All Real Living is Meeting

Carina Håkansson, PhD
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“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.

* * * * *

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.

40 COMMENTS

  1. This is such a beautiful and enlightened post, thank you.

    “What does it mean to be a human being and what does it mean to meet someone?”

    I so agree, that we rendezvous with other for a reason having to do with our own personal evolution and gradual awakening. Sometimes it’s comfortable and sometimes it’s challenging. Still, I believe it is always with some higher purpose, although we’re not always poised to perceive that, or if we are, we can’t always determine that purpose right away. Eventually, it can become clear.

    To me, that speaks to our collective unity by that which connects us all as human beings. In reality, there really is no division between people. I think we just make that up so that we don’t have to see and feel certain aspects of ourselves. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s the case.

    I’m glad that we’re waking up to this now. It will change how we perceive reality, into a new and expanded consciousness, and in turn, it will shift how we perceive, behave toward and treat each other, since we are, in essence, the other, as well as ourselves.

  2. Thank you for writing this blog. And I agree, all people should treat others as they would like to be treated, as fellow human beings, deserving of respect. And the fact “psychiatric practitioners” do not believe this was what was incomprehensible to me, when first trying to communicate with them. Because I’d never met anyone in my entire life who didn’t believe treating others respectfully was appropriate human behavior.

    And to this day, I still believe psychiatry’s approach in dealing with others is insane. Who in their right mind thinks another human being is a disorder? That’s ridiculous, people are people. And appropriate behavior is to treat others as you would like to be treated. I see no use for a field of “professionals” who have “delusions of grandeur” defaming, abusing, and torturing other human beings is “appropriate medical care.” But treating others in the opposite manner of what is commonly considered appropriate, is confusing and maddening for another human being.

  3. Carina,
    By the time I finished reading your most moving post of wisdom in action I began to wonder if considering the climate in the USA there were any family’s here that would offer their family farm homes within a program like yours in Sweden. Or if a program like yours could be funded and work here in America ? I have a friend I haven’t heard from in 14 years ,I believe is in a nursing home now , a Vietnam Veteran that always walked point during his tour of duty. He lived in a 2 bedroom apt. in Rogers Park ,Chicago, Illinois.Whenever the Rabbi at the ARC (an organization that helped the homeless, families, and people with psych-labels) needed a place for someone to stay my friend Elliot Tutzer if the second bedroom was not being used always said yes, the person could move in. Over the years Elliot Tutzer had taken in one at a time 57 different people. Elliot told me once while we were emptying an abandoned apartment so it could be used by someone else ,after I asked him if I should gather up the previous tenants family pictures for the Rabbi in case they showed up in the future ? Elliot answered by saying” I don’t do anything if I can’t feel love while I’m doing it”. Good to know that people like you and Elliot live in this world .
    Fred

  4. Thank you Carina for your as always powerful words that speak of human wisdom love and togetherness opposing alienation and isolation that is so favored in traditional psychiatric settings. I am so happy that we along with many others share a common goal and that happily for me, our paths often cross, for you are truely an inspiration to me!
    A great peice and your warmth shines throughout it

  5. Yes,sharing experience and receiving shared experience is the only real communication and real learning that can be made.
    .
    But as for this, I don’t know what has been accomplished here. Feeling sorry for people is a one way process and I never saw it achieve much.

    I don’t really know what success has been accomplished here, the devil is in the details and I don’t see the denials I need to evaluate. Trying to research the websites I still don’t see the details.
    It seems there is a lot to do with money and being wealthy and having co-operative parents and my reservation with the latter is that could just mean some form of social control has been exerted with the subjects as puppets.
    For myself, I need to see the shared narrative of the subjects I want to see if they are emotionally independent and how that has been achieved, what inner changes that have made and how that has been achieved and if they are now resilient and most importantly fully realized and confident with negative emotions.

    Maybe someday the meeting will happen but not yet.

