E15. Nicole Gibson – Love

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Today we speak with Nicole Gibson, founder of an organisation called Love Out Loud, and author of a book by the same name. Unlike most previous guests on this podcast, Nicole isn’t an academic. She does however, have impressive experience and expertise regarding mental health. Following her lived experience with anorexia, Nicole started a non-profit at 18, then spent a year and a half living in a van and travelling to 300 communities around Australia delivering workshops and presentations. Then at 21, she was elected as a Commonwealth Commissioner for Mental Health, the youngest person to serve in that position.

In this conversation, we talk about the role of love and community in creating the possibility for positive change and get an outsider’s perspective on the field.

Show Notes

1:10 – On Nicole’s background.

7:05 – How did Nicole’s understanding of society’s needs around mental health evolve during her time as National Mental Health Commissioner?

10:15 – How was her perspective received during her time as National Mental Health Commissioner?

19:15 – What is it about a facilitator or therapist that allows them to effectively support change in a client?

25:15 – What advice would Nicole have for people to support the mental health of others?

29:10 – About Nicole’s organisation, Love Out Loud.

38:00 – On love as a clichéd message.

40:30 – On the approach and philosophy of Love Out Loud retreats.

53:35 – On how work on embodiment goes with work on narrative.

1:03:30 – What is coming up next for Nicole and Love Out Loud?

1:05:20 – Advice for those working in, or moving towards a career in, mental health.

1:10 – On Nicole’s background.

Nicole’s calling to the mental health field began with her own experiences as a teenager with anorexia and in particular, seeing the lack of societal awareness, and lack of skills required to support those with mental health challenges. Nicole then started a community-based, preventative mental health organisation, The Rogue and Rouge Foundation. The success of this organisation lead to hear being elected as National Mental Health Commissioner. More recently, Nicole started Love Out Loud, a movement dedicated to the same message of love as an actionable skillset that can be taught, cultivated and applied.

7:05 – How did Nicole’s understanding of society’s needs around mental health evolve during her time as National Mental Health Commissioner?

The core of Nicole’s view on the importance of human connection for mental health was there from the beginning, due to her own experience. Initially, she was operating on a hunch or hypothesis that this was broadly relevant. But her time as National Mental Health Commissioner, and the half a million people she has worked with over the past 10 years, confirmed the pervasiveness of this need

10:15 – How was her perspective received during her time as National Mental Health Commissioner?

To those coming from a more medical or clinical perspective, Nicole felt that she was often perceived as a radical and that what she was saying was unfounded. Additionally, Nicole advocates other views that can be confrontational to the medical or clinical perspective. For example, that to best overcome a mental health challenge, the change needs to come from you and that just because someone is a doctor or psychologist doesn’t mean that you should completely hand over all agency to them. In the current mental health system, people’s vulnerability can become entrenched by having their identity reinforced over and over again as a mental health patient. This can have disastrous consequences when combined with a profession that does not always keep the presence of the mental health practitioner front of mind.

In contrast, Nicole tries to create a space where people can truly be anything and be seen with pure, non-judgemental love and compassion. Nicole is confident that such an approach would have better outcomes than traditional treatment approaches, but would likely depend more difficult to measure capabilities of the practitioner.

19:15 – What is it about a facilitator or therapist that allows them to effectively support change in a client?

It is far more about internal factors such as how developed you are as a human being, how much have you overcome your own triggers, how much capacity do you have to hold someone in a space of love and compassion, rather than external factors like the knowledge tested in exams. Facilitators/therapists should be so comfortable in themselves, and love themselves so deeply, that there is a natural overflow to their clients.

We need to be brave enough to be present with the reasons why someone is experiencing mental health problems. If a practitioner is afraid of the same insecurities in themselves, they won’t be able to support someone else in that endeavour.

25:15 – What advice would Nicole have for people to support the mental health of others?

We create our culture and society through every interaction we have. We should be aware of this and how we impact those we interact with. Do we create more love, compassion, connection and expansiveness, or do we create judgement, insecurity, segregation and prejudice?

29:10 – About Nicole’s organisation, Love Out Loud.

Nicole has long been interested in the idea and possibility of critical mass (that a point is reached where a process becomes self-sustaining). Nicole had realised that she wanted to work beyond a narrow definition of mental health, and through a serious of synchronous occurrences, Love out Loud was birthed first as a book then a movement. Love Out Loud is intended to be a movement that generates a critical mass of people being genuinely inspired to choose love over fear.

Love Out Loud runs retreats, seminars and events.

38:00 – On love as a clichéd message.

The message of love entails a vulnerability, and can be seen as the opposite of our competitive and individualistic society.

40:30 – On the approach and philosophy of Love Out Loud retreats.

The Love Out Loud model has nine elements;

  • Belief: What are your core beliefs and what do you want to believe? Important as for things to happen, it is helpful for you to believe that it is possible.
  • Honesty: What do we truly want, and what stops us from being in and speaking that truth.
  • Acceptance: And in particular, acceptance of what you want.
  • Death: Sometimes we need to let an aspect of our identity die before we can birth a new identity.
  • Purpose: Purpose is discovered after letting go of all the things that are in the way of you actualising your purpose? More of a process of undoing than finding and discovering.
  • Creativity: Once you’ve discovered your purpose, how can you express it.
  • Acknowledgement: Full acknowledgement (by yourself and those around you) of your experiences is important to allow them to become fully integrated and congruent.
  • Gratitude: Being able to look back, and not only be okay, but thankful.
  • Service: How do you want to express your love, moving forward

These modules comprise a number of phases. Phase one, involving belief, honesty and acceptance, has to do with leaving our comfort zone. Phase two, involving death, purpose and creativity, has to do with enquiry. Phase three, involving acknowledgement, gratitude and service, has to do with integration and embodiment.

All philosophy in the retreat is matched with practices of integration and embodiment.

53:35 – On how work on embodiment goes with work on narrative.

There is a difference between knowing something on a cognitive level and living consistently with that knowing. Nicole considers a number of physical practices as powerfully helpful towards integrating what we know. These include, breath-work, yoga, ecstatic dance.

1:03:30 – What is coming up next for Nicole and Love Out Loud?

Nicole and her team have a goal to engage 350 million people by the end of 2020. Stay tuned.

1:05:20 – Advice for those working in, or moving towards a career in, mental health.

Nicole’s advice is to really commit to the human that you are, beyond your title as a mental health professional. This will help prevent you from getting lost in bureaucracy. Remember that there is a person in front of you who is unmeasurable.