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Monday, October 25, 2021

Column: Restructuring the mind

“There’s nothing practical about the mind’s meanderings,” the father says to his son in a book I once read. “Go into a study where you learn something applicable. Not spiritual hodge-podge.”

I would take issue with this man’s statement in that I do think there’s something to be said about daydreaming and philosophizing. For me, taking part in these activities isn’t tantamount to basking in idleness. Deep thought can connect you to like minds, providing camaraderie that gives meaning beyond mundane daily tasks.

An article I was reading for my English class the other day discussed the notion of trash. We tend to think of trash as being physical, but as author John Scanlan suggested, we can think of trash in terms of thoughts, as well. Without parameters or productive use, creativity becomes rubbish. While a thought may be interesting, we might consider it trash if it does not tie in with some grander scheme of knowledge.

I found this so interesting. In a society that is set on efficiency and productivity, cleanliness and hygiene, it makes sense that this very idea of cleanliness and hygiene would pertain not only to physical belongings, but to thoughts gone astray. We want to associate ourselves with minds that are clean, polished, functioning and contained. For many of us, cleaning the mind may be more difficult than cleaning a room, and for this we turn to therapy.

Back in the day, people suffering personal maladies didn’t have many options when it came to therapy. No matter the severity of their problems, they were lumped together as “crazies” and placed in hospitals. Insane asylums were akin to prisons, instilled with punishment rather than opportunities for self-improvement. For these reasons, more people sought help from family, friends and clergy than from mental health professionals.

Though stigma attached to seeking mental health has lessened, it still in part remains. People often make an unconscious association between therapy and clinically diagnosed disorders, when in reality therapy can address a wide array of mental problems that run the gamut from mild to more severe.

Sen. Darrell Steinberg stands in favor of a plan that would give $1 billion a year to mental health services. Plans like this, in addition to educating the public, will ultimately help to chip away at some of the stigma surrounding mental imperfections. Davis has its own classes that address therapy and psychological disorders, including PSC 168 (Abnormal Psychology) and PSC 165 (Introduction to Clinical Psychology).

Many of the students in the largest major at UC Davis will graduate to become mental health professionals. Personally, I want to help people weed out the knots in their faulty thought processes, as I believe that much of the work toward attaining happiness is done in the mind. My dream is to own an office where a Shiba Inu roams freely (sorry for patients that are allergic), Mumford and Sons plays on the office speakers and a popcorn machine sits in the corner. An added bonus would be to interact with clients in both English and Spanish, while maybe specializing in providing guidance to LGBT youth.

Particularly, I want to study where people go wrong in their thought routes. How much thought is functional? When does thinking, particularly over what we can’t control, become futile? When people “space out,” is it due to laziness, sleep deprivation or perhaps something deeper? How can we help people with attention disorders?

One of the most important lessons I think you can take from psychology is rather empowering: you don’t have control over external circumstances, but you do have control over your own thoughts and interpretations. The reason a man with relatively little material wealth can appear so much happier than someone who seemingly “has it all” is because he has learned to tame the internal clamor, developing introspection and working with what he’s been handed.

If any lesson comes from this, it’s learning to work with exactly what you have. One of the greatest challenges in life is to simply not complain, not ruminate over the “what if,” but to utilize what’s right in front of you. Though doing so is difficult, it’s by no means impossible. I have faith in you, Aggies, to live life with this sort of mindfulness.

ELENI STEPHANIDES has enjoyed being your shrink for the quarter, and will continue to provide psychobabble should you care to reach her at estephanides@ucdavis.edu.

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