Seek help early and often. No one can get through life completely on their own. Reaching out for help, either from friends, family, clergy, or mental health professionals, should not be the last resort. Instead, give yourself permission to ask for help when you need it. You are not “weak” if you need help, rather by asking for help when you need it instead of trying (unsuccessfully) to handle things by yourself, you are demonstrating how strong you are.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Josh Briley, PhD, FAIS. Dr. Briley has served as the Science and Education Director for Electromedical Products International, Inc since October 2019. He is a licensed clinical psychologist who worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons for about 10 years before transferring to the Veterans Health Administration for the next 10 years. He has also owned a private practice, conducted teletherapy through an online service, and taught for two online universities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I began studying psychology as a senior in high school. I found the material fascinating, but more than that, the teacher made the class enjoyable with a combination of humor and expertise that engaged his students. I began to study psychology as an undergraduate, and the more I learned about the field, the more interested I became. I attended graduate school at the University of North Texas, earning both my Master’s and Doctorate in their clinical psychology program. I completed practicums and my internship with the Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. After earning my doctorate, I began work as a staff psychologist at the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont, TX. Around three years later, I was promoted to a Drug Abuse Program Coordinator and transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, OK. In 2010, I transferred to the Veteran’s Health Administration as the sole psychologist for a rural outpatient clinic in Central Texas. The area is underserved for mental health professionals, so I opened a private practice on the side. It was through a client in my private practice I first heard of Alpha-Stim. Several years later, I was finally able to obtain a loaner device at the VA clinic and began treating my veterans with it. It was so effective that, in the 13 months between obtaining the device and starting with EPI, I ordered approximately 1,000 devices for the veterans in my clinic. In October 2019, I came to work for EPI, coordinating the research conducted with Alpha-Stim devices, providing clinical support to customers, and traveling to conferences and conventions to educate practitioners on our device.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
As a psychologist, working with the populations I have, there are numerous interesting stories, but most of them are, of course, confidential. While working for the BOP in Beaumont, I was given a team leader position for the local Crisis Support Team (CST), which is an emergency response team dedicated to caring for staff and their families during all sorts of emergencies, including natural disasters, accidents, riots/hostage situations, etc. Less than two months after assuming the team leader position, the area was hit with Hurricane Rita. I sheltered in place inside a prison during the storm, then worked 22+ hour days for the next week or so coordinating with other Crisis Support Teams from around the country to ensure my coworkers had food, shelter outside the prison walls, and showers, as well as the spiritual, medical, and psychological support they needed. I had to negotiate with leadership at the prison complex, from the Regional Office, and even Central Office in order to obtain the personnel and resources necessary to accomplish the mission of the CST to take care of staff and families in that emergency. That was probably the hardest I have worked in my entire career, but also the most rewarding.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
I made a mistake on the title of my thesis while in graduate school, just a little typo. I never noticed it until, over a decade later, one of my online students used my thesis as a source in a paper and copied the title (typo and all) into the reference list for his paper. When I saw it in his paper, I found the electronic version my university had filed. Then I pulled the bound, hard copy version of the document, and sure enough, the typo was there, as well. Again, it is a minor mistake, not significant in the large scheme of things. But given the number of times I proofread the document, the fact that a committee of three professors proofread it, and the graduate school proofread it before filing it, I find it humorous that the typo was never detected. I have a tendency toward perfectionism in my work. That typo taught me that sometimes mistakes slip through the cracks no matter how careful you are, and that regardless of how hard I try, I myself will never be perfect, and neither will my work.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are, of course, so many people that have helped me along the way. The person that helped shape me professionally and taught me the most was my first graduate school mentor, Dr. Richard Rogers. He was very amicable and personable with his students, but his feedback was extensive and very blunt. He used blue ink to make comments or corrections, and often he would return my work (whether it was my thesis research, a report on a client, or a paper for a class) with more of his blue ink on it than there was black ink from the printer. He also enjoyed when his students debated with him and used evidence from the literature to support their positions. He taught me to accept criticism constructively, always look for ways to improve, but most importantly he taught me how to stand up for myself, my work, and my patients. That last lesson has served me well in my career.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
My primary advice to thrive at work or in your personal life is to love what you do. If you dread going to work most days, then you will burnout very quickly. But even if you absolutely love your career, you can still burn out if you don’t take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Take time off for yourself, your family, and your friends. Find an activity, a hobby, or pursuit unrelated to your job that makes you happy.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Leaders, who may or may not be the “supervisor,” will naturally produce a healthy, happy, more productive work culture, even in the most trying of industries. They do so by showing respect and concern for their people and by creating a culture of fairness and responsibility. They ensure their people are trained, and then give them the freedom and responsibility to get the job done. They interact with their people regularly, not just when there are problems. They encourage and support their people, and stand up for them when needed. The employees who work for leaders like that will do more than expected, will work harder, be more productive, and be happier doing it. When working for the government, I saw several instances where employee morale, productivity, stress levels, and turnover rate changed drastically when a true leader joins, or leaves, the team.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.
