A Critical Skill Often Missing in the Mental Health Care System

Mental health care.

What a strange system. If you can even call it that.

It’s more like a bunch of disparate parts, quacking away on their own.

I know, I know. Silos happen in every industry.

But it’s especially bad in mental health care.

You need to find a therapist who accepts your insurance.

Is this provider in network?

Why does that facility not know what the other one is doing?

Do any of these mental health professionals ever talk to one another, or are they all just focused on their own businesses?

It’s bad. And it’s hard to know where to begin to make it better.

But, in my humble opinion, there is one big thing missing in the mental health care system.

And it’s not something that’s talked about very much.

But How are They Feeling?

I’m a social worker, so I’ve worked with my fair share of mental health professionals in the mental health care system. I’m focused on my own thing now to try to make a bigger impact, but I may go back to working within the mental health care system one day.

But what I’ve noticed about far too many professionals is that they rely on, what seems to me, to be mere tricks of the trade. They learned some kind of technique in school or from a supervisor or coworker — and they are committed to using it even if the situation doesn’t call for it.

Like this. It was a family meeting. A child was about to be released from a hospital. The family was scared and wasn’t quite sure about next steps. There was a disagreement among family members. And then, all of a sudden, the mental health professional started showing off a technique that she knew that would solve all of their problems. As if she were reciting lines from a play she had been in — or was currently in, oddly enough — she started to rattle off magical, mystery words that would solve all of the family members’ issues.

I was just sitting in on the meeting and had a minor role. But like the family members near me, my eyes instinctively grew wide with surprise. I looked around me. The family was clearly uncomfortable. They didn’t know what was going on. The connection had been lost.

Humanity in the Mental Health Care System

Why did I just share that with you?

I shared it to illustrate a point. Something I have seen FAR too often is the reliance that mental health care professionals have of falling back on technique when they should just be HUMAN BEINGS.

If this worker had not been lost in her memorized lines, she would have realized that the family was not at all connecting with what she was doing and saying. She would have paused and checked in with the family to get feedback.

What people need most is not tricks and techniques. They need humanity. They need to be heard, to feel understood. Technique has its place — but only if it matches the moment. Context matters.

Your Mental Health Care Experience

Even if you’ve never formally experienced mental health care, I’m sure you’ve experienced someone working with you to help you feel better.

What resonated the most? Was it someone who was off in their own little world, or was it someone who was completely present with you, alert and attentive to your needs, practicing active listening skills with you in the moment?

Professionals become educated so that they can learn skills — and that’s a good thing. But what’s really NOT a good thing is when mental health professionals forget their most important skill of all: being who they are.

Your uniqueness is something that no one else can replicate. Your individual experiences make you relatable.

When you share who you are with authenticity, you open up a door for others to do the same.

When looking for support from the mental health care system, look for the professionals who remember that they are, first and foremost, human beings like everyone else.