Contending with the Cliché in Contemporary Mental Health Treatment

Many clichés have come in recent years to dominate contemporary standard practice in mental health treatment. If you want more encouraging outcomes, I suggest a good way to arrive at those improved results would be by scrapping the cliche’.

Before I elaborate on this subject, let’s go to the dictionary for a definition of cliché, and then we can work on any judgment as to the relative truth or merits of this statement. I’m going to Merriam-Webster Online for my definition.

Definition of CLICHÉ
1: a trite phrase or expression; also : the idea expressed by it
2: a hackneyed theme, characterization, or situation
3: something (as a menu item) that has become overly familiar or commonplace

Merriam-Webster also supplies a word origin.

Origin of CLICHÉ
French, literally, printer’s stereotype, from past participle of clicher to stereotype, of imitative origin.
First Known Use: 1892

This leads to the use of certain expressions on the subject of mental health treatment, such as you see in this article from The Bemidji Pioneer, Here’s to You: First steps for families coping with mental illness.

We start with the bafflement of families having to deal with a bereaved or disoriented, “sick” as one would have it, relative.

When families first learn of mental illness in the family, they often feel lost about what to do for the family member, or where to find information to help.

I imagine that to be an innocent enough situation when it doesn’t lead, as it does in this instance, to the concept of “denial”.

They may deny there is anything permanent occurring: “She’ll get over this in a few months, and then she can get back to work again.”

The presumption of permanence, as far as emotional states are concerned, in the mental health field, is a cliché. The concept of denial, arising from the same psychology textbook that gave us those tenacious diseases of the mind, is yet another cliché.

We should never be so presumptuous. Self-defeat is premature when it comes without a trial, and it is even more premature when it is accepted as a given, or when it is seen as the toxic fruit of an ancient curse.

Could it not also be a matter of denying the impermanence of the difficulties he or she was facing?

While some people do have a temporary condition, for many in our community it is a long-term illness that must be managed over time.

Now we are juxtaposing a “long-term illness” to a “temporary condition”. Sounds pretty suspiciously like a cliché to me. Why would we have here in our problematic relative “a long-term illness that must be managed over time”?

The Online Entymological Dicionary, through, tells us a little more about the word origin of the word stereotype.

1798, “method of printing from a plate,” from Fr. stéréotype (adj.) “printing by means of a solid plate of type,” from Gk. stereos “solid” (see sterile) + Fr. type “type.” Noun meaning “a stereotype plate” is from 1817. Meaning “image perpetuated without change” is first recorded 1850, from the verb in this sense, which is from 1819. Meaning “preconceived and oversimplified notion of characteristics typical of a person or group” is recorded from 1922. Stereotypical is attested from 1949.

I suggest resorting to a different typeface in the interests of arriving at a different conclusion. A tradition of defeat is not the kind of tradition that I would wish to perpetuate nor to honor. The dead should not be expected, in this instance, to bury the living. Let me be more blunt on the subject. Relatives who care about relatives don’t saddle those relatives with “long-term illness[es] that must be managed over time”.

The same goes for those “medications” used to “manage” such “long-term illnesses”. The trashcan is a better lodge for those noxious chemical compounds that “blunt” folks emotions than the medicine cabinet. Take the “medication management” away, and you can expect a much better outcome than the usual sorry state of affairs doctors of psychiatry have come to stick us with, money and worry-wise.