Self-Acceptance: The Key to Recovery from Mental Illness
By Victor Ashear, PhD
I’ve often heard it said that acceptance—recognizing that you have a mental heath condition—is the first step toward overcoming it. But it’s not that simple.
Self-Acceptance: The Key to Recovery from Mental Illness provides a more complete view that recognizes loss of identity and self-esteem as one of the “most significant casualties people diagnosed with mental illness experience.” One reason is the stigma that surrounds mental illness, which people often internalize and therefore think less of themselves. People also tend to define themselves by education, employment or social roles, which become more of a challenge to accomplish when living with a mental health condition. In order to start a journey to recovery it is incredibly important to work “toward a more positive sense of self in the face of illness-related obstacles that threaten it.”
The author of the book, Victor Ashear, Ph.D., served for almost 35 years as a clinical psychologist with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, primarily at the VA Medical Center in Sheridan Wyoming, and currently serves on the board of NAMI Wyoming. Originally developed for work with veterans, Self-Acceptance has been adapted for general use. In order to update the book, Dr. Ashear collaborated with Vanessa Hastings, a technical editor who has been a leader in the suicide prevention community.
Self-Acceptance is not a textbook. It’s an easy-to-read, self-help workbook intended for people living with depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. It can be useful for individuals, groups or mental health providers. It may be especially valuable for people who as a result of their illness have experienced one or more hospitalizations, unemployment or disruption in education.
Years ago, I experienced my first episode of depression. These days I manage the condition relatively well, but I wish I could have had the workbook then or at any other time. It would have made my journey easier—and still may. Exercises can be done one at a time or by section at your own pace. The workbook’s structure and questions bring personal strengths into focus and substitute positive-thinking for negative feelings. It identifies needs and coping strategies. Once exercises are completed, they help provide a personalized roadmap.
The workbook covers is five “skill areas:”
- Factors that promote self-acceptance
- Factors that undermine self-acceptance
- Building healthy relationships
- Self-acceptance and recovery
- Developing personal recovery goals
Dr. Ashear’s collaborator, Vanessa, has lived with anxiety and depression. Toward the end, the workbook provides her answers to exercise questions as examples. There are no right or wrong answers; they vary by individual. Her are a few of her examples:
What was your personality like before the initial impact of your mental illness? How did it change?
I remember being much more lighthearted and carefree. Nowadays, people tend to describe me as intense.
What are some of the negative thoughts you have told yourself?
You’re a downer.
You never accomplish enough in a given day.
You’re too critical of others.
How can you challenge this negative thinking? Is any given thought completely true or only partly true?
I can challenge my negative thinking through self-talk.
I am understandably a downer when I am in physical and emotional pain. I can recall plenty of times when I made others laugh or provided encouragement.
I generally accomplish a great deal in any given day
My critical nature, which is based on a unique ability to quickly and accurately read others, has helped me set boundaries with harmful people or avoid them altogether.
What positive statements can you make about yourself?
I am empathetic.
I am a good listener.
I can be witty.
I am organized.
I strike a unique balance between being analytical and being creative.
Create a list of ways to restore hope:
- Spending time with family and friends
- Spending time with pets
- Taking a hot bath
Vanessa’s degree of disclosure is courageous. It will provide considerable encouragement to others living with mental illness, helping them realize that they are not alone in their feelings and experiences. Some may also recognize the approach of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) reflected in the exercises above. Besides, CBT, the workbook incorporates Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Illness Awareness and Management (IAM) while reflecting Dr. Ashear’s clinical experience with behavioral therapy, such as positive reinforcement.
I would like to give special thanks to veterans—which Dr. Ashear also does in his acknowledgments. He has worked with hundreds during his professional career and notes their demonstration of “the power of self-acceptance to transform lives and promote recovery.” He learned from them as much as he taught them.