- Have a goal, a purpose, or something to strive for in your life. One of my favorite movie quotes is from Hitch, “Begin each day as if it were on purpose.” Every night, go to bed with an idea of something you want to do the next day. Not a list of tasks that need to be done for you to stress over. Things you WANT to do. Think about how excited you get when there is something planned that you are looking forward to…a vacation, for example. You can generate that excitement, on some level, every day. Have goals for yourself professionally, with your significant other, with your children, your friends, extended family, and for your leisure time. When you wake up, get up and intentionally do something productive as soon as possible, such as making your bed, meditating, stretching/yoga, or simply taking a shower. Whatever you do, approach it with a sense of purpose and intention.
- Be flexible. While it is important, as stated above, to have plans and a purpose for each day, it is equally important to be flexible and adjust to what the day brings. Learning to take these surprises in stride and adjust your short-term goals accordingly will improve your resilience and lessen the adverse impact of stress on your physical and mental health. In contrast, if you see the surprises as distractions that are preventing you from achieving your goals for the day, then you will get very stressed out, which may lead to anxiety or anger, and cause you to miss something enjoyable out of the surprising situation.
- Focus on the three things you can control — your actions, your attitude, and your faith. In other words, spend most of your energy controlling your behavior, your thoughts, and your beliefs. Being more deliberate in how you respond to situations will allow you to feel more empowered than reacting to what life throws at you. If you focus, instead, on trying to control what and how other people think about you, or on circumstances that you have little or no control over, then you will always be at the mercy of those other people or your circumstances.
- Express your emotions, but don’t allow them to control your decisions. I always tell clients “emotions are like toddlers. They make life interesting, but don’t let them drive.” The term “emotional reasoning” refers to our tendency to allow our emotions to override our judgment and make decisions based solely on how we feel. I have seen people resign from jobs they love, leave relationships that were otherwise good, or move to another city based solely on the fear, anger, or depression they are feeling. These emotions make them believe that they need to get out of the situation before something bad happens, when the difficulty they are experiencing is either a normal temporary situation or exists only to them. The effects of such impulsive, and frequently negative, decisions last for years.
- Seek help early and often. No one can get through life completely on their own. Reaching out for help, either from friends, family, clergy, or mental health professionals, should not be the last resort. Instead, give yourself permission to ask for help when you need it. You are not “weak” if you need help, rather by asking for help when you need it instead of trying (unsuccessfully) to handle things by yourself, you are demonstrating how strong you are. Most of us are willing to help our friends or family at a moment’s notice and we don’t feel at all burdened by the occasional request. But, when it’s our turn to ask for help, we convince ourselves that we are a burden to the very people that are willing to give us the same consideration and care we eagerly give to them. Investigate options for help other than simply taking medications. One such option is Alpha-Stim (www.alpha-stim.com), which has been demonstrated in over a 100 clinical research trials and millions of clinical treatments to be a safe, easy, and effective way to treat anxiety, insomnia, depression, and pain.
