Karen L. Kehler, MA,  MSHA - Private- Professional- Affordable Counseling Services
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Kehler Counseling Blog

Ruby Slippers and Mental Health

I have never done a thorough 'study' of The Wizard of Oz.    Most of us haven't but most know that one of the core insights was that despite all the challenges that poor, lost Dorothy faced, all the scary situations, all the confusion in the end as Glenda the 'Good Witch' reveals - she had the ability to save herself all along. . . 

Over my years of counseling I have had numerous clients who were determined and persistent in their wanting to get better but believed that that solution - fix or stress management strategy -was going to come from me, a pill, someone else changing,  or a technique that would stop their 'bad.'  They gave up or disowned their power with blaming, excuses and prescriptions.    Somehow, somewhere 'out there' was the cure. 

They didn't seem to connect to the fact that they were able or competent enough to shift things, people, perceptions or their own lives even slightly - so they could benefit from change.    They either perceived themselves as unable, too dumb, too inexperienced, too old, too stressed, too lost, too much in pain - both emotionally or physically - to have the 'power' to make change happen.  

I notice this most with clients who have dealt with long term or acutely severe injuries.  Their entire lives become hyper-focused on their disability.   They talk 'the talk' of their injury, trauma, accident, illness and every minute detail of their physical body.   If you ask them how they are - they break into the 'list' -  of what is in pain, falling apart, stiff, had surgery, what new pill they tried, what didn't work, what is not helping, what professionals they are seeing, when, how long and what they said.    They become the talk of body parts.   

Addicts also do this - especially those who started with using a pill/prescription for a useful reason.    Instead of seeing themselves as able to manage stress, anxiety, anger or sadness they see all solutions are to be found in a prescription.   They keep trying to 'fix' whatever it is with the next 'new' pill - more of the same pills or a combination of many pills.  But it always comes down to 'the pill' doing the work.     They completely disconnect from their own ability to find their way.    Just like Dorothy of The Wizard of OZ - they think the answer or guidance is 'out there' - not within, not in their own thinking,    When questioned they don't even see that there is anything 'off' about that.   They just believe that someday (over the Rainbow?) they will find that right pill - drug- fix or high -  that will 'save them' from whatever their hurt, pain or challenge is.     

For many this erroneous belief or dependency comes from messages they received throughout life.  I don't think we even realize how often we reinforce that belief.   Here are some of the ways we give feedback to encourage this thinking:
  • Blaming - anything or everything so that 'we' don't have to take responsibility, hold ourselves accountable, get 'off the hook' of the behavior, words, feelings or actions we took that lead to negative results, hurting someone, or making pain filled choices. 
  • Discounting- or dismissing - not taking the issue, feeling, situation or event seriously.  Laughing it off rather than addressing it.   Minimizing.  
  • Ignoring - or changing the subject - shifting that 'difficult conversation' to a subject you're more comfortable with - too often on ourselves - rather than simple listening.
  • Lecturing -Advising - Guiding - every parent tries this strategy to convince their child/teen to make better choices or deal with the consequences of poor ones.  Quickly getting on the non-stop talking mode - not even allowing the other to share their view, their 'why' - their perception or experience.   This is deadly in marriages - it too often creates an environment of defensiveness - endless empty apologies and very little change for the better.    
  • Encouraging the use of pills or alcohol to 'get better' or deal with 'it'- for everyone!  The addict's family may not allow the addict to use their drug of choice but its okay to use pills to handle stress, insomnia, headaches, all aches and pains, alcohol to 'take the edge off' or 'I have to take drugs to deal with you!'  -yes households with addiction are extremely stressful and there are many helpful medications to address serious levels of stress, anxiety and depression but what else are you doing to manage it besides using pills or alcohol?    When kids see that problems are solved by taking a pill - they begin to connect that it isn't in their thinking that change occurs -  the DRUG does the 'fixing'.   
  • Thinking being 'helpful' is handing out pills - regardless of whether they are prescribed, legal or even the proper type for the problem or feeling of concern.   I see this too often.  Families exchange tranquilizers - Xanax - to treat 'depression' - then refuse to take what would be more effective!   
  • Quickly shifting or distracting from the real problem.  Not 'touching' the subjects that will cause emotional distress: secrets, illegal activity, fears of financial ruin, sexual orientation, serious health issues, abuse of all kinds, addictive behaviors and consequences, rape, inappropriate activity that makes others feel uncomfortable.   It's a whole lot easier to 'take a pill' or 'have a drink' than have a serious and difficult conversation.  
So start to today with awareness.   Are you setting a good example?  That is the only thing we can change.   Getting real about our own roles in allowing or reinforcing a person to believe that they aren't able - competent - enough -to manage through a problem.    Start to today with believing that your own thinking - your loved one's thinking is 'good enough' to manage their way through.    Encourage them to explore their own strengths, previous stories of resilience, their past attempts that demonstrated that they can get through.     


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