Dr. Terry Lynch (MIAHIP) is a GP, author, psychotherapist and mental health activist who has served on many Irish government-appointed mental health groups. He has written three books and teaches in-person and online courses for mental health practitioners.
Pauline: Hi Terry, thanks for agreeing to talk with me about your work. Your website is impressive, with many endorsements, including one from Dr. William Glasser of Reality Therapy fame who said that he would camp out on your doorstep if he needed help. You have created the Dr Terry Lynch Mental Health Academy to share your approach to emotional and mental health with a wider audience and have designed several courses to educate and provide a recovery-oriented model to the mental health service.
Terry: William Glasser wrote those lovely words in his 2003 book Warning: Psychiatry can be hazardous to your mental health, for which I wrote the Foreword. William Glasser was a psychiatrist, but he was highly critical of the medical model.
Pauline: You have said that depression generally reduces a sense of self, and a consequence of that is diminished ability to respond. I’m wondering if the only difference between the roles of a doctor (GP) and a therapist in areas of mental health is in our training and belief in the client’s ability to reclaim that sense of self?
Terry: Most doctors have been indoctrinated into an ideology that assumes that biology is the most important aspect of mental health problems. This assumption has not been validated scientifically, despite more than 70 years of intense research. Yet, this model has been allowed to dominate global mental health. Having observed my medical colleagues closely for 30 years, it is my belief that the widely held assumption that psychiatrists – and to a lesser extent, GPs – possess a superior level of expertise, knowledge and wisdom is an erroneous assumption, one that casts a very long shadow on global mental health. It appears to me that, on the whole, both psychiatrists and GPs lack the level of understanding of the self, or emotionality and psychology – one’s inner world – that is a prerequisite for maximising the potential to work with people towards recovery.
The awareness within the world of therapy of the importance of the self, one’s inner world, emotionality and psychology is certainly welcome. But the dominance of the medical model has resulted in the diminution of the potential of therapy, particularly in regard to people who have been given a psychiatric diagnosis. This is most regrettable, given the significant presence of emotional and psychological issues within the experiences and behaviours that come to be diagnosed as mental illness. The reluctance of schools of therapy – and educators of therapists – to involve themselves to a greater extent in this area is most unfortunate, not least for the significant percentage of the general public who find themselves within this category.
Pauline: Isn’t it worse than ‘unfortunate’ – more like a failure of a state /system to self-regulate?
Terry: Yes, you could also say it’s most regrettable that the schools of therapy have to a large extent acquiesced to the supposedly superior knowledge of the medical profession in relation to the psychiatric diagnoses, whereas in truth, the knowledge of the medical profession in this regard is far from superior. The therapy training schools and bodies should, in the public interest, be far more vocal in this regard – as the UK Division of Clinical Psychology has been (Johnstone, 2013). In 2017, the United Nations also issued a stark statement, calling for a ‘revolution’ in global mental health care (OHCHR, 2017). Where are the therapy schools, the therapy bodies and institutions in all this?
Pauline: Raising awareness in the public interest sounds good. Do you think your work could act as a bridge to build an alliance with general practitioners in their training too?
Terry: The medical ideology is so strong, so dominant within the medical profession that it would represent an enormous challenge for the medical profession to expand their understanding to the degree required in the public interest. Having observed my medical colleagues closely for 30 years, I have seen little willingness within the medical profession to seriously consider emotionality and psychology in relation to psychiatric diagnoses. Their vested interests in the status quo are enormous. I have experienced little desire within the medical profession to engage with me on these matters in the 17 years since my best-selling book Beyond Prozac was published and became widely known across Ireland. Indeed, of all the different stakeholders within mental health in the years since Beyond Prozac was published, in my experience the medical profession was the least interested in seriously considering such changes.
Pauline: Sounds depressing Terry, if you will pardon the pun.
Terry: For me, it’s not depressing at all – these are realities to be addressed. I put considerable emphasis on accurately informing both mental health professionals and the general public in relation to mental health matters. Strengthening a sense of self – and working with the trauma that undermines that sense of self – is a core aspect of my work. The vast majority of people I have worked with over the past 17 years – including those given a psychiatric diagnosis – have a wounded sense of self. Generally recovering a sense of self is an essential aspect of the recovery process.
Pauline: Strengthening a sense of self seems to be the cornerstone of your work, I’m wondering if affirming yourself has been the secret to your achievements as a mental health professional, physician, psychotherapist, and best-selling mental health author?
