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Mental Health and Spiritual Growth

A number of years ago I was having a stimulating conversation with a psychiatrist friend. We were talking about mental health in general, talking shop sort of speak. He made an amazing comment during our conversation that has become the foundation of how I think about mental health and mental health disorders.

In his comments my friend stated that he could take all the mental health disorders contained the DSM V (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Vol 5) and place them immediately into two groups. One group is about the past, e.g. Depression, PTSD, etc. The other group is about the future, e.g. Anxiety and Paranoia, etc. He then offered his definition of mental health as the ability to stay emotionally in the present. What an insight!

In 1997 the spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle in his work The Power of the Now has based his whole spirituality on this notion, the power of the present moment. Tolle continues his thoughts in his second work, The New Earth. Mr. Tolle offers this inspiring thought: "Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally."

Over the last twenty-eight years in my clinical practice I have experienced the blessing of professionally counseling teens, young adults, and older adults, both individually and as couples. Time and time again I see my clients’ bondage of being stuck in the past and/or future. Part of my work with them is to lead them to develop the skills of attentiveness, self-awareness, and mindfulness. Most of our psychic pain comes from our ego. I once heard ego defined as an acronym: Easing God Out. How true this is. Many of our problems large and small seem to be rooted in our ego and our egoic attitude toward self, others, and nature.

What relief I see arising in my clients’ lives when they take the risk and allow themselves to be in the present. They experience a kind of empowerment and confidence. On the other hand some struggle with letting go of the past and future and insist that they need to plan. This is true. We all need to plan. However, living in the present as a mentally healthy person does not have to interfere with our need to plan. Planning a plan and not an outcome seems to be key. A plan is projected course of action with an end point. All good plans need to be open to change because of unknown or unforeseen factors. And so we adjust. One the other hand one who plans an outcome has attached to the fulfillment of the plan one’s own emotional serenity. This attitude can lead to putting all our “emotional eggs” in the basket called future. This often leads us to create and maintain unrealistic expectations of self and others which can be the foundation of self-destructive behaviors.

Some of you may be wondering what the connection of living emotionally in the present has with our faith as Christians. Well, to me there is a connection. In Exodus 3:14 when Moses went up the mountain he met Yahweh. And when he asked God what he is to say to the Israelites when they ask who sent him. God responded with “I Am Who Am.” Isn’t that presence? God’s identify seems to be so intricately enveloped in the present. In my work when I help others to stay focused in the present, I might well be helping them position themselves to meet the Divine. Now that prospect gets me out of bed in the morning to meet the day and to get to work advancing the Kingdom.

(Image: Moses and the burning bush. Loca sancta icon from the 12th or 13th century.)

One final thought about mental health awareness. It might be helpful to frame mental health as mental health hygiene. We practice dental hygiene, sleep hygiene and personal hygiene. Why not practice mental health hygiene? This hygiene requires that I daily practice awareness of myself and my emotions. It is important to find someone you trust and share your feelings with him or her. Mental health hygiene requires that I practice attentiveness to my surroundings, my friends, my family, and my fellow parishioners. And in doing this we will be more fully focused on the present and in that moment touch and be touched by the grace of our ever present God. I wish you good mental health.

-Bill Dorn

Bill Dorn is a licensed professional counselor and a certified advanced drug and alcohol counselor who holds a Master of Divinity degree. Bill maintains two offices as part of Isaly Counseling Associates in the North Hills on McKnight Road and in Carnegie. If you are interested in his services you may call Bill directly at 412-853-8487. More information about Bill is available at

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