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From Protest to Taking Over: Using Education to Change Mental Health Care

As we develop critical awareness about the mental health “treatments” that don’t work and that often make things much worse, the question inevitably comes up, what can those who want to be helpful be doing instead?

I believe that one key to successful change is going to be making effective training in alternatives widely available, so that those working in the field who hear our protests and criticisms with an open mind will be able to get support in then transitioning to doing things differently.

One example of an initial effort in that direction is an “online conference” I’ve help produce titled “Therapy on the Wild Side – Depathologizing and Working with “Psychosis” and Extreme States of Consciousness“ I wrote about that some in an earlier blog post.

I’m hoping that in a few years, it will be possible for people all over the US to easily learn ways of helping that are both respectful and likely to lead to long term improvement.  Such forms of helping may include everything from setting up peer self help such as that provided by hearing voices groups, to one on one support such as the better forms of therapy, to more systematic/team approaches like Open Dialogue and Soteria houses.  Only when we have lots of people thoroughly educated in what to do differently will we be able to “take over” the mental health system and then more consistently provide real help instead of oppression to those who are distressed!

My personal mission is to be a part of making such education happen.  This mission has evolved out of my own experience of first having my own encounter with “extreme states” and seeing family members with similar states get mistreated by the system, then getting involved in protest, then learning to be a mental health provider so I could start developing and offering something better, and then becoming an educator so as to inspire others do something different as well.   (My personal story is available in more detail here.)

For about a decade, my educational efforts have involved providing seminars at various locations mostly on the west coast (and also graduate school teaching at PSU):  but these only reach people who happen to be available at the right time and place.  I’d like to reach a much wider audience, and also help other educators of like mind reach a wider audience as well.  I believe web based education may be one good way to get this going on a wider scale.

It does seem we may possibly be at a point where “the tide is turning.”  I was struck by a comment I received last week, made by someone who attended one of my seminars a few months ago.  She had been quite critical of my views during the seminar (which was on ethical dilemmas around possible treatment induced harm), and said she believed me to be a “crazy man” at the time!  However, she was provoked by some of the things I had to say, so she decided to read “Anatomy of an Epidemic.”  Then she wondered if she should trust that what she read was a fair review, not cherry picking etc., so she turned to a psychiatrist she knew for an “expert” opinion.  Then, in a surprising but hopeful (for us) turn, the psychiatrist both read the book and acknowledged it was basically correct, he admitted that people start taking the drugs and then get stuck on them, etc.  The end result was that my formerly very critical student decided that these issues were so important that “Anatomy of an Epidemic” would now be required reading in the classes that she herself teaches!

It is the possibility of such “domino effects” that gets me excited about the possibilities of more widespread progressive education for professionals.  The “system” is not entirely a monolith, and changing the perspective of some people changes the treatment those individuals provide, and also changes how they in turn educate others.

Anyway, you should be hearing more from me about this education piece in the future!  In the meantime, do consider checking out the currently offered online conference about non-pathologizing approaches for psychosis.  And register here if you want to be on my email list to be notified of future educational efforts.

Also, please do contact me if you want to discuss or to be involved in other online educational efforts.  I hope to have some of these be both live and recorded, and they can include things like interviews, panel discussions, role plays of actual treatment, etc.  I’m currently very involved in studying the technology and methods of internet education, and I hope to make what I learn available to others in our movement.

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