Getting Well and Recovering From Mental Illness

Posted by Tim Tarks on February 19th, 2020

One of the greatest things about being a clinical psychologist is to work with patients and their families who are experiencing the devastation caused by mental illnesses. However, I feel that there is a specific aspect of this work that is overlooked or neglected by many. This often happens when symptoms of devastating mental illnesses subside. This issue is something I call "getting well." Getting well is a cornerstone for long-term recovery in both the patient and the supporters of the patient. 

How can "getting well" be so complex? In the process of "getting sick" there are complicated patterns that begin to be ingrained for the individual and even the family that actually end up interfering with the person's ability to recover and truly get well.

What does it mean to "get well"? Some things can be pretty obvious. It can mean that a person overcomes their mental illness enough to function properly. For some, a complete recovery is possible and allow a person to return to their lives that were put on hold due to symptoms of their mental illness. This can happen in months for some or years for others. For others yet, their mental illness diagnosis may be with them for their lifetime, and creating some space for this diagnosis is the goal. Whatever your particular outcome may be, there is the very important task of being well. This goes far beyond just being able to function, rather, it's an attitude, a new way of carrying yourself that helps you approach every challenge that you encounter. 

It's important to remember that well person can become sick. But a well person has the expectation that once the illness is over, they will go back to being well. A well person expects to be well. A well person is independent and has goals. A well person sets boundaries, has friends, and gives back to others in need. A well person knows when they need to make a change and see a medical professional. A well person can acknowledge when things aren't going well and when they need help to change their behavior patterns. 

Sometimes a relapse can be quite illuminating.  It can help the individual realize that there was some deeper psychological work that still needed to be done and by going back into a higher level of care, that work can be done.  However, at some point, all people recovering from a serious mental illness must address what it means to no longer be a “sick” person.  Again, that does not mean free of all psychological symptoms or struggle.  For those whose journey took place over many years, it can feel impossible.  And when one feels overwhelmed by what needs to be accomplished to be well, it can be very tempting to go back into old behaviors or “relapse” in order to kick that can further down the road.

But if we can use a relapse to really dig in and get to core of these fears that prevent people from fully embracing recovery, we experience the “silver lining” of a relapse.  We can begin to speak about what feels unspeakable and begin to work through the fears and shame that holds people back.  At the same time, we must begin to develop the skills to re-integrate back into life  This is difficult work.  It is tempting for family members to feel like this should be the easy part, but it’s not. It is the most challenging phase of recovery. It can be quite lonely and alienating and family members or friends must learn how to support this individual in a way that does not encourage “sick” behaviors.  So therapy must continue for some time on an outpatient level in order to make sure that the individual and their support network are not slipping into old patterns unconsciously.

If you’re struggling with a mental illness, “Getting Well” and overcoming mental illnesses is possible for you! I’m Dr. Amy Boyers, a Psychologist in South Miami who specializes in eating disorder treatment and other long term conditions.

Like it? Share it!

Tim Tarks

About the Author

Tim Tarks
Joined: October 15th, 2019
Articles Posted: 59

More by this author