Blog post by: Erin Jones, M.A., M.Ed., LPC, NCC
Image from https://creativecommons.org
Why think functionally? A functional approach is a whole-person approach. It is a process, not an event. It is a lens that helps a counselor consider how the physical, emotional, spiritual, and nutritional factors are all connected, and how each influences the whole person.
What we put into our bodies, our minds, hearts, relationships, and spirits; emotionally, physically, spiritually, and nutritionally, what is coming out in each area, and the quality of each of these areas all provide data about the whole person. This is not just where symptoms such as depression or anxiety, bloating, fatigue, sleep disturbances, or irritability are treated, but where we can look at how each is connected and what the root causes might be that lead to the symptoms that eventually manifest.
Yes, we want to help people feel better and reduce symptoms, but if the root causes of those symptoms are never uncovered and addressed, we are simply applying a band-aid to mask the real issues. Our bodies communicate all kinds of data to us. If we address the foundational issues, we impact symptoms. From the functional perspective, there is rarely a single root cause or issue leading to what are often multiple symptoms. Rather, there are multiple root causes for the symptoms that lead a person to seek care from a therapist or a doctor, and often, these begin long before symptoms are to the point of noticeable consequence for the client. It is also worth noting that honoring what we know about ourselves, or what a client knows about themselves, their body, their values, and goals is as important. Understanding what is working will give a provider important information as well!
Consider the analogy of a spider’s web. If you look at the image above, can you decipher where one strand begins or ends? Where one strand in the web is separate, or not connected to another? Spider webs are designed to work as a whole system made of many parts, and those parts are made of many individual strands that all function as a whole for optimal efficiency. Similarly, our whole being, that is from the perspective of a functionally healthy person, operates the same way. As each strand in the web is connected and works in harmony with all the other strands in the web to serve its whole purpose, so too do our systems function best when working in harmony-each connected to the other systems for optimal, whole, well-being...
The distressing mental, emotional, and physical ailments that we can experience are like strands in the web when they are disturbed by an outsider. The disturbance can cause the otherwise peaceful strands to reverberate throughout the entire system of the web. In relating this to the whole person, that outsider can be related to dysfunctional light exposure, digestive/gut issues, sleep disturbances, emotional/spiritual disruption, disrupted energy, and more. The spirit is as integral to healing as is the physical or emotional. With the pace of our culture and the stressors of the last few years, self-care practices are more important now than ever! This can include anything from self-advocacy to other specific self-care practices.
For example, several studies have shown that something as simple as how we breathe can impact our stress levels. Several languages use the same word for breath as the word for spirit. For example, physician James Gordon refers to the Latin `spiritus,' Hebrew `ruach,' Greek `numa', and Indian `prana (Krucoff, 2000). Studies by Yale, Harvard, and others, for example, clearly showed positive benefits of deep breathing with “greater improvements on a number of self-report measures... including perceived stress, sleep, social connectedness, distress, anxiety, depression, conscientiousness, self-esteem, and life satisfaction” (Goldstein et al., 2020). Just the simple act of taking a deep breath when faced with chaos can redirect negative energy to positive energy (Crum, 2009), or how taking ten deep breaths every waking hour can reduce the impact of stress by as much as 40%. That is a huge number we are talking about! This practice can also create space for gratitude and the ability to see the gifts we each do have in life. This is a simple self-care practice that takes no additional time from one’s daily routine, which is a common concern when people are encouraged to find time for self-care. We all breathe, right? So, set an alarm on your smartphone or smartwatch for the top or bottom of every hour and just choose to notice ten deep breaths. Taking a posture of curiosity and digging in deeper to see what is going on beneath the symptoms fosters awareness and empowerment.
Next time you are feeling out of balance and not sure what might be causing your symptoms, consider all the areas mentioned above. We are each unique and complex beings. Chances are that more than one area is out of balance and contributing to that felt sense of being overwhelmed, unbalanced, those feelings of unease, or disease. Perhaps a holistic, functional approach and one that considers you as a whole being and the expert on your life and values is a good fit for you.
Goldstien, M., Lewin, R., Allen, M., & Allen, J. (2020). Improvements in well-being and cardiac metrics of stress following a yogic breathing workshop: Randomized controlled trial with active comparison. Journal of American College Health, 70(3), 918-928. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.2020.1781867
Krucoff, C. (2000, Nov 30). Take a deep breath: Studies show that proper breathing can help us prevent stress and sickness: [final edition]. Calgary Herald Retrieved from http://proxy1.calsouthern.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.csu.idm.oclc.org/newspapers/take-deep-breath-studies-show-that-proper/docview/244844820/se-2?accountid=35183
Seppälä, E, Bradley, C., Moeller, J., Harouni, L., Nandamudi, D., & Brackett. M. (2020). Promoting Mental Health and Psychological Thriving in University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Three Well-Being Interventions. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00590
Accepting new clients for teletherapy within the state of Colorado or in-person sessions in Loveland or Fort Collins!
All of the therapists associated with Healthy Horizons, LLC are independent professionals with their own practices and are independent wellness businesses, separate from Healthy Horizons, LLC.