In the Disney movie “Big Hero 6,” the main character, Hiro, experiences the loss of his older brother in a tragic accident. His older brother left him with a big, huggable, balloon robot named Baymax programmed to heal sick and injured people. Baymax helps Hiro through his grief process by teaching Hiro to connect with his friends when feeling down, and to cope with his emotions while also taking care of his physical health. Through the help of Baymax, Hiro is able to heal from his loss, find meaning and purpose in his life, and become a hero who saves the world (Hall, et al. 2015).
As counselors, we help clients work towards living a healthy, functional, and meaningful life. I think the goofy, loveable character of Baymax represents the qualities that it takes to help suffering people. Baymax offers comfort with big, warm hugs, and supports Hiro’s physical, mental, and spiritual growth by teaching Hiro how to cope and how to care for himself in order for Hiro to live his best life.
The goal of the wellness perspective is to help clients live their best lives. The wellness paradigm in counseling views the individual as an integration of body, mind, and spirit and seeks to help individuals move towards optimum health within their community (Myers, Sweeney, & Witmer, 2000).
Hettler (1984) described six dimensions of wellness that are important to maintaining a healthy, happy, and meaningful life. These dimensions include: intellectual, emotional, physical, social, occupational, and spiritual wellness (Myers, 1991).
Today, I want to take a look at the importance of promoting intellectual health over the course of the lifespan and discuss some of the ways I encourage my clients to improve their intellectual wellness. "Intellectual wellness reflects a commitment to lifelong learning through self-directed behavior that promotes continuous acquisition and creative application of new skills and abilities (Hettler, 1976)." (Strout & Howard, 2015).
Developing Intellectual Wellness for Children
As children's brains develop, it is important to engage them in a variety of intellectually stimulating activities to foster and promote creativity, learning, attention, social skills, and other important cognitive skills that will last a lifetime. Children tend to receive a lot of screen time on devices like televisions, iPads, and computers, so it's important to encourage kids to participate in activities that develop problem solving skills, creativity, social skills and physical exercise. In my practice, I encourage parents to spend time talking with their kids daily, to find ways to stimulate curiosity and creativity, and encourage an attitude of excitement about acquiring knowledge and being engaged with the community. I think one thing that is great for kids is to regularly schedule family outings or excursions, like going to museums, taking the kids camping, hiking, or taking them to tour historical monuments.
Promoting Intellectual Wellness in Adulthood
According to the Wellness Evaluation of Lifestyle, or WEL, (Myers, Sweeney, & Witmer, 2000), "healthy functioning occurs on a developmental continuum," and current behaviors will affect future health and well-being of an individual. Adults who are regularly challenged to use their creativity and problem solving skills as they engage in meaningful work and other activities may have the benefit of reducing the risk of cognitive decline as they age. As an individual engages in stimulating intellectual activities, he/she strengthens the neural network inside the brain. Strong neural networks are denser, and are more resistant to decline and amyloid plaques linked to dementia and Alzheimer's disease (Rodriguez, DiLego, & Texeira, 2015). Additionally, intellectual wellness may be improved by effective stress-management skills and emotional coping skills. In my practice, I encourage clients to pursue meaningful activities that increase intellectual wellness. Some examples of activities that clients might choose include: writing poetry or a journal, reading, making artwork, playing puzzles & games, exploring different hobbies, finding opportunities to socialize, pursuing stimulating conversations with others, exercising, and finding excitement in pursuing new knowledge. I also try to encourage clients to limit television & computer time at home.
Protective Factors of Intellectual Wellness in the Aging
Research suggests that rates of cognitive decline are slower in the aging adults who have received 12 or more years of formal education than aging adults who have received fewer years of formal education. Research suggests that cognitive decline may be prevented, slowed, or perhaps reversed in aging adults who are frequently engaged in creative, challenging, and cognitively stimulating activities such as computer games, reading, and crossword puzzles (Strout & Howard, 2015). Playing an important role in the community also seems to help elderly people to stay well mentally. I encourage my older clients to find meaningful activities, such as: attending leisure learning courses, traveling, being active, writing poetry, reading, engaging in discussions, attending social events like church, making new friends, making artwork, and being involved with family.
Myers, J. E., & Sweeney, T. J. (Eds.). (2005). Counseling for Wellness: Theory, Research, and Practice. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
Rodriguez, D. (Producer). [PACTV Video Share]. (2015, September). Building Community Episode 8 – Intellectual health and wellness (with DiLego, & C., Texeira, K.). [video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoJJaY9bnfU
Strout, K. A., & Howard, E. P. (2015). Five dimensions of wellness and predictors of cognitive health protection in community-dwelling older adults. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 33(1).
Hall, D., Williams, C., Conli, R., Lasseter, J., Roberts, J., Baird, R. L., Gerson, D., ... (2015). Big Hero 6. Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Firm).
Hanna Rodriguez is a counselor in training at McNeese State University, and is completing her internship at the McNeese Kay Dore Gambling Treatment Program in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She is interested in viewing mental health from a wellness perspective. Read more about Hanna at: