being.