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What are the Four Pillars (and why should I care?)

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

An intro to the four pillars of wellness, their application to counseling, and how they affect you every day.



What are the Four Pillars?

There are many different interpretations of the four pillars of wellness (or to some people, the four pillars of fitness). For example, in reference to leadership and management, some would say that the four pillars include Engagement, Positive History, Reward, and Team Experience. In reference to physical health, some medical experts would say that the four pillars include movement, nutrition, stress, and community. For the purpose of individual wellness on a personal level, the four pillars include Mental Wellness, Physical Wellness, Emotional Wellness, and Spiritual Wellness.


Mental Wellness begins with the thoughts that a person encounters throughout the day. These thoughts are processed analytically rather than emotionally, but both mental and emotional wellness as well as mental and emotional thoughts affect each other constantly. A mentally well person is able to recognize unrealistic, negative, false, and harmful thoughts that come into their mind and correct them. Some people think that to be well you must never have those ineffective thoughts to begin with, but that's far from the truth. Everyone has the ability to be faced with thoughts that are unproductive. A mentally well person ensures that they correct those thoughts rather than indulge them.


Physical Wellness is one of the more well-known types of wellness. A physically well person eats foods to fuel their body and foods to fuel their cravings. They exercise to celebrate what their body can do rather than punish themselves for something they've eaten. They sleep as much as they need to/can and take naps sometimes because they want to. They allow themselves to be "unhealthy" sometimes because we're all human and it would be unhealthy to expect otherwise. Most importantly, a physically well person loves their body through thoughts, emotions, exercise, nutrition, and any other way they see fit.


Emotional Wellness is another well-known type of wellness, but it's often not fully understood. An emotionally well person is aware of how their thoughts affect their feelings and vice versa. They accept mistakes and learn from them while trying to find the positive in anything that happens. Is an emotionally well person always positive? No, not at all! Again, we are humans and we will never be perfect. Part of being emotionally well is understanding our limitations and accepting them. Emotional wellness is about finding balance, reducing stress, practicing self-care, and doing what helps you individually to feel well.


Spiritual Wellness has to do with a person's values, beliefs, and their sense of purpose. Spirituality is not religion although it can include someone's religion. Spirituality is a very personal type of wellness that means something different to every person, but there are different ways of maintaining spiritual wellness that can be universal. A spiritually well person understands their beliefs and values, accepts the beliefs and values of others, and has a strong sense of purpose in their life.


How Do the Four Pillars Apply to Counseling?

Counseling is a relationship between a mental health professional and a client in which there is mutual respect, no judgement, and an an empathic connection from the counselor to the client. There are many different ways that a counselor can approach therapy, but each way will involve each of the four pillars of wellness. Every person must be well in each pillar to be well.


Mental wellness can be approached in counseling through exercises such as fact-checking thoughts, disrupting negative thought patterns, mental meditation, and other cognitive-beahvioral approaches. Thought processes are often the first stage of symptoms such as depression and anxiety. "Everyone is watching me." "I look stupid." - These types of thoughts lead to insecurity, sadness, fear, and other negative emotions. In counseling, the counselor acts as a silent ear, a logical voice, or even a blank slate for projection.


Physical wellness is not normally addressed during a standard counseling session. Exercise therapy is a very underdeveloped approach that I hope to shed light on through my writing and my practice. The obvious way to address physical wellness in counseling is to incorporate exercise. This can include walking on a trail, lifting weights, doing bodyweight exercises, or stretching. There is no limit to the variety of activities that can be used during therapy with the right environment and a certified professional. Another way that counseling can address the physical pillar is through respect of the body. A counselor's job is to ensure that clients are not holding themselves to unreasonably high expectations. Clients are encouraged to love themselves as they are before they try to make any physical changes through diet or exercise even if those changes are positive. "If only when" is not a valid means for self love!


Emotional wellness is the most obvious pillar addressed during counseling. Many people think of counseling and they imagine a client laying on a couch expressing their feelings to a silent genius who says things like "How does that make you feel?" or "Let's talk about your relationship with your mother." Although this may happen, this is not what counseling is about. The emotional aspect of counseling involves emotional awareness through talk therapy as well as behavioral confrontation. The counselor will often point out certain inflections, behaviors, or words that the client may not notice themselves. The first step to controling our emotions and becoming emotionally well is to understand and accept the emotions that we are experiencing.


Spiritual wellness is not normally associated with mental health counseling. It may be associated with a 12 step program or pastoral counseling, but generally people don't want religion to be brought into their sessions. That being said, spiritual wellness is very important in the counseling session. A client may define spirituality however they please based on their beliefs and values. Those beliefs and values as well as their sense of purpose are all important to the therapeutic relationship as they are the basis for the client's world view. The counselor's job is to facilitate the client's journey in defining their spirituality and serving what they believe to be their own life purpose.


Why Should I Care?

I wouldn't say that you should or have to care, but I would say that all of these pillars affect you and everyone you know every day. All four of these pillars are intertwined and one cannot be healthy without the help of the others. I challenge you, whoever you are, to consider each pillar and think about how "well" you are in each of them. Is there one of them that is lagging behind or suffering? How does that pillar affect your wellness in the other pillars? What can you do to become well rounded in all four?


Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post! As a reminder, this blog is not a substitute for mental health counseling or other types of therapy. What you read here is strictly informational and entertaining. These are not official medical instructions and should not be used to replace a licensed counselor or therapist.

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