Lesson 1 of 7  - free your true Self to guide you

Perspective on "Mental
Health and Illness"

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/m_illness.htm

Updated 02-04-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles comprising "Lesson 1" - how to understand, identify, and reduce inherited psychological wounds + unawareness. This article is for...

  • adults and older teens who have been diagnosed as being "mentally ill" or having a mood, social, and/or personality "disorder,"

  • the "mental health" professionals who make these diagnoses. and for...

  • media professionals who provide content on mental health and illness.

      This article assumes you're familiar with these:

      This brief YouTube video on the obsolete term "mental illness" provides perspective on what you'll find in this article:

  The Quest for "Mental Health"

      In all ages and cultures, people have sought to understand and heal "abnormal human behavior." We have come a long way from believing Gods, spirits, moon rays, and Demons controlled us to the current voluminous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of psychiatric maladies. We have evolved from relying on sacrifices, shamans, mystics, and witch doctors to the wide range of current behavioral healers like life coaches, family-life educators, clinical psychologists and social workers, therapists, counselors. psychiatrists, and wholistic-medicine practitioners. .  

       Some significant events in this accelerating knowledge evolution have occurred in the last 200 years...

  • the profession of "psychiatry" (the medical treatment of the mind) was first named by the German physician Johann Christian Reil in 1808;

  • the "psychoanalytic model" of psychiatric assessment and treatment originated by Dr. Sigmund Freud and followers gaining public acceptance in the early 1900s; and,

  • the advent of family-systems therapy in the 1950s, which is slowly correcting the misconception that "mental illness" is "a disease" or "sickness." This systemic concept is gradually promoting public understanding of how parental knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors affect the wholistic development of young children.

      And another significant influence has been...

  • the development of thermal-imaging technology in the 1950s (like Positron Emission Tomography - PET) which allows seeing the human brain in action. This allows  seeing living brains function, which suggests that "personalities" result from the concurrent functioning of many interactive brain regions; and...

  • the psychiatric validation of "multiple personality disorder (MPD)," and widening clinical and public awareness of human "dissociation" in the last 30 years; and...

  • the "new" idea in the 1980s that addiction is a symptom of major family-system dysfunction and psychological pain, not a shameful "weak will," "a disease," or a personal "character defect;"

And a final key "mental health" development has been...

  • the explosion of public and clinical knowledge about Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoAs) in the 1980s. This is promoting a new non-medical paradigm to explain unhealthy human attitudes and behaviors. This fostered new theories about "the inner (wounded) child of the past," which has evolved into the idea of an ''inner family'' of talented personality "subselves."

      So our understanding and treating of "abnormal behavior" and "mental problems" has gone from ignorance and superstition to medical diagnosis and intervention, to non-medical interactive (systemic) theories in the last eight generations - a "finger snap" in human evolution.

      This explosion of new information, technology, and theories is causing a conflict for many professionals and lay people around the world.

Change vs. No Change

      "Human nature" decrees that people range from conservatives (don't change - keep comfortable old beliefs) to liberals (change - adopt new beliefs). Thus people now range between believing "abnormal human behavior is a medical problem" (the old belief) to "no, it is caused by a mix of organic malfunctions and psychological injuries." Shifting toward widespread acceptance of the latter view is taking many generations, though the Internet is speeding the transition.  

      From 36 years' experience as a professional family-systems and trauma recovery therapist, I propose that most mental-health practitioners and instructors, textbooks, and self-help books still use the obsolete medical model of individual "mental illness."

      So what?

Misdiagnosis and Ineffective Treatment

      Since the 1950s, scores of senior medical professionals (psychiatrists) have compiled two detailed frameworks for assessing various organic and mental health problems:

  • the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), and...

  • the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD) , published by the World Health Organization.

Each of these is evolving, and has had several editions published across the last 60 years.

      Most doctors and therapists, clinics, hospitals, schools, and insurance and pharmaceutical companies use these two publications to standardize medical and psychological  diagnoses and treatment. Because the publications are highly detailed, each revision (inclusion of new knowledge) takes many years to prepare, the contents necessarily lag newly-emerging knowledge by a decade or more.

      This major cultural knowledge lag can cause people seeking professional help with "mental" and behavioral problems to be misdiagnosed and treated with obsolete therapies. Widespread evidence of this is the continuing treatment of most "mental health problems" as individual "illness" and "pathology," rather than as a symptom of childhood and family-system dysfunction. We are generations away from having mental-health workers on all levels routinely use family-systems concepts for diagnosis and treatment.

      My experience as a veteran family-systems and trauma-recovery therapist is that the high majority of clinicians, media professionals, educators, and lay people do not yet understand that most commonly-diagnosed "mental health" problems are NOT the problem. A small but growing number of professionals are seeing that most (or all?) non-organic abnormal-behavior problems are symptoms of psychological damage from early-childhood abandonment, abuse, and neglect ("trauma").

      Even fewer people now acknowledge that the invisible lethal cycle of inherited [psychological wounds + unawareness] causes most human stress. Alerting people (you) to this cycle is the central focus of this nonprofit educational Web site.


      I was first trained as a mechanical engineer (problem-solver) and later as a family-systems therapist. That training and 36 years' clinical experience - including two decades of studying and practicing inner-family therapy - lead me to propose: that most or all nonorganic "mental-health disorders" are caused by six interactive factors:

  • a significantly dysfunctional family system; causing...

  • a fragmented personality governed by well-intentioned ''false selves;'' plus...

  • adult ignorance (lack of knowledge) of key topics; plus...

