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Educating People on How Different Minds Function: Functional Legacy Mindset Pty Ltd

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Dr. Kerry Chillemi, a Melbourne-based Clinical Psychologist, designed the Functional Legacy Mindset™ approach to educate people about the various functions of the mind. She explains how the assumptions and narratives that dominate different minds play an important role in people’s mental health and well-being.

Dr. Chillemi holds post-graduate training in Clinical Psychology (Professional Doctorate in Clinical Psychology). She is registered with the Psychology Board of Australia (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) and is a Medicare Provider under the Better Access to Mental Health Initiative. In addition, she has a full membership with the Australian Psychological Society (APS). Dr. Chillemi has experience in the welfare, health (St. Vincent’s Hospital), and private practice sectors.

She passionately advocates: “To all of the beautiful minds I have had the privilege to work with, I acknowledge the valuable contribution you bring to this world with the utmost respect. The uniquely remarkable views of different minds benefit many people for years to come, and greatness can be achieved through diversity.”

Functional Legacy Mindset™ — Championing a Strength-Based Mindset

The theory of a Functional Legacy Mindset™ approach is grounded by the therapeutic benefits of embracing the authentic self to promote a sense of purpose, in which people feel empowered to embrace their unique strengths and abilities to contribute to society in ways that feel authentic and meaningful to them. The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental health disorders (DSM-5) offers standard criteria for classifying disorders. While this information is essential for providing a toolbox of coping skills to treat mental health concerns, the DSM-5 does not portray the strengths associated with different ways of thinking and relating to the world.

The term neurodiversity, coined by sociologist Judy Singe in 1998, refers to a combination of traits (variations in the human brain regarding attention, mood, different ways of thinking, and other mental functions) that are viewed as both strengths and challenges. Simon Baron-Cohen states: “There is no single way for a brain to be normal.” and Temple Grandin has famously said: “He/she is “different not less.” Neurodiverse individuals are acutely aware of their differences energetically, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Many clients block their emotions and mask (camouflage) due to societal discrimination and a lack of accommodations designed to meet the neurocognitive needs of neurodiverse minds. A crucial first step to removing the mask is acceptance before identifying and embracing the many strengths and beauty of neurodiverse minds. When we can accept our whole selves, we can remove the mask that makes us feel hidden, rejected, and disconnected. A great tragedy is going through life disconnected from our brilliant minds because we see ourselves as broken.

A strength-based perspective does not deny that neurodivergent disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and Bi-Polar, carry potentially life-threatening risks and deficiencies. However, it also seeks to acknowledge the talents, interests, and skills to build a life of success and joy. If a person is genuinely proud of who they are, it helps them navigate the world better. In this way, expectations become more realistic and do not require the person to meet unreasonable standards.

The Functional Legacy Mindset™ approach is designed to address environmental factors that adversely impact neurodiverse minds, enabling people to build a life of success and joy. It is important that clients feel safe enough to reach out for help before they reach breaking point (develop maladaptive thinking about their plight) and believe that they have utilised all of the responses in their coping repertoire (including seeking help).

Personalising treatment for precision goes beyond challenging thinking and treating avoidance behaviours to allow people to embrace their authentic self. A safe path in the form of a healthy self-identity (integrating a healthy sense of self), a self-compassionate mindset, accommodations, energy-accounting, supporting an interest-based nervous system, creative flow, and connecting with your tribe allows people to minimize any negatives and leverage on the positives. You do not grow out the way your mind works; rather, you grow into it.

Ultimately, to promote neurodiversity in society, we must move beyond seeing the challenges and start seeing the opportunities offered by differences. By offering respect, support, and flexibility (accommodations in society), we will encourage self-determination, empowerment, and innovations for the good of all. The discipline of psychology is evolving rapidly, moving away from the idea that people need to meet neuro-normative expectations to succeed in life.

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Five Mind Model by Dr. Kerry Chillemi

The Focused Mind: The focused mind leads to distress when intrusive thoughts are centred around death anxiety, health anxiety, and/or thoughts that do not align with the person’s values (e.g., not being able to control a distressing thought and thinking this will lead to terrible consequences). Fusing with an intrusive thought is when the person considers the thought to be important, dangerous, or saying something about them as a person. When the focused mind is under high levels of distress, there is an intolerance to uncertainty, perfectionism, excess sense of responsibility, and an overestimation of danger. Intrusive thoughts are catastrophic, in which a person may imagine the worst feared possible outcome and feel traumatised as if it is happening. The strength of judgement is overused, and obsessive thinking about feared outcomes develops. Subjugating (pleasing at the expense of the self) can lead to exhaustion and guilt. Self-esteem fluctuates in relation to if the person is achieving, pleasing, or gaining reassurance.

Alternatively, when the focused mind directs cognitive capacity and emotional energy healthily, the person exhibits emotional intelligence strengths, and an insurmountable passion leads to self-motivation, self-discipline, and perseverance. The focused mind allows people greater attention to detail and organisational abilities that drive society’s functional systems and helping professions.

