The mental health field is filled with heroes. Whether researchers, authors, actors, coaches or clinicians, these individuals help others lead more fulfilling, less stress-soaked lives. They help shrink the lingering stigma of mental illness.
They advocate for better treatments. They create better treatments. They practice what they preach. And they promote a message of hope and positivity.
In honor of World Mental Health Day today, five practitioners reveal the heroes who’ve influenced how they work — and even live their lives.
John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens:
My mental health hero is not a degreed clinician, but conducts the most brilliant, laser-sharp, concise, and empathic interventions I have ever seen, or had the good fortune to have benefited from directly. She is renowned life coach Cheryl Richardson.
I emulate and admire her keen sense of intuition and her remarkable skill at recognizing what a client needs to hear, and when she needs to be silent and let a client struggle through an issue on his own.
She encourages people to take excellent care of themselves, from the physical to the deepest psychological level, and helps them discover, quickly, the often deep-seated nature of their distress.
To watch her work is truly a privilege, and a clinic for any mental health professional.
I have many mental health heroes, ranging from professors I had in school, clients that have inspired me, even researchers in the field whose work transformed my way of thinking.
But if I had to choose one singular hero, it would be actress Delta Burke.
You see, when I was in the midst of a major depressive episode back in 1980, she came on television to talk about her bouts of depression.
Delta Burke was my age peer, and seeing her on television and in magazines some thirty years ago discussing her battle with a mood disorder was awe-inspiring. No one ever before had done that! In many ways, her self-disclosure helped me realize that I was in need of treatment for my own depression.
Fast-forward to 2010, when after finishing my book Living with Depression, I reached out to Ms. Burke to let her know the value of her narrative story. It took some elbow grease but I received an email from her agent with the where’s and how’s to forward a personal letter and my book to Ms. Burke.
Just five days later, my phone rang.
“Deborah?” a woman said with a twang and drawl.
“Yes?” I replied.
“Well, hello, Deborah. This is Delta Burke. I just had to call you to talk about your book.”
From there, we talked about our respective experiences with depression and our struggles with stigma.
Lastly, I let her know that she saved my life by talking about her own mental illness. In my eyes, she’s a superhero – no cape needed.
Jeffrey Sumber, M.A., a psychotherapist, author and teacher:
I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a conference this summer, which featured Brené Brown as a keynote speaker. I absolutely loved her approach to life, her ability to incorporate a fresh sense of humor and self-reflection as a tool to share her wisdom with others.
Her work on the ordinary courage required to combat the shame so many of us carry is so incredibly important for the vast majority of us that it is absurd more people haven’t yet heard of her work.
I’m also a huge fan of my dear friend and colleague, Dr. John Duffy. John is one of those men who walks his talk. As a close personal friend, I watch this man treat his family and friends exactly the way he encourages people in his book to treat their loved ones, with respect, acceptance and a good sense of humor.
His work on “availability” teaches parents to show up for their kids in ways that at once seem like common sense and yet so many of us simply forget. John is a mental health hero because his humility is as clear as his message.
Joyce Marter, LCPC, psychotherapist and owner of Urban Balance, LLC:
My mental health hero is Dr. Wayne Dyer because he is a great example of overcoming adversity and achieving wellness and success. He spent the first 10 years of his life in and out of various orphanages and foster homes and is now an internationally renowned psychologist, author and speaker.
Additionally, his teachings on the power of intention have inspired countless others to strive toward positivity and self-actualization.
To me, this is what the field of mental health is all about: We all are dealt a different hand of challenges and blessings and have a journey toward healing and achieving personal, career and spiritual wellness and success.
I also admire Dr. Dyer’s career trajectory from counseling to writing to speaking — this is a similar path I hope to achieve myself. I find identifying heroes to be extremely useful in clarifying goals and seeing that they are attainable.
I laugh because I told my older sister that Wayne Dyer is one of my heroes and she said, “You know, Joyce, I think he was my drivers ed teacher.” I told her she was clearly confused but Googled him and learned she was correct — he taught drivers ed early in his career while working as a guidance counselor in the Detroit area.
This is yet another reminder that we all start somewhere and that success is a process with many steps, some of them surprising.
I also admire Wayne Dyer’s collaboration with other heroes of mine, including Louise Hay, Eckart Tolle, and Melody Beattie.
It is inspirational to see these thought leaders joining together to promote positive change in the lives of others. My personal goal is to someday collaborate with these mental health heroes myself and have Dr. Dyer to thank for understanding the power of that intention.
Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, California:
Irvin Yalom – My first few years of graduate school were filled with black-and-white proclamations: Always maintain therapeutic neutrality, don’t self-disclose, hold fast to therapy boundaries. I found those absolutes safe, but lacking the very human exceptions to the rule.
Then I read Yalom’s The Gift of Therapy, which introduced the rich grey areas within therapy. He recommended radical ideas like focusing on the here-and-now during the session, self-disclosure when it benefits the client, and visiting the client’s home (I’m still not quite ready for that one).
As scary as it is to be more authentic and vulnerable in sessions, I’ve found it helps to create a richer and more intense experience for us both.
I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Yalom a couple of times, and experienced him as warm and profound in person as he is in writing.
My clients and I owe a lot to his person-before-theory approach to psychotherapy.