Empowerment – On the importance of decision making.

What is the broad definition of empowerment? It is the process of gaining freedom and power to do what you want or to control what happens to you[1].

Empowerment is a word that covers many meanings and layers as we learn from the definition. Empowerment is used in different contexts but today I’ll focus on empowerment within mental health and recovery.

When I was confronted  with mental illness in my life, it felt like depression took everything down in one fell swoop. I’m not saying that it was there all of the sudden but the effects were pretty devastating. Becoming empowered plays an important role in rehabilitation. That is the process (to me at least) where you discover yourself behind the mask of being an ill person, when you realize that every mental challenge presents itself different within the community. Step by step I’m finding the pieces of ‘me’ again and I try to compose them into a significant ‘whole’ being. Different as I used to be but still me. Does that sound confusing to you? It can be for me too. By walking you through the different key factors of becoming empowered I hope I can shed some light on this topic.

Chamberlin (1997) conducted research to find out what is meant when speaking of empowerment. She and the participants decided early in their discussions that empowerment was a complex, multidimensional concept, and that it described a process rather than an event. Therefore, you don’t need to display every quality on the list [2] of concepts in order to be considered empowered. It is important to know that a working definition is used, precisely to spark further discussion. In this post I’ll discuss the importance of decision making. Other key factors of empowerment will be discussed further next month.

1.Having decision-making power.

There are a lot of decisions to be made in life. Mental illness can make that process even more difficult. I know that depression can make it impossible to make some choices. I just couldn’t decide on the smallest things because of the lack of capacity in my brain. Everything I needed to think about ‘extra’ was a burden. I found things more ‘ugly’, ‘unpleasant’ and ‘not important’. Yet at the right time the decision making muscle needs to be trained again. One of the very first signs that I was recovering was when I noticed the taste of food again. I’ve cooked something that actually tasted good to me. That I choose to do. I was so proud of me and happy. You may think that deciding what to eat, what to wear, when to go out isn’t a big deal but it can be a great starting point, one that needs to be cherished.

Are you empowered yet? While choosing a new hobby can be great, you also need to be able to make decisions in regards to your treatment and life decisions. The very first time I heard my diagnosis of burnout I told myself and my GP that I wasn’t going to work at my current workplace anymore. I was told I wasn’t fit enough to make that decision at the time what came as a shock to me. I wasn’t given all the proper information what resigning at that point in time would mean for me financially. I just felt like the ‘crazy’ one. The importance of information and resources to make an informed decision brings us to the next point.

2. Having access to information and resources.

To become more empowered and to be able to make the right decision for you, you need to make an informed choice. This implies that you have access to all the available options and that you understand their consequences. While my doctor proposed me my first medication I knew what it was and that would be my first choice too. This helped me to gain trust in my doctor. Some few medications along the way, I feel that I’m recovering. But I do experience unpleasant side effects. I did discuss them with my doctor and I understand why my medication has to stay at the same dose. You can’t be an expert on everything and I’m not pretending that I’m smarter than him, in no way shape or form. But I do feel that my psychiatrist  is honest and transparent while discussing side-effects for example. Because of the already existing ones, we opted not to add to the current mix of medications anymore.  When you aren’t presented all the options, you can’t make the right decision.

3. Having a range of options from which to make choices (not just yes/no, either/or).

Picking one activity over the other could be seen as an either/or possibility. When people tell you that exercise is good for you while you’re depressed, it can feel like you need to chose between walking or even slower walking. This is not the point of making your own choices. You need to pick and choose things that accommodate to your wishes and dreams. I’m not implying that everything should be possible right at your fingertips. I dream of world peace and I do hope for it but is that an achievable dream, a dream that as a whole must come true through my choices? No, but I start by taking small steps and to recycle because I care about the environment. I try to be kind to my friends, family and pets. When I can maintain some piece of peace and happiness in my own living room, I’m quite happy with that. I choose things that support my identity and values. I do have the feeling that I can make a difference in my own life.

What do you think about the topic of decision making in (mental) health treatment? Can you make your own decisions or do you feel that you are limited in a way? Have you ever encountered a situation where you weren’t (viewed) as fit enough to have anything to say in important life decisions or in your overall treatment? Let me know in the comments, I enjoy reading your experiences, thoughts and questions.

Resources, references and notes.

[1] Online Cambridge dictionary.

[2] J. Chamberlin. (1997). A working definition of empowerment.

Picture credits click here.

20 thoughts on “Empowerment – On the importance of decision making.

