I am so excited to bring you another therapist/author who is creating mental health resources! Chris Warren-Dickins is a psychotherapist who has two titles available and is working on a novel. He provides concrete, actionable suggestions for working through difficult emotions and making changes in your life.
1. First can you introduce yourself and share a bit about your background?
I am an author and psychotherapist in New Jersey, and I have published two mental health related non-fiction books: Beyond Your Confines (published by Zero Labels in 2022), and Beyond the Blue (published by Zero Labels in 2021). My debut novel is out later this year, along with a children’s book on mental health.
When I am not writing and seeing clients as a psychotherapist, I am a parent to my two elementary-school aged children. I love how these different parts of my life complement each other; parenting, psychotherapy, and writing are all united by the common passion for insight and growth. Wide-eyed wonder as we approach each day together.
2. I love the mindfulness exercises shared on your website! How did you get into creating those?
I have been using mindfulness exercises since I began my career as a psychotherapist. I adore Jon Kabat-Zinn, particularly because he is not afraid to tackle structural inequality. In Beyond Your Confines, I explain that our work as a psychotherapist cannot end with the individual who sits before us. We have a duty to tackle the structural causes of mental distress, and that includes structural inequality, otherwise we can end up re-traumatizing our clients, implying that if we just think differently, we can somehow ignore the discrimination or abuse. As I point out in Beyond Your Confines, we cannot understand an individual’s mental health without understanding the structure within which that individual exists, “and the health of one is inextricably linked to the health of the other.” As Kabat-Zinn points out, “we can no longer afford to ignore this fundamental characteristic of our reciprocity and interconnectedness.”
3. How did Beyond Your Confines come into being?
Since the pandemic, rates of anxiety and depression have increased from one in ten adults to four in ten adults, and there has been an uptick in intolerance and discrimination. As a psychotherapist who helps people work through trauma, anxiety, and depression, I wanted to understand these trends, and as a queer non-binary psychotherapist, I was particularly concerned about the uptick in intolerance and discrimination.
In Beyond Your Confines, I explain that confined by (or we are suffering because of) the coincidence of three factors that together create a sh*t storm in terms of our mental health –
1. We have always created labyrinthian prisons of self-limiting beliefs and short-circuited thought patterns, and we have always been hardwired to fear uncertainty…
2. But with a growth in technology, including smart phones, we are satiating our thirst for certainty and circulating short-circuited thought patterns at greater speeds, thus polarizing views and increasing intolerance and discrimination. But that is not all…
3. Add to that a pandemic, a time of great uncertainty (and you know how we hate uncertainty), and we know from history that pandemics tend to polarize views and lead to the scapegoating of certain groups…
Is it any wonder that we have ended up with this sh*t storm of intolerance, discrimination, trauma, anxiety, and depression?
So, what to do about all of this?
In Beyond Your Confines, I explain that we are all affected by, and affect, each other. We do not live in a vacuum, so there is no such thing as individual mental health. Instead, we need to understand how we are polluting the environment in which we live, and this includes educating ourselves about structural inequality and privilege, learning about the impact of trauma, and developing awareness of our own limiting beliefs, short-circuited thought patterns, and our excessive need for certainty.
4. How about Beyond The Blue?
Beyond the Blue is a play on words: Beyond the blue of depression, but also Beyond the Blue of the male label. I published this in memory of my Uncle Gavin who died by suicide at just 32, in 1988 when I was a child. Years later, in 2010, I published research into male experiences of counseling and suicide, and the conclusion was clear: Men were not seeking help. Since then, the picture has remained the same: The male labeled are three times more likely to die by suicide, and yet they are less likely to seek help from a mental health professional.
In Beyond the Blue, I argue that the male label serves as an obstacle to mental healthcare, partly because of the assumptions associated with the male label: The male labeled are expected to remain silent, appear strong, and focus on external gain instead of emotions and vulnerabilities. As the United States is a patriarchal society, this conditioning influences the dominant view of emotions. The approach preferred by many with power or authority is to focus outwards, on achievement and power, and I argue that depression, anxiety, and trauma are all rather inconvenient truths that many people would rather not hear about. As a result, we have a dark figure of underreported cases of male depression, because they are the black swans that people do not expect to see.
5. What do you hope your readers take from your books?
In terms of Beyond Your Confines, I hope that we learn how we affect, and we are affected by, the environment in which we live. Without an appreciation of how structural inequality and privilege reinforce the mental prisons that confine us, we could end up pathologizing our clients, re-traumatizing them, or becoming a tool to further oppress others. The keys to reach beyond these confines are within our grasp in the form of awareness of our own process, knowledge of concepts such as intersectional theory, empathy, compassion, collaboration, mindful awareness, and even the use of Polyvagal Theory to regulate our nervous system. Once we free ourselves from the stagnating prison of perpetual shutdown, fight-or-flight, orfawn responses, we can more fluidly use our social engagement system to connect with ourselves and others, and to heal, nurture and grow. We just need to be free to do this. Free from without, and free from within.
In terms of Beyond the Blue, I hope that we can see beyond the blue of the male label and understand the individual within. To do this, we need to challenge the assumptions we make about the male label, so that the right people get the right help. After all, undiagnosed depression, anxiety and trauma poses a risk to all of us.
6. I see you have a novel coming out! When is that releasing, and what is it about?
Yes, I am really excited about my debut novel, and it should be out later this year. It is currently with the editor, so once I have it back from her, I can then start to release a few teasers and trailers. I can’t really say more at this stage, other than it is a hybrid psychological thriller and gothic horror.
I also have a children’s book on mental health coming out later this year. I have a wonderful illustrator who is currently finalizing the illustrations, so I am excited to share more of that shortly.
7. Any other projects or resources you would like to share?
I would encourage everyone to take a moment to check in with their breathing and feel their body connecting to their surroundings (their feet on the ground or body on the chair). Just notice, for a moment, away from a digital device, away from the demands of life, and allow yourself that small dip in time when you can be rather than do.
I wonder what came up for you, and I would love to hear about it. Do get in touch via my website.