“All Real Living is Meeting.”
– Martin Buber
In recent weeks I have taken part in some very powerful meetings at my work place, the Family Care Foundation. By “powerful” I mean that they have been both moving and demanding,
Many people who did not know about us before seeing Daniel Mackler´s movie, Healing Homes, have contacted the Family Care Foundation looking for a place where it is possible to get off pharmaceuticals, and to be supported. Even more importantly, they are longing for a place where they are met as a human being, amongst other human beings.
For many years I have wondered how psychiatric diagnosis has become so frequent in professional contexts, with talking to and about people sometimes defined as “clients” or “patients.” How have some people, those usually defined as “psychiatrists,” “social workers,” or “therapists,” come to accept that kind of language. How do they dare to use it the way they do?
Today a colleague and I met a young woman, together with her parents. They had travelled a long way to meet us. During our meeting they described how the young woman had been told that she has schizophrenia. Her father said that the diagnosis was given after just a few appointments with the doctor, who then added that she will never be able to live an ordinary life. “It is not possible to fully recover and you will have to take your medication for the rest of your life,” the psychiatrist had said, and prescribed heavy pharmaceuticals that totally “knocked out” the young woman.
Fortunately her father and mother did not accept the psychiatrist’s judgement, so ever since they have tried to find an alternative for their daughter. During our meeting the father said that it is not possible to know about the future, and asked who can predict what will happen in another person´s life? It moves me to listen to his words, and it also raises anger inside, and a wonder how can this way of meeting people in crisis, a way that takes away a struggling person’s sense of having any potential, and asks them to give up their hopes, rather than join with them in finding a path to an uncertain future, still exist?
How is it that, instead of facing human dilemmas by asking what it means to be a human, and how to meet others’ suffering, far too many professionals either distance themselves with methods and manuals and continue to observe humans from an “individual,” medical perspective.
Some days ago another colleague and I met a young person, a man who some years ago got the diagnosis of schizophrenia and was told that he would have to take medication for the rest of his life. He did not want to, so he was forced; put into restraints while a nurse gave him “his” injections. He stayed at hospital for half a year and after that the “treatment” consisted of meeting a nurse every second week to get “his” injections. However, he found out that it was a life nearly not worth living, because the heavy side effects of the neuroleptics; convulsions and a strong feeling of not being present in his life.
Through some friends he heard about our organization and our belief and experience that it is possible to get off medications. We have met every week for half a year and his dose is, at the moment, very low and will hopefully be zero before summer. He describes how his life slowly is changing for the better, and that he now has hope for future. His parents participate in some meetings, and by doing so try to make sense of what happened.
During our meetings the young man described the fear he experienced while his body was reacting in ways he could not understand. He says that the voices had been frightening, but not at all as frightening as the bodily reactions and the feeling of being lost that came with the medications. He talks about not having someone who would talk with him while he was hospitalized, and how he had hoped for someone who was willing to try to help make sense of what had happened before coming to the hospital. “It was as if they did not see me as a human being” he says with sadness in his voice.
What does it mean to be a human being and what does it mean to meet someone? These are big questions, and it’s hard to find a simple answer. But it’s still absolutely necessary, because these are probably some of the most important questions to ask when working as a professional “helper.”
I think about another young person I had the pleasure to meet at my work place, two years ago now. When we met the first time he was considered “psychotic” and told he would never be able to get off medication. He just could not accept this as a fact, and therefore he made a big change in his life; he made himself vulnerable and he took a big risk. He chose not to follow the psychiatrist’s advice that that if he discontinued the medication his next relapse would be worse, and he decided to move to Gothenburg to be able to meet me face-to-face instead of over the phone, as we had been doing for nine months.
Nowadays he does not use any drugs. He started school even though he was terrified to do so. He is studying and searching for “his task in life.” Together we have had a lot of essential conversations about what it means to be a human and how to make sense of things happening all over.
Meeting him, as I have many others these many years, has taught me a lot – about myself and my own life – and it has made me even more convinced that meeting other people also means the possibility of meeting something inside myself. Something that will emerge from an authentic place.
I am sure these stories are very familiar to those of you reading this post. Still, I have a wish to describe the moments I have been part of, moments that happens with the people I meet and have met for decades – People who far too often are described as “cases.” People who far too often are told they will never recover, and who will have to take heavy medication for the rest of their lives. People who talk about a need for someone who keeps the hope alive, for something which makes it worth trying yet another day. People who try to make sense and create meaning.
I am deeply grateful for the people I have come to know through my work, but also to those who are “living examples,” people who tell about their own experiences of coming off drugs and leaving psychiatry, since their stories offer hope and strength, both for me and for those I meet at work and in life. I am grateful for the worldwide network I am part of; because of the great good fortune I have had in finding this work, and to know there are many others all over who are contributing to a necessary change.
We carry these experiences, of facing the human dilemma straight on, of asking what it means to be a human and to meet with people who are suffering, This is an ancient tradition, that has always been done best when it is done quietly; our allegiance – to ourselves and others – remaining in the moment of meeting a person; not with any other person, idea, or any time or place.
But what we know from doing this SHOULD be known; we can remind each other of it when we need to, and bring this knowledge about what is important, what is MOST important, to others when we can.
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Carina Håkansson, co-founder of the Family Care Foundation in Sweden, discusses her work with family care homes, psychotherapy and family therapy absent from psychiatric diagnoses and manuals.