Nailing jelly to the wall

Not being straitjacketed by labels

Having read and digested the Power Threat Meaning Framework Overview, I have some thoughts:

The most exciting parts of the PTM Framework are at the start and at the end. This is where we can get immersed in the theoretical, the ideological, the boundless potential of opening our minds and hearts and not being straitjacketed by labels, pathology and diagnosis. The attempts to cluster and differentiate Power, Threat and Meaning I found much more difficult to grasp. Firstly, I found that the lines between Power, Threat and Meaning were sometimes so blurred as to be almost indistinct. I don’t know if it’s those three words I find difficult to conceptualise or whether it’s the concepts beneath the words. Power was perhaps the easiest to understand on its own but the others seemed so hard to box up.

To identify it is to deny it

Secondly, the clustering of the elements under these headings was so inclusive that it was hard to think of the Provisional General Patterns as discrete entities with their own context and feel. The differences between them became increasingly diluted as the lists piled up

But in a way, this difficulty also proves a point, in that what the PTM Framework is trying to do is show the breadth, depth and irreducible complexity of human experience and our infinitely unique responses to the particular set of variables that comes with each adverse experience. By doing just that, it pulls the rug from under its own feet as it tries to organise these experiences into categories – it tries nailing jelly to the wall.

It is almost as if by bringing an idea into existence, the act of creation is also the concurrent act of destruction. To identify it is to deny it.

The sheer magnitude of the task is extraordinary

On less paradoxical ground, I have to congratulate the authors for their work. I have only read the 138 page Overview and I know the main document is pretty huge. To attempt to encapsulate such a fundamental paradigm shift and give it shape and life was a truly remarkable undertaking and I take my hat off to all involved. The sheer magnitude of the task is extraordinary, never mind the fact that it is a direct challenge to the status quo and therefore comes with vehement criticism guaranteed. (This is despite the fact that the document goes to great pains to say that this is the start of a process, the authors don’t claim to have nailed it and they are open to ideas and discussion. It is boldly conceived but humbly delivered, which makes the magnitude of the criticism and ad hominem attacks hard to understand.)

Realistic or pessimistic?

I really enjoyed reading the first third of the Overview, which sparkled with a novel and humane approach to psychological distress that took into account all possible factors, taking it out of its narrow biological and individualised context and setting it in a much more realistic societal context. This hit home:

“The individual does not exist, and cannot be understood, separately from his/her relationships, community and culture; meaning only arises when social, cultural and biological elements combine; and biological capacities cannot be separated from the social and interpersonal environment.” (p10)

It’s reading sections like these that made me feel genuinely excited about the potential for a whole new paradigm in how we see ‘mental illness’ (term used advisedly). They are too long to quote but I thought the paragraph ‘narrative summary of the Foundational Pattern’ on p24 was quite brilliant, and the section on ‘Being identified/identifying as ‘mentally ill’’ (pp49-50) was exceptional.

I was grateful too for the information on other alternative models towards the front of the publication and for the information in the appendices on organisations who are already practising alternative approaches – some of these are inspirational.

In summary, there is so much I like very much about the PTM Framework. But I fear the paradigm shift needed cannot be captured and contained by conventional means such as a framework like this. Somehow it feels like there are so many variables to the human experience that it will never be possible to reduce it down sufficiently to a sweet spot where the experiences are not diminished but that they are captured in a manageable framework. I don’t know whether this makes me realistic or pessimistic – and I would be delighted to be wrong – but this does feel like a task that Sisyphus would baulk at.

Nick Campion 03/07/18