Coherent language about mental health
On Thursday 6th September I heard, for the first time, a coherent language being spoken about mental health. I had almost given up hope of such a language existing. It was a powerful day for me personally. It was also validating in terms of the work which I, as a facilitator of Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes (CWTP), now deliver to individuals and groups.
My mind was lighting up
My mind was lighting up and my heart was singing in response to the words spoken by members of the panel of speakers. As a former mental health service user (or, more correctly, a mental health service avoider) many pennies were dropping for me throughout the day. Eighteen years ago, after a twenty year build up of influencing experiences (a shot gun was involved – let’s leave it at that….), I found myself in a state of overwhelming and unmanageable emotional distress and was admitted to a psychiatric ward. Despite coping with the adverse inner and outer conditions I was living through at the time, I had a sense that I could not put my guard down and trust those ‘who only wanted to help’ as I was ‘obviously not coping’. Had I got wind of the merest sniff of what I heard last Thursday,18 years earlier, and felt the sincere approach that was being laid out to me at the AD4E conference, my experience at the time might have been very different. I might not have had to play the covert double game of being overwhelmingly distressed and still having to keep my wits (wits!?) about me. I had the sense to say no – I was not hearing voices; to say no – I no longer felt suicidal. I was lucky. I rang the right person. I got better help. I found different approaches to my recovery. I managed to avoid ECT. I chose not to take anti-depressants. I was not sectioned. My children were not taken into care. These were a real and threatening possibility for a time. Things that helped me recover included old-fashioned, unconditional love. Rest. Space. The Lightning Process. Creative, reflective and expressive writing. Time. Trial. Error. Lots of that.
Exploratory alternative to biomedical approach
The trauma- (and adversity-) informed approach means a great deal to me. It might be otherwise for you, but I am not you. It is offered as an exploratory alternative to the current biomedical approach to mental health which is instructed by the DSM ‘bible’, and is unquestioningly reverent to diagnosis, medication and top-down treatment. It recognises that emotional distress is a natural response to overwhelmingly difficult lived experience. At the AD4E conference I was privileged to have a life-changing, soul-soothing day of listening to professionals, service-users, poets and storytellers. They laid out a thoroughly researched, evidence-based illustration of an approach to mental health that I have longed for without really hoping it could exist systemically. And now, it turns out, it could.
The common ground we share
The last time I felt so right about something, and so thoroughly immersed in the company of people who were speaking my language, was during my CWTP training with Metanoia Institute. So one further thing for me to celebrate is that AD4E, (and its sister groups – as introduced to me at the conference – Drop the Disorder, The Inner Compass, The Holistic Empowerment Recovery model (HER), MAD in the UK, launched officially before our eyes) have obvious overlaps with CWTP and Words for Wellbeing (W4W). Throughout the day I was witnessing and experiencing the common ground we share. My training was Rogerian, humanist, integrative, person-centred, holistic. My creative and therapeutic materials are words, language and communication with the self, with others, with different parts of the self, with imagined others (and on and on it goes). I spent much ink scribbling down the quotes and phrases that were neon-lit for me. A small sample:
Eleanor Longden and Jacqui Dillon: ‘The relevant question in psychiatry shouldn’t be what’s wrong with you? It should be what happened to you?’
Laura Delano: ‘In our future, a beautiful world waits for us patiently. In it a person in the throes of emotional chaos is met with unconditional support, listened to with patient ears, seen as the sole expert of her own life.’
Jo Watson: ‘Activism. Solidarity. Optimism.’
(Quoted) Muriel Rukeyser: ‘The universe is made of stories, not atoms.’
(Quoted) Sharon Salzberg: ‘Someone who has experienced trauma also has gifts to offer all of us – in their depth, their knowledge of our universal vulnerability, and their experience of the power of compassion.’ I especially loved this one.
Words matter, language matters, truth matters
As someone who appreciates the power of words, I reveled in the titles and therefore the emphasis of the talks – ‘Words matter, language matters, truth matters’ by Dr. Jacqui Dillon; Language can heal us, language can harm us’ by the poet Clare Shaw; ‘Demedicalised, Reconnected & Rehumanised’ by Laura Delano, founder of the Inner Compass Initiative (ICI). I was moved by the poems read – Clare Shaw’s ‘I do not believe in silence’ and ‘I came back’, ‘Strong, black woman’ (anon) read by Dr. Akima Thomas, and the final resonant poem. This was a spoken word poem read by its author – Jo Watson. It is entitled ‘I’m with her’. It refers to the Eleanor Langdon quote, above. All powerful and beautiful stuff.
Everything she said fed me
When it was Dr, Lucy Johnstone’s turn to speak, I put my pen down. It seemed to me that everything she said fed me. All of it, I am told, is accessible in the copious amounts of material she and her dedicated team of colleagues and contributors have been compiling. I have the handbook given out at the conference – an overview of the Power, Threat, Meaning Framework. It is the most pertinent chapter of a much bigger tome, its parent publication.
Insight, confirmation, information and perspective
I have received an injection of trust in the process of my professional work. I have gained insight, confirmation, information and perspective on my own story. I have experienced a day of true learning which I shall incorporate into my life and work and for which I am truly grateful. I appreciate the drive and application of every one of the conference speakers, and the many others who comprise the team challenging the status quo in psychiatry. These tenacious pioneers offer what I see as a compassionate, joined-up-thinking, alternative and bravely explorative approach to mental health. What I was offered when I needed psychiatric help did not serve me. I rejected it and found other approaches – approaches and help and people that did serve me. Hopefully this approach – the AD4E and DTD approach – will become increasingly accessible and more and more people will begin to speak its language. The thinking it represents seems simultaneously to precede and supersede overlaid, imposed ways of supporting ourselves and each other in times of overwhelming emotional distress. And it feels to me like my true mother tongue.
Kate Pawsey 08/09/18
About Kate Pawsey
Kate Pawsey is a writer and founder of Writing Time, a service enabling writers and would-be writers, providing them with the space to explore their writing within a structured, safe and stimulating framework. She has an MSc in creative writing for therapeutic purposes (CWTP) from the psychotherapy training organisation – Metanoia Institute. She works both freelance and collaboratively, with groups and individuals, in person and by correspondence. As co-founder of The Imperfect Press, she hand-prints her own poems using an Adana press. Her website is here and an interview with her in the Cardiff Review is here.