I am a counseling intern at a crisis stabilization unit. Our clients have mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders. Every day, I run the mental health group and talk to the clients about different aspects of mental health disorders, specific disorders, dealing with emotions, taking medication, going to appointments, etc.For the most part, these hour-long sessions proceed with a degree of boredom (new drugs) or absolute chaos.
Last week, I had a session in which we were discussing medication compliance and how it would help prevent future visits to our unit. An individual became belligerent, accusing me of not knowing what it was like to be in their position. I made a tough choice, my gut told me that I would make the greatest impact on the group if I was truthful. So, I made the following statement.
“Approximately one year ago, I was a patient in a crisis stabilization unit. No, it wasn’t exactly like this. I have bipolar I disorder, I was diagnosed 10-years-ago. Since that time I have had four episodes. Every day, I take lithium, zoloft, lamictal, wellbutrin, klonipin, and some others that I have forgotten right now. I do this because I know that my medication increases the length of time that I am stable and reduces the severity of my episodes. I’m telling you this because I want you to know that I understand where you are coming. You may be frustrated with being here involuntarily, and I understand that. I am also telling you this because taking your medication and seeking counseling works. I’m telling you from experience that stopping your medication will only make things worse. I’m telling you these things because I don’t ever want you to think that I don’t understand.”
They were quiet for a moment. Then they started asking questions about their own care. I couldn’t answer their questions, but I could refer them to those who could. Each one of those clients left with a treatment plan that they were willing to follow.
My diagnosis is not a secret. It has never been, but that was the first time that I realized the power of the truth.
But, it is is only part of the truth. I didn’t tell them that I understood their suicidal ideation because I faced it almost every day. I didn’t discuss the overwhelming feeling of just living a life some days. I didn’t mention them because those are my struggles and they do nothing to support their recovery. However, those things are real to me.