The kind of hope that interests me is grounded in reality: not crossing one’s fingers and buying a lottery ticket, but noticing the signs and reminders that suggest possibility. One thing that gives me hope is the presence of fellow-travelers. More and more, I see people standing up to say, “Stop! In the name of love…,” questioning social arrangements and unfounded assumptions that harm while purporting to help. The meta-message of these movements is “Wake up! Open our eyes to the consequences of our actions, and change them before the harm is too great to fix!”
I love it that so many teachers and parents are speaking out against the corporate-driven test-obsessed approach to education, asserting the obvious truth that the whole child must be nurtured through the fully dimensional encounter of a skilled and caring teacher and a pupil encouraged to develop his or her own curiosity and unique gifts. I love it that more and more people, rooted in their own connection to beloved places, are speaking out against the corporations that treat the land as little more than raw material from which profit may be extracted.
This week, I was introduced to another such Wake-up! movement, this one comprising people who advocate loving, drug-free alternatives to the inhumane, narcotized warehousing practiced by official systems for treating psychosis.
Like other Wake-up! movements, this one was started by people whose awareness of urgent need was rooted in direct experience: they experienced a period of madness in youth, or saw their own children go through such a crisis, or served as psychotherapists in state hospitals, witnessing their own patients’ mistreatment. The details differ, but those moved to stand up were appalled by seeing torture meted out in the guise of care by those ignorant of or indifferent to the consequences of their actions. They dedicated themselves to creating alternatives: drop-in centers, places of respite, residential centers that eschew drugs and restraints.
As I’ve read testimonies from the members of this movement, I’ve been impressed at how solidly grounded their work is not only in their personal experience, but in careful study of outcomes in both conventional and alternative settings. For instance, read Michael Cornwall’s account in his blog on Mad in America (a site published by Robert Whitaker, an award-winning author of books and articles on the subject) of how pressure from big pharma and others who profited from the change led a California urban mental health system to purge therapy in favor of drug treatment alone.
As Michael is a leading light of this movement, I want to offer his bona fides to counter what might be an easy assumption that those opposing mainstream abuses lack standing to do so. This account is drawn from a post on the Icarus site recommending “An Integrative Approach To Transformative Madness”:
These suggestions are mainly gleaned from my own un-medicated, untreated experience of madness in my early twenties, and from working daily as a primary therapist for almost 30 years with actively psychotic clients using a Jungian/Transpersonal, Laingian approach.
During that time I worked for over 3 years at a 24/7, alternative, 20-bed, freestanding, transpersonally oriented, acute-care open-door program called I-ward in Martinez, California, where no medications or leather restraints were used or diagnoses given to consumers who were acutely psychotic.
I also helped develop a similar 5-bed program in Marin County, Passages In, that was short lived. I did several months of internship at St. George’s Homes in Berkeley where a similar Jungian/Transpersonal approach was used.
After that I worked for 25 years in public sector clinics and on a mobile crisis team as well as in private practice. Even in those settings, most of the psychotic clients I served were not on medication.
I also am drawing on my doctoral research follow-up study done on the San Francisco-based, medication-free Diabasis House for clients in acute psychosis and my 20-year relationship with its founder, Jungian psychiatrist John Weir Perry.
But my early experience of serving from age 18 as a medic in the Army Reserve for six years and then as a State Hospital attendant with severely developmentally delayed men and for 2 years as an orderly at a nursing home with brain-damaged, demented, and Alzheimer’s patients also informs my advice on how to relate to people in pain and suffering.
Michael introduced me to the Mother Bear Community Action Network, “an international community of families dedicated to supporting each other through recovery education, family-led support communities, and access to recovery resources that enable all family members to thrive—emotionally, physically and socially.” And to ALT_mentalities, which is full of interesting and passionate analysis of official mental health pronouncements, such as this post on high death rates among those who are considered seriously mentally ill.
Back in the sixties, many people I knew read the early writers questioning dominant views of madness: R.D. Laing was huge, and also Thomas Szasz, Foucault, Goffman, and others. Szasz pointed out the way deviant behavior is packaged as illness, granting society license to “treat” those who are acting out: “If you talk to God, you are praying; If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia. If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; If you talk to the dead, you are a schizophrenic.” During slavery times, the desire to flee was diagnosed as an illness call “drapetomania.” In our own times, we’ve seen homosexuality characterized as a disease and terrible treatments prescribed until outrage finally forced a revision of the diagnostic manual.
