Over the past two years of upheaval, many of us have learned a lot about the importance of our mental health. It was much easier to ignore our emotional ups and downs when we could go out all the time without fearing for our lives, happily suppressing our problems. Many of us have been told that we need therapy, but because therapy is expensive and not always covered by insurance, it can be difficult to access – at least as often as we would like. go. Could self-help and social therapy (MAST) be an addition to the tools we need to achieve emotional fitness?
In case you haven’t heard, MAST is a set of techniques that evolved in psychological circles to help people counsel themselves and others to make healthy emotional changes without the aid of a professional adviser. It’s for the kinds of things that you might consider emotional hurdles, but not major hurdles, like mental illness. In other words, MAST is meant to help you think about or talk about your problems and deal with them so you can make behavioral changes.
It is important to say that MAST is not intended to be an alternative to traditional talk therapy or psychiatry. Instead, the practice can serve as a deep process of personal reflection or as an additional mental health tool for people in therapy.
Although most laypersons have never heard of it, MAST is a well-known therapeutic tool among mental health professionals. “It gives individuals the opportunity to support themselves mentally and emotionally, such as in therapy sessions,” says Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Barbara Santini. “People who learn to counsel each other and themselves can help improve mental, physical, and emotional problems.”
Here’s how it works: MAST can be practiced alone or in a group. The Jane Addams Collective, a group of mental health professionals that educates people about MAST, recommends a triad. The first step in practice is to recount a problem or pattern you are having in your life, either by writing it down or talking about it with your MAST partner.
Then, by journaling or talking with a partner or other triad person, you try to figure out what beliefs might be underlying the problem. The idea is that talking with another mentally healthy person can help you both improve your mental health, or at least understand each other better.
If, for example, the problem is overspending, the underlying belief might be that you need certain status objects to be happy. The idea of MAST is that while you’re probably unaware of your underlying belief when shopping, it can be quite easy for you or a stranger to pinpoint if you mention it.
Then you try to find a more helpful belief to replace the one that’s causing trouble and figure out how to incorporate it into your behavior. The role of MAST, and more generally of support groups and partners, is not to psychoanalyze, but rather to help you see things that you might not be able to see for yourself. This is a very quick summary of MAST, but there are plenty of guides and books that can help you.
One of the reasons therapists think MAST can be so helpful is that because it’s free, it can help you with some issues that seem too minor to address in a therapy session. . Most importantly, MAST appears to be effective in helping people reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, there isn’t much research on self-help, but in a recent small study, researchers found no discernible difference in mental health outcomes for people who engaged in self-help compared to those who consult an advisor. This, of course, requires self-awareness and perhaps a little experience in traditional therapy beforehand, but it is quite remarkable that we can serve ourselves in this way.
Santini says MAST can be empowering for everyone involved. “MAST therapy equips people with knowledge on how to deal with impending problems in all aspects of life such as personal, family, friends, school or home,” says Santini. “It can lead to a better quality of life and reduced mental or emotional conditions in the community.” Of course, MAST won’t solve all your problems, but how much better would life be if we were all just a little less bogged down?
The only problem with MAST is when people try to use it when they really need clinical help. “More serious conditions that might require regular therapy might be overlooked and not treated in time,” says Santini. And it may be obvious, but you can’t always see your own or someone else’s problems clearly, so the solutions you offer may not always be helpful. MAST is like having an organized conversation about your feelings with yourself or another person, and like any conversation, it can sometimes go awry.
But Santini thinks MAST is worth a try for many people. “With MAST, people can help each other freely and relieve conditions that go untreated due to high therapy costs,” she says. “It makes it easier for individuals to understand and support each other in times of difficulty.” And if there’s one skill we all need to hone in on right now, it’s how to support ourselves – and each other – through hardship.
If all of this makes you want to start your own MAST band, well, so do I. Unfortunately, because it’s a technique no one really makes money on, there’s no particularly organized way to start. You can visit a support group to find people with similar issues, and the Jane Addams Collective has a library of online resources that can help you educate yourself. Or, if you’re like me, you can post an ad on a queer friend-making app to host the social therapy group you’re looking for.