Saturday, October 13, 2012

Effects of Mood Disorders, Part 2

- Four Elements of Counseling for Mood Disorders - 

Today we are featuring the 2nd of a 3-part article series produced by Steve Brannon, a teacher, ex-military (US Air Force and US Navy) and former management consultant at Vanderbilt University. Currently, Steve offers support groups for those suffering from mood disorders and their families. This work is done through DBSA Jackson - his not-for-profit organization (501 c-3) which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Steve is also the author of the book: The Two Agreements.
To connect with, or learn more about, Steve visit:

Taking charge of personal recovery and wellness in an inspiring community of warmth and understanding 

In addition to this invaluable service, I work to provide an exceptionally inspirational, supportive, and warm environment in my weekly meetings. To this end, I have developed a particular approach to promote wellness and create an inspiring community named “A Better Tomorrow”.  This approach was born of my belief in cultivating an “understanding family” environment, as we refer to ourselves, after first establishing a healing environment. This family-style environment is evidenced by the hugs, accompanied by words of genuine appreciation, that take place whenever members greet each other, whether at the meetings or the local Wal-Mart. There are other visible signs of my approach to wellness as well, all evidence of authentic caring.

Helping consumers is not a job to me; it is my spiritual work. My goal is to organize and conduct meetings that leave members feeling uplifted and more resilient; and to this end my approach addresses the whole person: body, mind, heart, and spirit. The following are general elements that promote wellness in our support/networking community.

The first element is something I call the “illusion of structure”.  Since consumers experience a largely unstructured “inner world” of their thoughts and feelings, structure in their outer world becomes extremely important.  They need the feeling of structural support but not of external control. So I create the illusion of structure to provide this comfort, when in reality, I am abandoning structure to address a crisis, allow for a moment of humor, and even extend the meeting to make certain special needs are met.

During the discussion period, I set the stage for a respectful time of sharing and discussion by reading aloud the specific guidelines for sharing.  This includes making certain that everyone who wants to share gets their turn to speak and ask questions. Each person is asked to share how their life is going on that day, and while I ask they be brief, I also make allowances when an individual needs time to express weightier matters. I also close each meeting with words that do justice to the special time we’ve shared: “No greater gift can we give one another than our time. We never lived these hours before, we will never live them again, and we cannot get them back. Yet, we chose to spend these priceless hours with one another.”

 The second key ingredient to my groups is empowerment. This means focusing recovery and wellness on the individual. I teach them how to practice self-help and challenge them to leave their comfort zones, both in the meetings and out in everyday life.  To this end, I routinely assign responsibilities to group members, concerning a variety of projects related to the functions of the group. I also believe that giving to others is one of the most empowering things we can do; therefore although many members live on a fixed income, I encourage them to give of their resources, and their time, in service to others.  Finally, all members are responsible for making the meeting a safe place, in space and time; not only the facilitator.

The third key ingredient is self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is power for everyone; however, it is especially crucial for someone living with a mood disorder. Therefore, I assist group members in learning the things in life that trigger episodes of mood swings. This is also referred to as “knowing your triggers”.  Individuals are also encouraged to explore what they can do to head off a swing in mood, and what they can do to quickly come back after a mood swing. This is often referred to as “knowing your combination”.  One of the most important—and surprising—things I teach consumers is that they also possess positive characteristics from their illnesses. For example, those with Bipolar disorder have drive, ambition, energy, enthusiasm, self confidence (in a positive social way), resilience, exceptional creativity, and empathy.  They also have a unique perception of the world and increased sensitivity.  Those with depression are also empathetic, and very sensitive to the pain in the world.  Other “positives” of depression include patience and compassion, and they are usually given to more easily accept the belief in a higher power. Finally, people with depression often have more faith that life situations will improve in time, and they tend to engage in altruistic acts.

The fourth element is resiliency, for I deem that beliefs and responses to adversity help folk recover more quickly from difficult situations.  An important part of this piece is to acknowledge that you can’t control your illness. I let my group members know that it’s okay if they fall down. What matters is that they get back up and keep moving forward. When they find themselves in a tough situation, they must identify their expectations, as well as their beliefs about them, and themselves. One meeting each month, different members speak about the people, places and/or things that in inspire them in a deep and meaningful way, so as to rise above adversity. These meetings, called the “Share Your Inspiration” nights, are very popular.  In adversity, undoubtedly, the most important thing is for the members to be gentle with themselves, and others, in thought and speech.  A survivor’s attitude is key here.  They must learn to hold the attitude that they are deserving of all the good things life has to offer.

* Find Part 1 of this article series via the Oct 6th archived post. Watch for part  3 of this article series on this blog on Oct 27th

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