Terry: Affirming and validating myself, while also being willing to listen to others’ truths, has been very important to me, both in my life and my work. This was something I had to work on in my twenties, as my own childhood and youth had not been the most ideal in terms of fostering selfhood.
Pauline: Can you tell me a little more about your work with affirmations?
Terry: Affirmations are affirming statements you make to yourself about yourself. They can help you to feel better about yourself and raise your sense of self. You don’t have to believe the contents of an affirmation; the key is to say them repeatedly to yourself.
I realise that it may initially feel a little strange to be making affirming statements about yourself to yourself, but that’s okay. If you just keep saying the affirmations, then gradually, with repetition, your mind can get some traction on them. Repetition of affirmations gives your mind something to work towards and you will soon begin to notice the ideas contained within the affirmations popping into your head as you go about your day.
I recommend that people read through affirmations two or three times a day – three if they can make the time: morning, one or two hours before bedtime and about halfway through the day. Read them out loud to yourself if you can, so you hear these statements being made in your own voice. Better still, record them in your own voice – for example, on your phone – and listen back to them three to four times a day. This may initially feel uncomfortable – but keep going. It will take no longer than three or four minutes each time, and if you keep it up, it will be time well spent.
Pauline: I’d like to acknowledge what you said a minute ago about your childhood not being ideal. I’m wondering how you managed to navigate your way through that into training as a GP?
Terry: Personal experiences wounded me in my early life, and that interfered somewhat in my life path. As a teenager, I greatly lost my confidence and went through considerable distress, largely due to personal circumstances within my life. I experienced considerable anxiety as a consequence, which considerably interfered with the development of talent I had exhibited in sport and in music. Upon reflection, I am very happy in relation to these twists and turns of life, and where I have arrived at now in my life. Without my own personal experiences, I’m not sure I would have the levels of empathy and determination I have long possessed regarding maximising people’s chances to live a full life.
Having qualified as a medical doctor and having subsequently trained as a GP, within a few years I came to realise that there were major shortcomings within medical training in emotional and mental health – particularly the bias towards an unverified biological nature of distress, and a significant bias against emotionality and psychology. This unexpected reality became increasingly obvious to me in my work as a GP, reinforced somewhat by my own earlier personal experiences. I did not ever attend a mental health professional, but my own experiences suggested a different, more valid understanding to me.
As the years progressed, I became more determined that I would not spend the rest of my working life within a system in relation to mental health that was bordering on the delusional. I also came to realise that these beliefs were largely self-interested, as far as the medical profession was concerned, not in the interest of the public – a position that is not uncommon among individuals and groups who buy into various delusionary ideas and beliefs.
Many years ago, I made a commitment to truth as a major guiding principle in relation to my work. This commitment has sustained me greatly over the years. I can say from experience that the adage ‘the truth sets you free’ is indeed accurate.
Pauline: I know that you also do a lot of teaching. Can I ask you a bit about that?
Terry: Yes, my latest course is called ‘Working therapeutically with clients with a psychiatric diagnosis’ and it is running at the moment. It’s an eight-day course, one Saturday a month, and deals with the considerable lack of understanding of the psychiatric diagnoses that psychotherapists and counsellors generally end up with as a consequence of the current status quo. I’m very happy with interest and uptake, and with the enthusiasm of enrolled participants, most of whom are psychotherapists/counsellors. I will be creating an online version of the course, as this may suit therapists in other countries and therapists in Ireland for whom attending several days in Dublin poses problems in relation to distance and other commitments.
Pauline: I really appreciate you taking the time to do this piece; thanks also for sharing your Selfhood Affirmations [Terry’s Selfhood Affirmations are reproduced with kind permission on page 8 and 9 of this issue of Inside Out.]
Terry: You are really welcome. Thanks for asking.
Pauline Dolan is in private practice at Ballincollig Healing Centre.
Johnstone, L. (2013, May 13). UK clinical psychologists call for the abandonment of psychiatric diagnosis and the ‘disease’ model. Retrieved 20 September 2017 from https:// www.madinamerica.com/2013/05/uk-clinical-psychologists-call-for-the-abandonment-of- psychiatric-diagnosis-and-the-disease-model
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR). (2017). World needs “revolution” in mental health care – UN rights expert [Press release]. Retrieved 20 September 2017 from http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews. aspx?NewsID=21689