If we accept the mental and emotional disorders, the general trend of prevention and therapy is immediately obvious. If mental illnesses are the result of learned reactions, gradually acquired, therapy becomes a process of re-education, during which the patient unlearn old unhealthy emotional and mental habits and acquires new and more efficient methods. This is a general principle that underlies all the modern therapeutic procedures; however varied these appear to be on casual inspection.
Freudian psychoanalysis consists primarily of the conscious recall and emotional reenacting of the infantile repressed memories, which are reinterpreted during the analytic procedure essentially a re-educational process. Adler’s attempt to redirect the patient to a better or more socially acceptable goal than that which had been acquired through previous maladjustment is likewise an educational procedure.
Those who practice suggestion, persuasion, and similar methods are doing the same thing on a more superficial level. Even the rest cures, sea voyages, and changes of occupation so often recommended probably owe their effectiveness to the new viewpoints acquired by the patients as the result of removal from old associations and activities.
All such methods have been found to be surprisingly effective, which seems, in a purely empiric fashion, to substantiate the belief that mental illnesses are psychological phenomena, the result of experience and interpretations of experience; and that cure consists in a reinterpretation in one manner or another. Likewise, prevention will be logically directed against environmental factors which tend to produce or exaggerate unhealthy adaptation and toward the correction of such reactions before they have become such an ingrained part of the individual’s equipment that he will use them in serious matters and will fail to develop others.
Most emotional maladjustment have their basis in experience cones of childhood, experiences which occur before the individual has the power to control the forces that play upon him and before he has learned to judge his reactions to these forces. By the time the age of discretion is reached, most persons have developed certain emotional habits which are unhealthy. But this is nothing to worry about unless the number of these habits is sufficiently great or their use sufficiently frequent to interfere with happiness and efficiency.
Occasionally one needs the advice of a physician trained in the field of psychiatry to correct unhealthy emotional habits. But more commonly one is able to work out one’s own solution, especially if one understands the types of problems and the mechanisms involved. On the other hand, even the “average person,” fairly well-adjusted to life, in whom there is no long-standing or deeply seated conflicts, may, by the neglect of a few relatively simple and self-evident principles, tangle his emotional life to the extent of completely incapacitating himself for happiness. It is not within the scope of this book to discuss these principles at length; but although they appear dogmatic when stated briefly and without modification, a few of them will be set down, in the expectation that the reader will realize their importance and supply for himself the necessary modification and enlargement.
Emotional difficulties are not likely to become serious in a person who is thoroughly conscious of what he wants from life and is willing to face the difficulties involved in getting it. This makes knowledge of the facts about one’s self a fundamental necessity. One must accept one’s physical and intellectual handicaps in order to plan a satisfactory life inside these limitations. There are thousands of people suffering from hopeless frustration because they set a goal for themselves which is beyond their abilities.
Freedom consists of two things; to know each one his limitations that is the same thing as to know one’s self and to accept one’s self as one is, without fear, or envy or distaste; and to recognize and accept the conditions under which one lives, also without fear, or envy or distaste when you do this you shall be free.
On the other hand, it is equally dangerous to use one’s handicaps as an excuse for not attempting some useful and satisfactory work. Everyone has his capabilities as well as his limitations. These assets he should take stock of so as to direct his efforts along lines in which he may expect the greatest degree of accomplishment and personal satisfaction.
These facts about oneself include more than one’s physical and intellectual endowments. Emotional attitudes, desires, and ambitions are equally a part of one’s equipment. They must be recognized and given their proper weight. Satisfaction of emotional needs is a primary necessity for mental health, but such satisfaction requires evaluation, planning, and control. This means a plan of life in which the deepest emotional needs of the individual are given the greatest attention and in which every precaution is taken against their frustration.
The plan must make room also for lesser desires which, although subordinated to the major aims, will be given adequate expression. In general, these requirements are best met by the one who, in addition to his chief work, cultivates a taste for the arts, develops hobbies, enjoys friendships and play, and takes an interest in public affairs or other matters beyond the sphere of mere personal concern.
Poise is one of the most admired personal characteristics of young and old. It suggests easy self-assurance without conceit. The cultivation of poise depends primarily upon mastery of one’s self, which in turn implies good mental health. “He that run let himself is greater than he that takes that city.”
The attainment of happiness, with all that implies, is the goal toward which most of our efforts in life are directed. Yet all too frequently we follow false beacons along life’s highway leading to this goal.
The modern Chinese philosopher, Lin Yutang, wrote, “The only problem unconsciously assumed by all Chinese philosophers to be of any importance is: how shall we enjoy life, and who can best enjoy life? No perfectionism, no straining after the unattainable, no postulating of the unknowable; but taking poor, mortal human nature as it is, how shall we organize our life that all can work peacefully, endure nobly and live happily?”
He answers his own question by saying, “The ideal character best able to enjoy life is a warm, carefree, unafraid soul.” Most of us by intelligent voluntary effort can develop these qualities.