  6. Carina- I haven’t stopped thinking about this post since I read it. Realizing your type of ” help” has been in effect since 1987 and yet in America when my beautiful son had a psychotic break ( as labeled by the psych hospital and later out pt p-doc as ” bipolar for life, meds for life, MI fir life” ) at age 23, two months after marrying his longtime girlfriend despite enormous stressors ( physically and emotionally) no awareness there are such programs, even out of the country, when I asked/ begged how can my son get the right support. I’ve repeated this story countless times at MIA, just suffice it to know despite every resource we used, sadly turning to the conventional paradigm of MH in America was the worst decision of my life. Twice, 18 months apart, the latter was supposed to be for drug rehab- never realized as these bastards coerced my son into their locked ward and the forced drugging into a drugged, stuporous state far worse than how he was admitted- just added more emotional trauma beyond yet he ultimately regained his full normal mental health 10 wks later. He chose to wean off all meds, moved far away ” to start anew” and joined AA never to touch any substance ( assessed as a ” recreational cannabis user” though had used some other substances) but took his life 5 months after leaving the family he grew up with ( his wife left him during the 2nd hospitalization in the most wicked, cruelest ways). I continue to grieve, as do all my family. My youngest is without his older brother, his best friend, his grandparents in their late 80s will never fully recover and my son’s countless friends suffer in silence. Grief is a wicked emotion. And I now as I seek justice, I want America to answer why the programs like yours in Sweden, and like in Lapland are not here to save the next son or daughter??? Thank you for the grace of the services you render, for the 24/7 availability. What I would have given back if someone could have helped me save my beautiful Shane.

        • Skybluesight

          I have read almost all your comments at MIA and have found many of them to be extremely insightful and educating to me and perhaps to many other readers at this website. In fact, I had planned to use one of your responses to Dr. Ragins in a future blog posting I am composing in my head.

          With that being said, I find your treatment of Larmac in the above comments to be completely out of line. Your efforts, no matter how well intentioned, to psycho-analyze and redirect her grief process while using such castigating and arrogant language, is both harmful and counter productive.

          A key part of building any successful movement for social change is knowing who our friends are, as well as, who are our enemies. To treat our friends and allies in the above manner will NOT “unite all who can be united.” This method of struggle will NOT lead to a successful strategy to completely dismantle the current mental health system as part of future revolutionary changes in the world.

          I have also read most of Larmac’s participation at MIA and have found her story both inspiring and very educational. Her overall narrative has provided one of the most powerful indictments of Biological Psychiatry ever presented at MIA.

          Part of the power of that narrative has been her political awakening arising out of the tragic and criminal death of her son at the hands of Biological Psychiatry’s disease model of so-called treatment. For her to share this grief in such a public and political forum with new insights that seem to grow on a daily basis, is truly precious to our movement. It is not for any of us to question, psycho-analyze, or redirect her own unique path to some sort of healing.

          Skybluesight, you have often touted the value of genuine psychotherapy as a way for personal growth and overcoming extreme forms of psychological distress; your own story is inspirational and educational related to this process. I don’t believe MIA should be a place for “therapy” like advice for deeply emotional personal issues, especially when it was not solicited. This could be harmful to some people and misdirect the essential purpose of MIA.

          And when considering my critical feedback, you might want to access the totality of my discussion participation at MIA by simply clicking on my name above, as well as, reading my four blog postings under MIA authors. This will give you an idea of how I have approached multiple topics within this community.

          Richard

          • “I don’t believe MIA should be a place for “therapy” like advice for deeply emotional personal issues, especially when it was not solicited.”

            Richard,

            I agree completely with that statement.

            And, I agree with most of the rest of what you’ve said, in your comment.

            Here is where I disagree:

            You say,

            “…you have often touted the value of genuine psychotherapy as a way for personal growth and overcoming extreme forms of psychological distress; your own story is inspirational and educational related to this process.”

            First of all, I think it’s very important to realize: The commenter whom you are critiquing promotes psychotherapy not just for overcoming extreme forms of psychological distress; if I understand him correctly, he promotes psychotherapy for overcoming (he says “curing”) so-called “schizophrenia”; and, he promotes psychotherapy for overcoming so-called “neuroses”.

            I believe he promotes psychotherapy, as some people promote their own religion.

            And, he believes that only he can be the judge of what is or is not ‘real’ psychotherapy.

            Meanwhile, what I have read, thus far, of his own story, in his comments, I have NOT found inspirational.

            Perhaps, that’s because I have not read the majority of his comments — and, because, some of his comments, which I have read, I have not read completely?

            (I know he has said that he has a website, where he has posted his story. I have never visited it. So, I can’t claim to be a good judge of whether or not there is any inspirational story posted there.)

            On the other hand, I’ve noticed that he can be a very interesting commenter, and I agree with much of what I have read, in his comments.

