When Common Sense Lets Us Down
When we face mental health difficulties in ourselves or another people, we can often get complex advice from professionals about how to treat the problem. That advice can feel too complicated and inappropriate for the situation, and we can want to fall back on our common sense to help us out. However, is common sense valuable in this situation?
The place of common sense
Common sense has its place. Sometimes problems can be presented in such a complex way that a simplified understanding is invaluable. Cutting through the complexity to essential truths and then being guided by those essential truths can sometimes be really useful. In these instances, we can see a problem and its solution in an elegant way; this helps us understand and implement a workable solution.
It certainly has some things going for it – but it has it's limits
Common sense, the complex brain and mental health
However, this often won't apply to mental health problems. The brain is an immensely complex organ that is only partially understood by the most knowledgeable neuroscientists. By extension, this means that mental health is a complex area as well.
For this reason, we need to take the time to really understand and map out the way that mental health problems can impact ourselves and others. It's only through a full appreciation of this complexity that we can implement solutions that undo the complicated things that can go wrong with people.
The trouble with common sense is that we can get tempted to compare two things that look similar, but are quite different.
Implementing common sense solutions
If we try to implement common sense solutions in the mental health arena, we run the risk of being too simplistic and not appreciating the full scope of the problem. A better way is to get a full understanding of the situation then simplifiy that as much as we possibly can. That's much better than leaping to a common sense outcome that doesn't address the problem.
In many cases, the common sense solution to problems is still technically true; however, the solutions proposed by common sense approaches just don't work in the real world.
Let me give you an example. For problematic substance abuse, the common sense answer is to stop using the substance. That may be undeniably true. However, approaching the question on that level ignores some pretty important aspects of it.
Firstly, it ignores why people have a substance abuse problem. If we don't address that, then merely ceasing the use of one substance leaves the original problem intact. In that case, the person might just use another problematic substance.
Secondly, to suggest that someone should just merely stop ignores problems of implementation. What's the best way for this person to stop? What support would actually help them have a better chance of stopping? Why have their attempts to stop before failed? And what will be the effect on the person actually stopping – could this perhaps lead to even greater problems?
Another example concerns how we, using common sense, used to see schizophrenia as a single disease. However, it has been puzzling to mental health researchers as they couldn't find a common cause. Additionally, we haven't got better at treating it! Now, new research is making us change these simple ideas about schizophrenia. This new research indicates that it might be a collection of different conditions with different causes. This complex thinking is helping us improve treatment where common sense thinking couldn't.
These complex, real-world issues generally only get adequately addressed through complexity; common sense solutions are the opposite of complexity.
Please let me know what you think in the comments. Now, read about how to not burn your bridges with people.
– Tim Hill