‘Diagnoses such as schizophrenia mask all of the strengths, feelings and talents that individuals possess, The labels can make people’s behavior appear aggressive, when in fact they are terrified. On the other hand, people in extreme states respond as all humans do to an approach that is calm, supportive, and allows them the space that they need at critical times.’
Some of our therapists do long-term work with people with psychiatric labels and long histories of (almost invariably) unhelpful engagement with the psychiatric model. That work endorses evidence that has been around for decades. Simple human relationship – characterized by presence, authenticity, empathy and value/respect for the other person – offers a healing potential rarely delivered by an ‘expert’, working to a ‘diagnosis’. Time and again, the writer hears in her practice at this service – and from colleagues through our supervision process – how traumatized people are further traumatized and harmed by their treatment within the ‘mental health’ system. Sadly, ‘brutally managed’ is not an exaggeration. We have institutionalized and normalized hierarchical and objectifying relating by ‘mental health professionals’.
‘Individuals who have been abused, neglected, or suffered from traumatic experiences communicate these fears to those who have the patience and willingness to listen to them. They are very aware that others fear them, and when they either reflect or try to deflect that fear their actions are misinterpreted as angry and violent. In confrontations, the fearful individual is often brutally managed and becomes more terrified and traumatized. People who are afraid become strident and bizarre in their increasingly frustrated efforts to be heard – to have their basic needs for safety, love, and meaning – met by those they depend on to care for them.’
This is a powerful and moving account by Margaret, and the writer feels profoundly sad for her and for Mark, that their friendship (with its obvious connecting qualities) ended as it did – although grateful for the work this inspired her to do. We cower in our closets for good reason, and it does not help to pathologize this, nor can it be solved with drugs. The issues Margaret raises are as relevant on this side of the Atlantic. We have an apparent cultural imperviousness to hearing Margaret’s message – despite the substantial body of evidence to support it. There are pockets of us worldwide, working – through an offering of what for brevity we will call person centred relationship – to alleviate human suffering and realize human potential. It feels critically important to the writer that we make connection with each other, and find ways to get our voices heard, and the voices of those we work with.
So thank you to Margaret, and Mad in America, and to our volunteer therapists for the work they do.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter
Counselling Exeter since 1994