Monday, June 27, 2005

Therapeutic Space, Quaker Meetings and World Transformation

Rob recently wrote about the concept of therapeutic space - a place that psychotherapists propose enables people to learn, bump up against boundaries and grow.

I am growing increasingly critical of this notion that pervades mental health services that the problem is in the person, nor do I imagine that taking a person out of their situations will enable them to be cured and sent back to live as happy, 'normal' and 'adjusted people'. Abera-cad-abera.

Distress doesn't occur intrinsic to a person. It is more often the result of their social and cultural environment. Schizophrenia recovery rates correlate with employment rates. Poverty and mental illness go hand in hand. For Rob and I, working in mental health, I suspect we can only really make a difference and positively influence psychological wellbeing if we call for and help to implement change on a family, community and societal level. I'm still trying to work out what this means for me as I set my sights on a career in clinical psychology.

When I've talked to people with ADD/ADHD, often they talk about the positive aspects of it. Something, I've yet to see mentioned or acknowledged in mainstream literature. A few weeks ago I was talking to a psychologist who is doing work which is similar to mine, but instead of interviewing parents, she interviewed children (I wasn't allowed to interview children, or I would have if anyone is wondering why!)

Anyway - she found that kids with ADHD, talk up their hyperactivity and thorougly enjoy some aspects of it. I wonder, should society and schools change in order to welcome, accomodate and facilitate the growth, development and wellbeing of our kids (and indeed adults) with ADD and ADHD, and how could this practically happen?

Oddly, Rob's thoughts about his experience of church being a place of space, made me think of my experience of Quakerism. I have not found such an empty nor such as full a space as exists in meeting for worship. Sometimes the stillness seems to welcome me with the warmest embrace. Other times, I feel as though I cannot escape myself as my dreams, frustrations, tiredness, and joy make themselves known.

Not only that, but the whole world seems to unveil itself. Sometimes in so much beauty that I can only feel as though I am in love with the whole world. I love watching out the window, seeing the trees move in the breeze, birds landing on the edges of buildings, sometimes if its quiet enough you can hear birds singing, the wind blowing and gentle traffic noise in the background. Other times, it is as though the whole world is screaming from the pains of injustice, war and terror, asking what I as an individual, and perhaps also what we as a community are going to do to live faithfully within it, working towards a world where equality, peace, justice and compassion are not just an ideal that seems so far away but a living reality.

I have a suggestion. Instead of putting those we deem 'mentally ill' into therapy and expect them to change in therapeutic space. How about we all take some space, and begin to listen. We all need space, not just to change ourselves, but so that we can listen and dare to act on our world, to transform our communities and societies into places where all are accepted and valued, where all are given access to the basic needs of human beings and the opportunity of a real future of having relationships, and making a meaningful contribution to their community?


Lorcan said...

"I have a suggestion. Instead of putting those we deem 'mentally ill' into therapy and expect them to change in therapeutic space. How about we all take some space, and begin to listen. "

You hit the nail on the head. The idea that because most people are going through life at a "normal" pace, others are slow or fast... well it is like the survey of drivers who felt everyone on the highway going faster than they were are maniacs and all who where slower where jerks...


Joe G. said...

Perhaps this is due to my social work training, but I'm always struck at how the number of mental diagnoses tend to grow concurrent to an increase in the complexity and demands of society. Perhaps small villages where everyone knew each other well and where there was a lot more "open" time and space, individuals we now label as schizophrenic or with ADD could "fit in" better.

This is not to deny that there are brain functions that the labels "schizophrenia" or "ADD" are trying to capture. However, our industrialized/informatinalized (my word) world often demand that those whose brains and thinking might work differently are left out of the mix.

Just some thoughts regarding a great post!

Heather said...

I have to say, my care co ordinator gave me the space to really admit how much I was struggling, without rushing to diagnose or prescribe. That space to just 'be' was so healing, to just be mentally ill without being dismissed or doped up, it really helped.

Contemplative Activist said...

Thanks all for your comments.

Heather, I think you've made a really important point about the need to just be. Too often, I think our services, focus on changing people rather than accepting them as they are.

PS. Beppe - welcome to my blog, thanks for commenting!!!

postliberal said...

The first thing that came into my head whilst reading that is the – by now perhaps clich├ęd, but no less valuable – perspective that being disabled is as much about the surrounding society as it is intrinsic aspects of the person concerned. From what I hear of my mum’s work with those who have mental health issues, there seems to be many of these concerns in practice.

Many clients of the Social Services Assertive Outreach Team (who deal with hard to each cases) rub against people in their community, often being fairly extreme cases. But nonetheless most belong where they are, in their everyday situations, rather than being shut away for treatment. In these terms the ‘space’ they require to live a full life is metaphorical, and worked out with those in Social Services who try to enable them to make their own way through. Often it’s a challenge for those around those with their issues, but it’s a responsibility that cannot be shirked - espcially in the light of how none of us has a 'perfect psychology' anyway – even as trained specialists help to settle most major problems.

Perhaps this is a metaphor for the religious vocation? The call for Christians, for example, is to be salt to the world – or the collective priesthood of believers if we prefer a later picture. And part of that life and mission could be seen as trying to help those around us to live the kingdom of heaven, where they are. The space and mystery of the divine is right there, amongst us, rather than to be escaped to in esoteric ways.

Some might criticise worship spaces as in some way the equivalent of the separation of those with issues – it’s an escapist act, and denial of the potential in the everyday street & house. To some extent I would sympathise with this – I’ve found greater epiphanies in a front room or field than I have in a meeting house or chapel. But maybe here is where the visions are worked out, such as what you say you experience in your Quaker gatherings, to take and fuel the everyday life that’s the ideal.