by Margaret J. Park, M.Div., C.P.S.,
Recovery Specialist, Allegheny County (PA) Office of Behavioral Healh
It seems to me the people who work to change the public mental health system have reached a general consensus that helping people recover from trauma and extreme emotional difficulties takes humanity, love, and reform, and less coercion and manipulation to be succeed.
We are struggling with how to articulate this well enough to change the overall environment in which individuals and families come to professionals for healing, and a way out of the pain and despair.
We understand that mental health care belongs more with the humanities and human potential than with a profit-driven pseudoscience of prescribing powerful mind-altering drugs to combat every negative emotion and thought. We know that we must get to the root of the painful thought or emotion. That is where healing occurs.
Caring for hurting souls, damaging memories, and extreme stress is a human-to-human endeavor. In the love equation that means love and compassion, empathy for everyone at the tabl
Humanity, Love, and Reform in Mental Health Professionals
I had the opportunity to hear a lecture given by Pat Deegan as part of my Certified Peer Specialist training. The lecture was rich in her wisdom. There is one idea she conveyed brilliantly that I now borrow and use when I train professionals.
I help them see their own issues when they us,e or hear their colleagues use, phrases such as “these people don’t want help” or “this woman likes to suffer” or “You don’t understand; the people at my agency, (or my patients, my son or daughter…) are sicker, and can’t recover”.
The emotion being expressed is despair. It is their own sense of helplessness and hopelessness as they try to work within a paradigm that is utterly broken. They feel just as hopeless and helpless as anyone with a diagnosis of depression does. They need to feel that they can come into our circle too.
The Problem with “Us Against Them”
If we organize based on the truth and power of “us against them” thinking, we will end up with a lot of enemies, and far fewer allies, than we need. What if we sought out the professionals and family members who believed in authentic recovery and the power of love, compassion and universal human potential? What if we sought out and nurtured relationships with the state and federal government workers and officials that also believed in recovery and human potential?
We have inherited this “system,” which is a set-up for demonizing others. We divide through the use of the labels: consumer, family and provider. That’s a triad. My training taught me that triads like that are set ups for moving back and forth within the victim, persecutor and rescuer roles. No one gets to stay in the hero role for long. Everybody gets their chance at being the victim, and before long, rage runs over, and everybody gets a shot at being the bad guy or persecutor
We are moving away from disease language in our consumer/survivor/ex-patient (C/S/X) world, but the battle lines have been drawn and they have become trenches. I do not want to minimize why these trenches have been drawn. Thousands of us feel so deeply betrayed by those who have tried to alleviate our suffering—and too many that did not seem to care at all. Lives, careers, relationships futures, and health have been destroyed for many by the treatment itself.
Humanity, Love, and Reform Within the Mental Health Change Movement
Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. both used love as the most powerful force in the world. We know there are different kinds of love. There is the unconditional acceptance of agape love, the camaraderie of phileo, and the romance of eros. King and Gandhi preached agape for all and phileo within their movements. King referred to the application of brotherly love as everyone in the civil rights movement being a member of a worldwide “beloved community”.
Agape love is what is missing from the system in the training of professionals when they are taught to keep their “professional distance”. Whenever the professional begins to see only symptoms and disease, and not a fellow human being, dehumanizing objectification is in play.
Agape love and phileo love is also what is missing in the movement of those seeking to change the mental health system. We are a group all too often united, not by strategy or even tactics, but by hatred of those we blame for our misery.
Too often, we treat each other as if we ourselves were disposable. Our own peers! “Disagree with me, and you become the enemy” is the sentiment expressed implicitly or explicitly by many working to change the system. Where is the diversity in that? We want the world to respect our mental diversity, but we shut down our own peers when their intellectual diversity of opinion seems to conflict with our own.
I know there are many who disagree with me. Still, what I believe all of us who seek to revolutionize the way extreme emotional and cognitive states are viewed ,and how people with them are treated, begins with an open heart. For those of us who have had our hearts broken so very deeply, that is a huge spiritual endeavor. For those of us who have had our hearts hardened by years of watching a family member make choices that seemed to hurt us more than it did them, it can seem insurmountable. To those of us who have been trained to see nothing but symptoms, and then to distance ourselves from the human suffering from them, it takes a seismic shift in thinking. We must, all of us, do that together.
How can you bring humanity, love, and reform to your recovery and advocacy?