            IMHO, he is right to conclude that so-called “patients” of psychiatry who are tagged with the “SZ” label are basically stripped of their right to get angry.

            In “hospitals,” they are quite frequently brutalized.

            And, being brutalized, of course, they become filled with rage; but, never are they encouraged to express their rage.

            Instead, that rage is typically turned inward — and, perhaps, it ‘spills over’ at seemingly inopportune times.

            (That is to say, their rage is never processed in a healthy way, if they are never provided good psychotherapy and/or if they do not somehow find a creative way to channel it, on their own.)

            Then, at home, they are often treated too gingerly.

            (I, myself, once accused an MIA commenter of coddling her son, who is labeled ‘SZ’; probably, I would not do that again, in comments, for it was offering unsolicited advice.)

            I, myself, have offered unsolicited advice, in comments…

            However, at times, his comments are literally brutal.

            I see his communication style as being, often, quite bullying (to say the least).

            Not infrequently, he offers ‘prognoses’ which are entirely damning.

            This leads me to feel that he was probably NOT ever provided an ideal form
            of psychotherapy.

            Thank you for offering your comment…

            Respectfully,

            Jonah

          • P.S. — To be clear — regarding those who are supposedly experiencing so-called “schizophrenia” and those who are supposedly experiencing “neuroses”:

            I don’t draw that distinction

            I see no difference between people who are called “psychotic” and people who are called “neurotic”. (IMHO, it’s a false distinction.)

          • P.P.S. — Also, I should be clear on this point:

            I do not consider myself a ‘true believer’ in psychotherapy; that is to say, psychotherapy is not my religion.

            However, I do advocate offering good psychotherapy, to those who are in psychological and emotional distress, as long as they are willing to receive it.

            (Never would I condone pushing psychotherapy on anyone.)

  7. To Skybluesight

    I prefer communicating with you, not @ you. I also learn well from being challenged and hearing polarized viewpoints. You say you respect nothing less than candid, hardnosed critiques of your thinking and actions. I will take you at your word and challenge you if you are remotely open to accepting this kind of feedback.

    You say, “Your attitudes are part of the problem not the solution – you are harmful and counter-productive in your support of dysfunctional social processes in open society. I have no use for you people and your misplaced sympathy paradigm – that social ideology is most likely what killed her son…”

    So now I am no better than your enemy because I differ in opinion about how to conduct debate and discussion at MIA. In fact, you equate me with the oppressive forces of Biological Psychiatry that had a hand in killing Larmac’s son.

    Skybluesight, you reaffirm my point that your approach cannot distinguish friend from foe, nor understand how to win over potential allies in a protracted struggle to change the world.

    You say “I’m fully aware of what position you are taking, I’ve seen it many times.”

    I am 66 yrs old and a product of the upheavals of the 1960’s and post 60’s radicalism. Your approach is especially familiar to me. It very much reminds me of certain “ultra left” strategies that ended up isolating the movement from the masses and fizzled out after a series of small super militant actions that were ultimately crushed by the powers that be.

    “Ultra Left” approaches have certain common features:

    1) No patience for a protracted long term struggle.

    2) Black or white thinking with little understanding of the greys or recognition of how the greys can move from one side or to the other. An approach that says “You’re either with us NOW, or against us NOW.”

    3) A style of political struggle that resembles something like “Up against the wall M….. F…..” with no patience or understanding for the multiple forms of political persuasion geared to each particular situation and to the learning style of the listeners.

    3) No faith that the masses can ultimately be won over and become part of a revolutionary struggle. So therefore a small group of individuals acting like the “heroes” who know the truth must run way ahead of the masses creating an artificial crisis that will force the inactive masses to follow behind them.

    This ultra left approach is lazy ass, isolating, and in the final analysis, very defeatist.

    It is hard work and requires patience to take the time to figure out the nuances of the strategy and tactics in a protracted struggle to change the world.

    It is so much easier to just pull out a shotgun and start firing. Yes, a few of the buckshot might strike the target but there will also be a lot of collateral damage that allows the enemy to “divide and conquer” by isolating us on the fringes.

    Great coaches do not treat all their players in the same fashion. Some players respond well to hardnosed criticism, others require more patience and nurturing with positive feedback, as well as other specific approaches. Your approach makes no such distinction. In fact your related comments imply that you don’t seem to much care if any group becomes united around some type of winning strategy.