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
There are several things a recently retired individual can do to optimize mental wellness. Many of tips I have shared above will also apply in retirement (be productive, be flexible, focus on controlling your responses, etc.). The people I see that are happiest and healthiest post-retirement are the ones that are having fun and never stop learning. Find a new hobby to try out, make new friends and socialize, learn about a topic you have always been interested in. Get involved in something where you can help others, such as volunteering for a charity you support. Spend time, when possible, with young people. Not only can your hard-earned wisdom hopefully help them in their lives, but being with people from different stages of life can help rekindle your motivation and sense of purpose. Challenging yourself cognitively, socially, and physically will help your medical, as well as your mental, health. Becoming stagnant physically, socially, and/or mentally are significant risk factors for medical problems and cognitive decline.
How about teens and pre-teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre-teens to optimize their mental wellness?
Adolescence is a time of drastic changes, physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally. At no other time in our lives are the people we spend time so important. Statistically, the most important contribution to how well an adolescent does in school, whether they use drugs, and how they spend their free time are the other kids they eat lunch with. Therefore, it is important for teenagers to find friends that have the same, or similar, goals. If you want to do well in school, make friends with the students who make good grades.
With the advent of social media, the potential social circles for adolescents is much larger than any other time in history. However, we all know that people in general are more critical and even abusive online than they would be in person. My suggestions for teens and pre-teens is to limit exposure to the negative comments to posts you make on social media. Most people will say “just don’t listen to it,” or “don’t believe it,” but when a message is communicated repeatedly, our brains automatically start to believe it. If someone is constantly belittling or attacking you on social media, block them. Read comments from friends and family that you know support you and love you. The messages you tell yourself for most of your life will come from the feedback about you that comes from others. Make sure that feedback is uplifting, supportive, and honest.
One last suggestion I have is to be sure you spend time with adults who support and care for you. These can be a teacher, a mentor, your parents, your grandparents, or even a friend’s parents. Believe it or not, every adult you know was once a teenager, and while the specifics may be different, the struggles of being accepted and accepting oneself, figuring out who you are and what type of person you want to be, etc. are challenges they have navigated. They have examples from their own lives, and those of people they know, that can be helpful in giving you a broader perspective than the friends your age are able to provide.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
The book that has probably had the greatest impact on my life, professionally and personally, is part 1 of Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl. Dr. Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. The first part of this book describes his experiences in the concentration camps, and how he and a few other prisoners were able to maintain a sense of meaning and purpose even in the horrific environment they were in. In the other parts of his book, he describes how he used his experiences to develop his professional approach to working with patients. While interesting, these descriptions were not as impactful to me as the first part.
I like that portion of this book, and recommend it frequently to patients, colleagues, friends and coworkers, etc., for two reasons. One, reading about the experiences of the concentration camp survivors will give you a different perspective on the difficulties in your life. Most of us, thankfully, will never experience anything approaching the horror these survivors endured. I say that not to minimize the problems in anyone’s life, including my own, but just to indicate there is a different perspective that can be healthy. The second reason I recommend this book is that Dr. Frankl illustrates, much better than I ever could, the principles of intentionality, flexibility, controlling how you respond to situations, and managing your emotions that I discuss above.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This movement has already started, somewhat, but I would focus on removing the stigma from mental health difficulties. There is no reason we cannot talk about our struggles with depression, anxiety, etc. with the same openness we discuss other conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, even the flu or a cold. If we begin sharing our own experiences on the mental health continuum, then people who are struggling with clinical levels of depression, anxiety, etc. will feel less isolated and safer to share their own difficulties. Talking through emotions helps us express them, process them, and work through them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
There are two “life lesson quotes” that have always resonated with me. The first, attributed to Thomas Edison, is fairly well-known. “I have not failed. I have simply found 10,000 ways not to make a lightbulb.” This quote reminds me that lack of success is not the same as failure. That we don’t fail until we give up.
The second, much more obscure quote, was is from the TV show “Babylon 5” that aired many years ago. The quote, from one of the characters on that show, is this:
I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought ‘wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?” So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.
I love this quote because it demonstrates the fact that we are going to face difficulties and struggles in life. However, it is better to be a kind, generous, caring person to whom bad things occasionally happen than it is to be the type of person that, when troubles come, they came because of your own actions or attitude.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I am not all that active on social media, at least not professionally. However, your readers can and should follow Alpha-Stim on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!