How I Got Into Behavioral Health

(962 words – 5 minute read)

So how did I, Rod, with no university degrees find my way into working in a conservative small-town mental health clinic?

I’d had some slight experience with the university system, a glancing blow you may say, a few years back. Our hospital had about twelve beds and I was working there as a CNA (nurses assistant or “orderly” as my mother would pointedly say). I had a vague intention of becoming a nurse as the idea of earning a steady income had its appeal. It was a bit late in the game, my late 50s, but what the hell, it’s a new game to play.

We had a local university extension; it was a doublewide behind a gas station off the freeway on the outskirts of town. Ah! ”Higher Learning.” Not quite the hallowed halls of Oxford, but it would do just fine for me.

There were about twenty eager faces in the psychology class. It was taught by a retired pharmaceutical employee an ex “Pharma babe.” They were a familiar sight at the hospital, seducing the doctors with their free samples. Good start, my dealer is my teacher.

Our textbook was “Exploring Psychology” by David G. Myers.

Right at the beginning of the textbook David said we weren’t going to study the nature of consciousness or awareness because it couldn’t be understood and wasn’t worth thinking about. There goes 10,000 years of meditation down the drain. We were just going to study behavior, our observable actions. Right there I could feel all the fun being sucked out of this game.The previous owner of my second hand copy of professor Myer’s book had underlined some of the presumably more pertinent passages in the book; but he or she had given up after a few pages. I was beginning to understand why.

I had fancifully thought, now that we were out of high school and in university, that we would be engaged in thoughtful debate rather than the mindless indoctrination of high school. No way – we were still in high school.

Our textbook was a mish-mash of disconnected observations. When you hide behind a couch and suddenly pop out does the baby think you have disappeared when he can’t see you? Who cares?

I got into the habit of protesting these idiocies by dramatically tearing out the offending page, crumpling it up and throwing it on the floor. But that got to be a tedious and futile gesture after a while. I soon gave it up and instead gave our instructor the answers she wanted. I became the good student; it was easier – but I never believed.

There was one interesting statistic though. The book said that students who had been given an hour of basic instruction in listening did better at helping people than who had degrees in psychotherapy. Apparently the more highly qualified you were the more useless you were. The whole thing should have ended there and then but I’ve got to give it to them, they put it right up there and then went sailing right on as if nothing had happened.

I figured it was a test. If you threw up and ran screaming from the room you were not suitable material. If you stayed though, then you displayed the corruption, malleability and stupidity suitable to being a professional in the field of mental health.

I finished the semester with a 4.0 just for the hell of it. That was my one and only attempt at going straight.

Back at the hospital I was playing at “nurses assistant” and on the side helping patients get through the trauma of being in hospital. Its not just the what’s wrong with our bodies that makes us sick, it’s also how we react to the trauma that keeps us stuck in it.

One man could not be discharged because of his severe asthma/panic attacks. One quiet evening I asked him if he wanted some help with these feelings of panic. He was game and I used a technique I have found to be quite effective – EFT (emotional freedom technique).

I had him tap on some key acupuncture points while thinking of his panic and difficulty in breathing. This reset his nervous system, the panic and asthma was gone, and he was discharged the next morning. The doctors said the meds had kicked in.

Carolyn, a social worker in the Behavioral Health Center of the hospital had noticed my subversive assistance. She was cool; she did EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, which has similarities to the EFT I was doing) and also ran a stress management group.

She told me there was an opening in Behavioral Health and she’d like to have me there. I told her I didn’t have a social worker degree. She said it didn’t matter and that I didn’t need one.

The job was PSR (psycho-social rehabilitation), helping the mentally challenged. All it required was a high school diploma – which I had. I took the job and so began my career in the mainstream. I thought it was temporary,  it lasted more than nine years. Be careful what you get into.

I brought Amy on board and we started a tai chi group in the park for my mentally challenged clients. Though they had been diagnosed with mental deficiencies, they turned out to be our most dedicated students.

Soon we had twenty or so people in our group added to by other Behavioral Health clients and people wandering around the park who saw how much fun we were having. We were open to all. We taught them meditation and visualization and how to handle their own thoughts and feelings instead of taking mind-numbing drugs.

We had lit a fire in the belly of the beast.