What is mental health, anyway?

Counseling in Louisville; Integrative psychology

Many critics of our diagnostic manuals complain that our DSM focuses on pathology but is not underpinned by any definition of psychological health. While the diagnostic manuals are necessary, I heartily agree with the critics on this point. When we are suffering with psychological ‘symptoms,’ (e.g. -depression, agitation, etc) of course we want relief. But most of us, deep down, want more for our lives

than plain symptom relief. We yearn for greater wholeness and the sense of a more fulfilling life. To that end, I’m sharing a list of signs of psychological wellness from the renowned psychologist, Nancy McWilliams.

According to McWilliams, a person with a healthy psyche shows:

  • The ability to love
  • The capacity to work
  • The ability to play
  • The capacity to form & sustain meaningful relationships
  • A sense of autonomy
  • Passion, vitality & purpose
  • The felt ability to reach some of your goals (aka-  asense of agency)
  • An internal set of guiding values
  • Flexible coping skills/ defenses.
  • The ability to ‘get back up’ when knocked down (aka- resilience)
  • The ability to feel, tolerate and express a wide range of emotions.
  • Insight/ reality testing.
  • Empathy
  • A good balance between self-definition & self-in-relationships
  • Acceptance of inevitable suffering & the ability to mourn.

Nancy McWilliams is an engaging speaker. If you’d like to hear her speak about this, here’s the link: