The Three Things You Need to Have a Healthy Mental Life
When we sit down and really think about how different our lives are from how we would like them to be, the task of change starts to seem enormous. Relationships, family, work all seem to have their shortcomings. What hope is there if there are so many problems? Self Psychology theory offers us hope by asking us to concentrate on one thing at a time. Let's start with what you already have; your ideals, ambitions and skills.
A method for change
Self Psychology, developed by Heinz Kohut (a visionary psychotherapist) is a supportive form of psychotherapy. I feel offers a well-proven method for change. It is best known for its empathic approach and its ability to restart derailed self development. It had at its goal the empathic exploration of the ‘core’ parts of a client’s personality.
Sectors of the self
However, one of its lesser-known features is the concept of sectors. Simply put, our lives are composed of sectors. These sectors are fairly separate areas of our life, are sustained over a period of time, and link our unchanging core personality parts with more surface-level parts of our personality. For example, you may have a work sector, a family sector, a relationship sector, a sports sector and a hobby sector (and perhaps others).
Each sector is not really a separate personality. All are part of the one person, but different characteristics of the person may come to the fore in the different sectors. Further, each sector might be really well developed and rich in content.
Ideals, ambitions and skills – towards mental health
Interestingly, Kohut did not believe ‘that mental health comes from emptying a person’s unconsciousness of all unresolved, dark thoughts and feelings, or perfectionistically seeking a complete integration of a person’s experiences’. Instead, develop strong sectors ‘rather than a general self-integration that, however desirable, is not essential’ (Lee, 2009 p.136).
Kohut believed that if a person had one sector of their life that successfully engaged and integrated their ideals, ambitions and skills then this sector of their life would link their core self to their peripheral self. If this happened then their life could be ‘healthy and meaningful, even if limited in scope (Lee, 2009). No matter what the sector of your life is, if it integrates these three elements – ideals, ambitions and skills – then this sector will provide a basis for a healthy mental life.
Get one part right
In other words, start by getting one part of your life right – even a hobby or interest – that is true to your ideals. This then allows you to express your ambitions and engages your skills and this will provide an anchor for you.
Let me know what you think in the comments.
INteresting article? Now read Vulnerability and the Paradox of Defence
– Tim Hill
Reference: Lee, R. R., Rountree, A. & McMahon, S. (2009) Five Kohutian Postulates: Psychotherapy Theory from an Empathic Perspective Jason Aronson, Maryland.