The early prophets of this movement were outsized characters, and some transgressed ethical codes in ways so often associated with charismatic leaders: Jung crossed sexual lines with analysands, Laing lost his license on account of alcohol, and for some erstwhile acolytes, that behavior contaminated their legacies beyond redemption. My perception is that along the spectrum of members of this Wake-up! movement today—some of whom are enraged at the mental health establishment, some much more nuanced in tone—people are taking care to avoid the same ethical pitfalls and consequences.
I have the sense of a movement gathering maturity. Evidently, they do too, because the most active leaders are coming together later this fall to together plan and develop “an alternative continuum of mental health services for those in madness processes…to transform traditional services that are already in place and to create new, holistic services that are now missing from a full spectrum of care….”
I wish these fellow-travelers well on their journey, and offer a theme song that is about as apt as any could be: Lukas Nelson’s (Willie’s son) “Don’t Lose Your Mind.”
Don’t lose your mind
Don’t let your thoughts control you
I tell myself this all the time
’cause you’re not real
Don’t lose control
I speak it like a mantra
Like lightning before thunder
You’re not real
This is so inspiring!
Here are some ways to plug into Icarus at the moment:
And here are some visionary thoughts to go with your visionary thoughts:
mad love, Sascha
Thanks so much, Sascha! Sending big blessings for the success of your important work.
I continue to wonder how this will be operationalized in the most marginalized communities. The only peer respite I knew of in New York was in another county, which I would have had to get to and pay for since I wasn’t a county resident. I went to an Alternatives Conference a couple years ago during a time when my housing was unstable, and people making presentations on peer respite made sure to let us know that they wouldn’t be accommodating homeless people. So…do I have to be middle class and white to experience an alternative?
Dominic, that is a very important question. The peer respite house I know of in Queensbury New York called Voices of the Heart, is led by a peer named Daniel Hazen. He is very active in the psychiatric survivor human rights movement, and I’ll contact him to find out if someone who is homeless can stay there- or in other peer repite houses in the country. He will know..and I’ll post the info here.
I never served in a peer respite house, but as a therapist for three years in a 24/7, med free, open door, no restraints, no diagnosis 20 bed madness sanctuary called I-ward that was in Martinez California. People could stay there for months as they went through their madness journeys without medication. Please see my madinamerica.com blog called-“Remembering a medication free madness sanctuary”- for a full story of the place..It was part of the county mental health system, and we served every race and class. The other med free madness sanctuaries mentioned in Arlene’s essay, Diabasis and Soteria house also were part of county systems and did not discriminate. I served for several years on a mobile crisis team as a mental health therapist that helped homeless people who were in need of compassionate support and every resource to have safe shelter and a better life. When I was recovering from my madness experience as a young man, I was homeless several times in various parts of the country. Being on the outside looking in is an american experience that defines the lives of countless people now. When we are hungry and with out a place to sleep while inside families have warmth and food, it makes us feel invisible, and expendable.
We are so grateful to find you on the same path and are excited to add you as a resource for our families. We are delighted to discover and share your insightful blog that aims to “get your hopes up” by recognizing, supporting and encouraging compassionate transformation of our culture and collective consciousness. We are definitely in a Wake UP! moment and movement. Too many of our family members are swept up in an overwhelmed, underfunded and misguided mental health system that labels and treats distress as a lifelong illness and then treats it with dehumanizing practices that are increasing chronic illness and reduced the quality and quantity of life by as much as 25 years. This is the real madness, and it has to stop! You are right, hope is not about naively crossing your fingers and hoping to win the lotto. It is about recognizing the signs of hope and then doing whatever it takes, collaboratively, to fan the flames until we illuminate and eliminate suffering.
Welcome to our Den, we are honored to count you among our Mother Bears and look forward to walking with you as we make hope real!
With gratitude and a big bear hug,
Thank you so much, Jennifer! I feel truly welcomed. All blessings for the vital work you do.
As promised Dominic- this from a respite center on the west coast that rarely accepts someone who is homeless- that I believe is typical of respite centers accross the country. They want to try and keep people who have housing from losing it and they don’t want the respite center to be a homeless shelter. They don’t like to discharge people who are still in distress from respite to the streets.
So it is back to your question- how can someone who is homeless and in emotional distrees get more help than is available in a sheter? Without respite available, the odds of them ending up in the hospital or jail greatly increase. It looks to me that these respite centers as they are designed now are not going to be a resource until they are committed to accepyting people who are homeless. So once again homeless people are not now being helped with what they need when they need it. It is an enormous failure of the public mental health system that this is happening. Too often the needs of the most vulnerable people are ignored.
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