    Anger can be a vital force in political change but it must be harnessed and channeled in very careful and precise ways, otherwise it will eat people up and end up coming out in a scatter shot fashion that will divide instead of unite.

    You say, “You see, everyone analyzes, I just do it much better than most – that’s basically what offends those who think somehow they can hide from others…”

    Skybluesight, you have some work to do if you really want your insights to transform people’s thinking in a way that attracts allies to become true creative agents of change. Ideas by themselves don’t mean shit if they can’t ultimately lead to changing the material world.

    You say, “In fact this is damaging to any person to continually blame external things for their unhappiness when they can simply change something inside of themself and be happy.”

    I don’t think so. Happiness is an elusive goal. It is only momentary and can only exist in a dialectical connection to suffering. And you yourself have stated in insightful ways that suffering is what makes us human; and to drug away suffering is take away our humanity.

    We mainly change our internal self as we go about transforming the material world around us.

    Skybluesight, this is a group effort no matter how difficult or even scary that may seem. Ideas can and must become a material force, and that new material force will create new ideas in an endless dialectical struggle. We must either change it or lose it. This is why strategy and tactics and methods of struggle are so important.

    You say, “It sometimes enables me to be a castigating, arrogant ,mercilessly analyzing, ruthlessly truthful, bast0rd
    That sure makes it all worthwhile.
    ..
    This was fun – like some good Kickapoo joy juice.
    Thanks for the inspiration.”

    Yes, analyzing and dissecting ideas can be fun, and it’s even better when it serves a noble purpose, such as helping to drag Biological Psychiatry into the dust bin of history. However smugness and arrogance will never get us where we need to go. I think on some level you know this.

    I will read and learn from your postings in the future if you continue to participate; I hope you will do the same.

    Richard

    • Richard, no worries (and, good to hear from you).

      I’d like to highlight one thing you wrote (above): “Great coaches do not treat all their players in the same fashion. Some players respond well to hardnosed criticism, others require more patience and nurturing with positive feedback, as well as other specific approaches.”

      That is so very true! And, it surely applies to the realm of psychotherapy (as well as personal coaching).

      I once watched a documentary, of a single client meeting briefly with a series of psychotherapists, one by one. Each segment of the film showed the client meeting, for the first time, with a different psychotherapist, and each psychotherapist was a man who’d made a name for himself. (The first was Carl Rogers; the second was Albert Ellis; the third was Fritz Perls.) The client, when asked, at last, to choose a psychotherapist, chose the man who was clearly most confrontational (Perls); he was, by far, the most confrontational of the three — meaning, in particular, he was the only one who lent the client a bit of direct personal analysis. Why did the client choose that most confrontational psychotherapist?

      IMHO, here’s why: Deep down, the client was actually wanting to be challenged and (most importantly) the ‘confrontation’ was entirely friendly.

      Perls knew how to confront the client in a fun, non-threatening way.

      Especially when we consider that there are a vast cultural differences between the 7 billion of us who inhabit planet Earth, we need to be open-minded, when imagining what it might take to address and resolve deep personal and interpersonal conflicts and inspire universal personal growth.

      There are different strokes for different folks.

      Along those lines, I’m sure that you, Richard, must recall when you and I differed somewhat over matters regarding the realm of “spirits” versus the world of “scientism”.

      🙂

      To hopefully bridge some of that old difference between us, here I’ll suggest to you (and, really, I suggest to anyone who’s likewise interested in global ‘mental health system’ reform) the following Youtube link, which I feel is well worth checking out… (It’s a link to a video of a fairly short talk — just 21 minutes long — by an ethnographer, named William Sax.):

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQ1Gyj0ND5Y

      “William Sax – Ritual Healing and Psychiatry in South Asia”

      [Note: Somewhere near the middle of that talk, the speaker makes a certain concession to bio-psychiatry, which may be obligatory and which I think is unnecessary. But, oh well…]

      Thanks for your acknowledgment Richard!

      Respectfully,

      Jonah

  8. On the conflict in this thread: MIA really isn’t a place to be “getting into each others heads” so to speak. The internet is not an effective medium for therapy, conflict resolution, or debates that include personal attacks and assumptions.

    The most we can do here, which is actually a lot in my opinion, is to discuss facts, arguments, ideas, strategies, and so forth. Let’s please continue to refrain from using this as a venue for personal conflict.