The Awe of the Autistic Mind: When the autistic mind is overwhelmed, flooding may present as heightened hypersensitivities, rigidity in thinking, and intolerance to uncertainty, routines, rituals, and perfectionism. When the autistic individual is tired and overwhelmed, it may feel like they pre-set and practice for what could happen at any given moment. Recognition that some of the difficulties experienced by autistic individuals stem from a society that is not yet inclusive or sensitive to the needs of autistic individuals is important. Masking is physically and emotionally exhausting (which can lead to social fatigue or burnout) and is particularly adverse for mental health (anxiety, depression), self-perception, and self-esteem. Autistic individuals are acutely aware of their differences energetically, physically, emotionally, and mentally, and their acute sensitivity to sensory experiences and stimuli gives them a remarkable view of the world.

Hyper-focus, a common trait of autistic individuals, is an ability to focus on details for a long time. Surrendering is the strength of detaching from what life must look like (fixed outcomes) and the science of finding something thanks to an observant mind. The energy of people aspiring to create, teamed with the surrender of the autistic mind, is powerful and creative. There is a natural love of learning, a fascination with facts, an ability to listen without judgement or assumption, a maintenance of order and accuracy, a pursuit of personal theory despite conflicting evidence, and a heightened awareness of details, which lead to great insights. Connections (as distinct from socialising, which is internalising social norms) provide meaning in relationships with people (sincerity, loyalty, authenticity), objects, or stimuli (special interests). By offering respect, support, and flexibility (accommodations in the workplace and education systems), we will encourage self-determination, empowerment, and innovations for the good of all. Autism Spectrum Disorder can allow autistic individuals to stand with pride and connect to their tribe.

The Problem-Solving Mind: The problem-solving mind can lead to inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Adults who present with ADHD often describe their frustration of the mind leading them towards new topics of discussion and questions of great importance (which presents as the mind wandering, tangential thinking, and disengaging) and a sense of not feeling satisfied (a craving for stimulation). Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria and emotional hyperarousal precipitate clinically significant symptoms of distress.

The ADHD mind has an interest-based nervous system that is not motivated by rewards and consequences. This can eventuate in motivational and time challenges and achieving below potential (e.g., not finishing what one starts). A strength-based perspective does not deny that ADHD carries potentially life-threatening risks and deficiencies; however, it also seeks to acknowledge the talents, interests, and skills upon which the person can build a life of success and joy. Flexibility allows people to minimize the negative and leverage on the positive.

There are many strengths of the problem-solving mind, including increased energy, creativity, innovative thinking, high motivation, and the ability to hyper-focus. Many celebrated innovators of the past and present are known or thought to have had ADHD. People with ADHD tend to thrive in situations of rapid change, variety, and environments that reward creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

The Existential Mind: When existential thoughts are directed towards the self in a punitive way, they have nothing encouraging to say, and there is a sense of overwhelm. When your mind wanders to an existential headspace (what is the meaning of life, where do I fit in), it is difficult to focus on the present moment and challenge unhelpful thinking. Existential thoughts directed on a macro level evaluate how human beings act towards one another, nature, and/or the cruelty of animals. This may be particularly detrimental to a person’s mental health when they believe that they have used up their responses in their coping repertoire and develop maladaptive thinking about their plight. The values people hold (authenticity, integrity, fairness, kindness) tend to match people’s anger triggers. One of the strongest factors in fuelling anger and keeping it going is when attitudes and expectations clash with the real world (I need the world to be fair and just).

Existential thinkers acknowledge suffering in the world and imagine a better way. The character strength of transcending provides existential thinkers with meaning, connection, and creativity.

The Entrepreneurial Mind: The creativity, energy, productivity, charm, and euphoria of the entrepreneurial mind can create businesses (in a variety of industries) that have a positive impact on society. Entrepreneurial ventures can also create jobs and conditions for a prosperous society. Unfortunately, these perceived advantages are only temporary and, for most people, progress to increasing mania, disruptive lifestyle choices, poor impulse control, increased substance abuse, and can lead to psychosis. Bipolar Disorder requires ongoing management with the proper medical support (psychiatric care) to achieve an overall sense of balance and prevent symptoms from exacerbating.

While it is crucial to achieve self-care and balance, it is also important to follow your heart and trust that you will do great things. A fear of fostering strengths, talents, and interests can leave people feeling disconnected and not valuing themselves. Embracing your authentic self is an effective formula for success. Entrepreneurial minds are not afraid to make mistakes or give things a go, and often their creativity is stifled by other people imposing their limits upon others. Entrepreneurial minds have a wealth of new ideas and are productive. When you build a healthy self-concept, clients are eager to learn and are more likely to develop a self-compassionate mindset that acknowledges that support is vital and needed.

Please note: The Functional Legacy Mindset Five Mind Model should not be used to replace a face-to-face clinical interview to assess the diagnosis of mental health concerns and the content of this article does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing significant emotional difficulties, you should contact you General Practitioner to obtain a referral to see a qualified professional.