Empowering your patients through the 'Locus of control'

It struck me recently how most of my work with patients these days is centered around using herbs for improving a patient’s perception of their situation and the control that they can take back in reclaiming a power within to move forward with their illness. Far too often i see people who suffer with mental or physical illness yet seem incapable of recognising how disempowered they are with their situation and how much of that disempowerment is a part of their own mind.

In psychology there is a concept known as the ‘Locus of control’. Locus of control is defined as an individual’s belief system regarding the causes of an experience and the variables to which that person attributes success or failure. Sound confusing? The concept is divided into 2 categories: Internal and external. If an individual has a more internal locus of control then that person is more likely to attribute personal success to their own individual abilities. An internal locus of control empowers individuals to experience themselves as able to influence outcomes that affect them. In a therapeutic context this is an important tool as it gives an individual the ability to recognise that when they make a mistake or something negative happens within their life that they take a courageous outlook to make sure it doesn’t happen again or learn from it to become wiser or better equipped for next time. I would term this psychological resilience.

Persons with an external locus of control will be more likely to attribute their success or failure to luck or fate. External locus of control disempowers people to engage with learning as they see so much of their current success or failure as something outside of themselves. They are essentially hopeless in situations that they perceive as negative or hurting as they lack the knowledge of responsibility that would run through an internal locus of control individual. People with a more external locus of control will be more prone to anxiety disorders as well as other mental health problems as they fall into constant negative cycles of social or romantic situations where they are reminded how life is ‘unlucky’ or ‘cruel’ and their is nothing they can do about it.

The ever rising rates of mental illness in our teenage generations is, in my opinion, a result of us losing the value in teaching our children how to recognise the power that can be found within making a mistake, having something ‘bad’ happen to you or experiencing something cruel. It is in these moments that an internal locus of control finds the courage in taking action to learn, to bolster their defences, to engage with life by improving one’s physical and psychological abilities so that you essentially mature and grow as an adult. Lets be clear, this isn’t about denying any emotional response to pain, hurt or suffering. Emotions need to be expressed, but once they have come and gone the hurt individual would do well to be taught that they have a power within themselves to learn from this event.

Picture of a man walking in a forest confronted by a ghost

So much of therapy is in engaging an individual with the sense that whatever horrific things have happened to them that their is something valuable to learn, maybe even something valuable to give back to the world to hopefully stop that situation or cruelty happening again.

Within my clinical practice i use talking therapies to analyse an individual’s circumstance and then write prescriptions using herbs that not only deal with the underlying physical issues but also engage a patient to take action within their life so that they develop an attitude that control can be regained. It can be quite amazing to behold when patient’s begin to learn the momentum that exists within their own bodies when they start to view life with an excitement again and really self-develop.

Often the clues for how or why an individual may suffer more with an external locus of control is due to childhood experiences. Especially when parents or care-givers are the abusers as these are the people who are often the first ones we look to for support in reminding us we have a power, we have a responsibility. The message in those situations is that you have no power and you might as well always give up as that is always what you have known, so why change?

The truth is that you can change at any age, no matter how powerless you think you are. The fear of bad things happening again diminishes as the locus of control switches from external to internal. Anxiety, depression and mental illness begin to improve and vitality returns as the patient faces life with a stronger attitude and conscious approach towards the inevitable sufferings of life. They have hopefully become wiser, more resilient and clear about the way forward. So ask yourself right now….. what are my core beliefs surrounding negative circumstances? Do you recognise how this may be holding you back in life? Maybe even making you sick? Research shows us that moving towards a more internal locus of control is better for our health and vitality, you might need some help getting there.

Jonny Woodall
Medical Herbalist and Flower Essence Therapist
BSc (Hons) Herbal Medicine
National Institute of Medical Herbalists

Contact me for help with your health problems and illness

PHONE: +44(0) 7525827558

EMAIL: jonnyapothecary@gmail.com

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