  • personal and public unawareness of these three things and what they mean; plus...

  • psychologically-wounded, unaware parents unintentionally recreating dysfunctional families of origin and passing on their wounds and unawareness to their young children, and...

  • policy makers on all levels and the public being unaware of these five interactive factors and what they mean for individuals, families, and our (global) society.

      A critical and poorly-understood aspect of this concept is how personality fragmenting affects bodily functioning - i.e. how psychological injuries may contribute to organic "illness." Factual evidence is growing that chronic mental and physical "stress" promotes organic illness and premature death

      In three decades of professional research and practice, I have never found anyone else that proposes this multi-factor systemic explanation for "abnormal behavior." Well over 90% of my 1000+ students and therapy clients have said "this (concept) makes sense to me." Many have said spontaneously "This (concept) gives me real hope for healing." This feels like empirical validation to me.

      So what?

Four Implications

      If I'm right, then people who believe they or others have "mental" problems like these are misinformed:

  • Non-organic addictions, including codependence;

  • Agoraphobia and other extreme fears

  • Anhedonia (an inability to feel pleasure)

  • Asperger's Syndrome

  • Attention-deficit Disorder (ADD) and Hyperactivity Disorder (HD)

  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)  (YouTube video)

  • Bipolar (Manic-Depressive) Disorder (BD) (YouTube video)

  • Chronic anger and/or sadness - (incomplete grief)

  • Clinical depression

  • Chronic inability to focus and concentrate ("mind racing")

  • Compulsive controlling and manipulation

  • Compulsive lying and stealing

  • Compulsive self-mutilation ("cutting")

  • Denial (reality distortion)

  • Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) - formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder - (MPD)

  • Excessive egotism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

  • Lack of empathy / inability to form healthy social bonds

      More common "mental illness" misdiagnoses:

  • Neuroses and Psychoses (reality distortions)

  • Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)

  • Panic attacks

  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),  (YouTube video)

  • Self-sabotage and "fear of success"

  • Social Anxiety, and Antisocial Personality Disorders

  • Some sleep and digestive disorders

  • Sociopathic behavior (lack of moral conscience and empathy)

  • Personal identity confusion or distortion

  • "Poor impulse control" e.g. "anger-management problems"

  • Excessive idealism, pessimism, or cynicism (reality distortion);

  • Religious and other "fanaticism," including cult membership

  • Nonorganic "sexual dysfunctions"

      There are hundreds of less well-known clinical labels like these in the DSM and ICD clinical reference books, each with its own "differential diagnosis" and mental and behavioral symptoms. 

      A second implication: amateurs and professionals who tell troubled people they're suffering from such "mental illnesses" are also misinformed - specially if they see these conditions as individual "pathology" and "mental illness" rather than as symptoms of [ inherited psychological injuries + family-system dysfunction ].

      A third implication: rather than relying on a wide range of differing therapies (including medication) to "treat" (reduce) conditions like the symptoms above, three things that can help anyone are...

1) education and awareness training; and...

2) ''parts work'' (Internal Family-Systems (IFS) therapy); and possibly...

3) . family-system (vs. individual) therapy.

      Fourth - If the premises above are true, then "mental health" training, certification, publications, and practice is massively overcomplicated, obsolete, expensive, and misleading. They could be simplified to in-depth coverage of the three interrelated topics above, which would promote more accurate diagnoses, and more cost-effective treatments.

      Fifth, the premises above suggest that the traditional medical-model term "mental illness" is obsolete, shaming, and anxiety-promoting. I propose a more accurate, less pejorative label is "psychologically wounded and unaware."

       The overarching implication of the premises above is that much or most "mental illness" (the current term) can be prevented by (1) informing the public of the [wounds + unawareness] cycle and (2) policies and programs that promote informed child conception and effective parenting.

      Pause and reflect. how do you feel about what you just read? Learn how you compare with others by taking this 1-question anonymous poll.

Action Options

      If you feel you have any of the "mental illnesses" (symptoms) above, (1) read this article (after you finish this) explaining the inherited [wounds + unawareness] cycle, and then (2) invest time and effort in studying and applying Lesson 1 here. It's ad-free, and costs nothing.

       If you know someone who may feel they have one or more of the "mental illness" symptoms above, refer them to...

  • this article describing the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle,

  • this video proposing a key to effective self-help; and...

  • this free online self-improvement lesson on psychological-wound assessment and reduction (healing).

      If you know a provider of "mental health" services, including doctors, clergy, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, life coaches, and the people who employ, train, and accredit them - refer them to, or give them a copy of, this article.

      If you come across media content that promotes the obsolete "medical model" of "mental illness," refer the authors and audience to this nonprofit Web site (sfhelp.org) and article. If you create or produce media content relating to human health and behavior, please meditate on this when you finish here.

      If you're specially motivated to alert others to the [wounds + unawareness] cycle and its expanding toxic impacts, see these suggestions.


      This article summarizes six key discoveries in the evolution of understanding human behavior in the lat 200 years. It notes the human trait of accepting new knowledge or hanging on to outdated beliefs, and proposes that most current mental-health professionals and the public are unaware of these discoveries and what they mean. One result is people and schools using an outdated "medical model" of "mental illness," which promotes misdiagnoses; treating symptoms, not root problems; and wasting vital resources.

      The article proposes...

  • that most traditional nonorganic "mental illnesses" are symptoms of six core problems, and ...

  • three basic options for improving these problems.

The article closes with specific suggestions to providers and consumers of "mental health" services and to media professionals.

          Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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