  1. The health professional corner of my mind seems to retain judgment and decision-making abilities even when the rest of me is pretty useless. Most of the treatment providers I’ve had over the years have been comfortable with empowering me to be really active in treatment plan decisions. When I’m disempowered in that way, though, my automatic response is to push back and say no way, no how.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hoera for the health profession corner in your mind! That is a great thing to have.
      I guess your broad knowledge helps too to navigate through all the options but on the other hand I can imagine that it is a learning process.
      Good that you’ve found treatment providers who are also open to the idea of empowerment and don’t approach it like a one way street.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. People retiring isn’t good in that case. My therapist quits at the end of 2020 in the place where I go now. To follow to his new place is almost impossible with public transport.
        I hope your doctor has a good referral and takes care of you in that way.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post. I’ve always had great difficulty pushing back, and have had to learn to make myself do so, as well as learning to speak up and ask for a range of choices.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had to learn that too and I’m still not that good in it. It takes practice.
      As for asking for a range of choices that is a really good idea.
      To take that idea further maybe we can always create choices (in our heads to start with). I mean creating choices and when even when your options are really tiny, you’re still in charge because you can make that choice and nobody else.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to hear that you had that chance. Do you have some sort of crisis plan – if I may ask – for when the acuteness of the illness shows up and you can let people know that way what your choices or preferable treatment is?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like your assessment of empowerment. Here, it seems to be more of something that you gain through thoughtful practice and even some external resources rather than something you simply give yourself through beliefs or actions. The latter is how much of pop culture seems to view empowerment. Having decision making power is quite essential. I’d estimate that the majority of the times I’ve failed to do what I was supposed to do or acted cowardly were due to being too fatigued to even realize that I had a choice.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I can understand, to make a decision you need some mental space. When I’m exhausted I just nod and say ‘whatever’.
      I also think you can practice it, I don’t think everybody realizes that there are choices to make, that it is even an option.
      I’ve had a comment here of a lady who said that she ‘asks for different options’. So that is also a way to do it, just to ask what all the options are.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This is a wonderful side to empowerment that I had not consciously considered before. Decision making has really been an important step in me helping myself get better as well. I cannot relate or claim to understand the decision making process that goes on with regard to healthcare and medication because I have not undergone that treatment, but even on an everyday basis, being able to make small decisions mattered a lot to me.

    I would stay in bed for days because I felt like the outside world posed too much information for me to comprehend, and avoiding it all seemed like my only option. It took me a while, but changing my perspective from “this is my only option” to “staying in bed is also a decision I am making, just unawares” helped me regain my agency and feel empowered. I began making small decisions like “today I will step outside my room” and “today I will walk around the building” and little by little I started going back to college consistently.

    Thank you for sharing this post, I feel like I’ve learned a lot more about this perspective, which in itself is empowering!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your kind comment! I agree on the small decisions, they can make a big difference. I believe we always have a choice and that is very empowering.
      Thank you for sharing your experience!


  5. I like the idea of empowerment being a process that you can practice to improve! I also found it impossible to make decisions when I was really depressed, I would just cry if someone asked me where we should go for lunch haha 🙂 Re medical treatment, something that really helped me was the first doctor I went to was really patient – she asked if I wanted medication and I said no, but she made it really clear that I could change my mind at any point (which I did). It was so important to me that she was so kind and it was a lot less pressure to feel like I wasn’t making a once and for all decision; it was just a decision for that moment in time that I could change whenever. I think that’s really important to remember when making decisions!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a very good point! And also kind of your doctor to give you options and not presenting things as black and white.
      I recognize the impossibility to decide something, what may seem small, like where do you want to go out for lunch turning into a ‘big’ thing that you’re unable to make a decision about. It’s so strange. I found myself asking my partner everything and letting him decide everything. He got fed up eventually and I started slowly to gain some control over my life. Even the smallest decision can make a difference. And remembering that a decision is just what it is, a decision in that point in time, noting more and nothing less. You can always change your mind.
      Thanks for your insightful answer!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think those small choices are the most powerful. Quite often, we have a million voices trying to decide what we should wear or eat for us. Health fads, fashion trends, and sometimes other voices from closer to home. I know I’ve often felt hesitant about those simple choices because of conflicting voices urging me to different courses of action. Yet when we finally give ourselves permission to shut those voices out, we make space for our own voice to emerge and for our own self to grow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To make the space for your own voice and to ‘declutter’ the other voices is a very liberating thing to do. Although it isn’t done in 1,2,3.
      I think it’s the only way to grow as yourself. Like a tree can grow where and how it ‘wants’ and still be perfect.

      Liked by 1 person

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