Author: Karin Schlanger

How to improve the Mental Health Crisis in America: make treatments more effective

The United States is grappling with a crisis in mental health, one that has far-reaching implications for individuals, families and communities. In recent years, the prevalence of mental health issues has escalated to alarming levels, posing a significant challenge to the nation’s well-being and stability. One of the causes, we suggest is that the prevalent approaches to treatment are flawed.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately one in five adults in the US experiences a mental illness in a given year. From anxiety to depression to more severe conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the spectrum of mental health issues is vast and complex.

The crisis seems to have escalated with the isolation during the intense COVID 19 years but technology and constant connectivity have also ushered a new set of challenges, such as digital addictions, cyberbullying especially among teenagers, which significantly impact the well-being of the bullied child/adolescent but also their families. We will focus on the stigma surrounding mental health which remains a barrier to seeking timely treatment, especially among non-white consumers. We are interested in focusing on insufficient care services currently among mental health professionals.

Needless to say the consequences of the mental health crisis are profound and far-reaching. Individuals struggling with mental health issues often face impaired quality of life, strained relationships both at home and in the workplace, with reduced productivity. Left untreated, these conditions lead to more severe outcomes. These situations don’t occur from one day to the next: if someone is feeling ‘down’ and could reach out for help then, instead of being placed on a waiting list, the more serious consequences like suicide attempts, will be avoided. As a professional, being able to see anxiety, depression and other diagnosis as color of grey rather than black or white or a switch that gets turned on, makes offering help more effective. This approach would also reduce the heavy economic burden on social services, HMOs and private practitioners.

In our experience, professionals like Marriage and Family Therapists, Social Workers, Counselors are taught in school that treatments must go to the root of the problem. Explore the origins in depth and for a long period of time and, fingers crossed through clarity, the person will no longer suffer. Psychotherapy, like other sciences has evolved and being stuck in the past, might make some people more aware of their problems but there is no guarantee that it will promote a positive change. People come to see us because something hurts, and we can be of the most use if we can make that stop. Similarly, when you go see a physician with a stomach-ache, the why should be somewhat secondary to the stomach-ache stopping. Because humans are different every time, Cognitive Behavioral Approaches are not much better because ultimately and with the best of intentions, the protocols used are the same and, when they don’t produce the desired changes – for those clients for whom it does not work—they try applying more protocols or blame the patient for it not working.

At the Brief Therapy Center, we have been practicing addressing people’s pain since 1966. Since the beginning we center treatment on what the client – we talk about clients rather than patients—is asking for, instead of taking the ‘tip of the iceberg’ approach, which inevitably leads to the therapist unwittingly diverting the therapy into something else that will usually take longer to solve. If a client is asking for help with a sad teenager, most therapists will try to talk about their parent’s relationship or family dynamics.

Our approach is a goal-focused and time-limited therapeutic approach designed to address specific challenges and promote swift resolution. It emphasizes pragmatic solutions over lengthy exploration of underlying issues. The core premise is that individuals possess the resources and abilities necessary to overcome their difficulties and PSBT aims to activate these strengths. The therapeutic process begins with a quick, collaborative identification of the problem and the desired outcome. Therapists and clients work together to establish clear, achievable goals without delving deeply into past experiences, primarily concentrating on the present and future practical strategies to effect change. The premise is that, when change starts to occur there is a positive cycle that gets established, bringing a new outlook on what hurt in the first place. The process is tailor made to each situation, where listening carefully to what clients bring in, in their particular language and frame of reference is key to offering help while the reason for asking for help is a mole hill rather than a mountain. Our approach is not a band-aid. It allows both the therapist and the clients to see their situation differently and opening doors to resilience in individuals, families and society in general.

Karin Schlanger

Karin Schlanger was the Director of the Brief Therapy Center in MRI since 2008 until the sale of the building in 2019. She continues to be the director of the BTC currently. She has worked as a psychologist, supervisor in the Brief Therapy Model and professor at several universities international...

Esther Krohner

Master en Psic.
I have 14 years of experience working in mental health settings. I am and LMFT and RYT. I have been training and practicing  family therapy with Karin Schlanger for 5 years at the Mental Research Institute. I help couples, families, kids and teens  to make the changes they want to. When faced wit...

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