Universal wellness is already known to us. All we need do is apply it.

Tuesday 14th July 2020


In a parallel universe, not so far away, there is a world where the study of the self is the very first lesson each child will receive in school. This learning is then carried on throughout college, university, employment and adult education. Thanks to the ongoing themes of self-awareness, self-care and personal development, there is more harmony and understanding in their world, less conflict and dysfunction.

Unfortunately, despite formal education existing since medieval times, there is no room in our world for such state-funded lifelong learning. Instead it seems that knowing which king divorced or beheaded which wife is of higher value than having a discussion about what to do when a relationship sours. (Ironically, this would have been a particularly useful skill to a young Henry Tudor!)

Moving forward a couple of centuries: in 2016 a group of counsellors and psychotherapists in the north east of England were trying to figure out how best to empower their clients with self-knowledge.

It felt wrong to sit opposite someone in distress and knowing more about them (from a theoretical and conceptual point of view) than they knew themselves.

This was felt most keenly when working with people in the criminal justice system, where the majority of clients had issues around trauma, abuse and adverse childhood experiences. They struggled to cope with the demands of their day-to-day lives while their bodies were dissociating, becoming hyper-aroused, flooding with stress hormones and filling up with terrifying thoughts and visual imagery.

Yet it needn’t be so extreme. Take attachment theory: everyone in the whole world would benefit from understanding this notion, as everyone was looked after when they were young. Even if you had wonderfully secure and loving bonds with your parents/carers, you’ll still meet people who experienced insecure attachments and are therefore going to make relationships with you anything but straightforward.

Think about it. We collectively possess over a hundred years of psycho-educational material that has uncovered the ways we think, the ways we feel, the ways we act. We know about the human condition. We know about grief and loss. We know about power and control. We know what happens when you put someone into a hostile landscape, just as we know what ingredients make a nurturing and healthy environment. In short, we know how to make people well and how to make them unwell. As Jurgen Klopp often repeats: “We know this… This is how it is.”

So, what exactly are we waiting for as a society? The sat-nav directions for universal wellness clearly indicates that we turn around and go down another route. Perhaps one answer comes from the poet June Jordan: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

At this point we rejoin the story of the Newcastle-based therapists who, over the past four years, have been taking jewels from the worlds of psychology, science, humanities and the arts, shaping them into bite-sized nuggets to encourage each person to start their own study of themselves, as a way of improving the quality of their lives and their own well-being. Unwittingly, these counsellors and psychotherapists have become agitators for social change.

They call their project Self Detective for a number of reasons.

Firstly, anyone can be their own Self Detective, as the resource is free.

Secondly, the study of the self cannot be taught like other topics, as it’s a wholly subjective pursuit where there are no measurably right or wrong answers. Instead, there is inquiry, exploration, awareness-building, clue-finding, experimentation — a whole host of non-cognitive skills and a never-ending journey of discovery.

Thirdly, although this study can be undertaken independently, it works best on a one-to-one basis or in a groupwork setting, where, so long as the facilitators are person-centred and have created and maintained a safe and nurturing environment, each participant can be trusted to get what they want out of each session. In short, this means learners are processing the information that is relevant to them and making connections with aspects of their own lives, in order to come up with their own practical insights and wisdom. In this vein you can undertake all sorts of group exercises and discussions, ranging from really tough themes such as shame and guilt, to questions like ‘what defines me as a person?’ and playful and creative moments based, say, around music and sound.

Fourthly, it moves the issue of wellness away from the oppressive and clinical-sounding ‘mental health’ into a neutral and non-stigmatising arena (even though to all intents and purposes it is mental health through the back door).

Finally, within this newly named arena, there is scope to have an open and expansive debate around the nature of distress and how it needn’t necessarily be framed as self-inflicted or a failing of the self, despite the well-worn pathways to the doors of counsellors, psychologists and the pills of psychiatry. Discourse around the ills of society is surely long overdue, illustrating how we as responsible individuals or groups have a choice to either remain passive or take action.

We leave you now with twelve random Self Detective propositions. As they are merely statements of opinion, you may agree with some and not others. You may find some useful and others less so. Either way, we hope these propositions, like the entire SD resource, gives you some food for thought, and perhaps starts a reflective process as to what ultimately affects us as humans, as members of communities and society as a whole, as well as unique individuals in our own right.

(1) There is one person you will be spending the rest of your life with. Maybe now is a good time to get to know yourself.

(2) “The highest form of human intelligence is to observe yourself without judgement.” Jiddu Krishnamurti

(3) “The greatest gift you can give someone is your own personal development.” Jim Rohn

(4) Everything is open to interpretation. There is no such thing as a pure truth or a pure fact. If you aren’t interpreting your own world and the world around you, you can be pretty sure that someone else is interpreting it for you.

(5) You are either aware of what you are doing or you are avoiding yourself. With prolonged awareness you have more choices. Without awareness you are likely to repeat your mistakes.

(6) Everyone is leaking information all the time, providing valuable clues in the form of bodily sensations, emotions and feelings. However, if you have suppressed your emotions in the past, your responses to present situations are likely to be compromised/amplified, making them potentially unreliable and misleading.

(7) Everyone is doing the best that they can for themselves at any moment in time. Nobody self-destructs on purpose, unless they can see no hope and no prospect of change, or they are in an altered, disjointed state of being.

(8) We all have urges, drives, impulses and arousal. How we navigate our way around these can have a profound effect on our well-being and the well-being of others.

(9) We are all social creatures. We all have a basic need to love and be loved. If we do not get love, we look for substitutes that may be harmful to ourselves and others.

(10) When we reach out to another human being, we put ourselves in a vulnerable position. There is no way to avoid this: it’s the only route to having authentic and meaningful moments with people.

(11) “Find out just what any people will submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.” Frederick Douglas

(12) “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.” Jiddu Kristnamurti

If you are interested in some of the ideas this article has raised, you may wish to visit www.selfdetective.net

This article is taken from our Medium