What it Means to be a Human, With all the Beauty and Complexity That Goes Into It

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If not every week, then very often, we receive requests from people not living in Sweden asking if it would be possible to come to the Family Care Foundation and take part in our shared work. Every time it feels hard to answer that it might be very difficult because of distance, language and money, while also knowing there are so very few alternatives to the “medical model” all around.

I often day-dream that I have a list of different places in different countries where it was obvious that the main task for the organization and everyone involved was to meet those we call clients and their families in a relational and dialogical way, where it was NOT important at all to define people in terms of diagnosis and where it was NO big deal to support people to get off medication. Where the big deal was about something else: to try to create a safe place and to make sense of experiences and to try to share the very hard things with each other.

When we started the Family Care Foundation more than 25 years ago we had lack of both professional experience and professional knowledge, but we did it anyway, since we just could not accept things the way they were. We just could not accept that young people, as they grew older were defined as “chronic patients,” and that they were told that the only way to deal with their “schizophrenia” or some other “psychosis” was to take medication and accept being patients in the system.

Maybe the lack of professional knowledge and experience was good, since we had to face things when they occurred. We had not so many predetermined ideas about either ourselves, the family homes or those we call clients and their families. We had to trust in something else; in the relationships and in each one of us. We had to do something; action became important, but also trying to “be there” with the other one.  As time passed we could very much sense that the presence and the participation were essential. Not only for the one called client, but also for the family home and the professionals. We experienced that “being there” was important for all of us, and we also realized by practice the importance of recognition. It made each of us feel a bit less lonely.

In many places all over there is not this kind of knowledge and experience which seems to be most important today; rather the opposite. Maybe it is therefore that our organization seems to engage and make so many people wish to come and take part in our shared work. I don’t know for sure, but I do believe it is something very important articulated in many people´s desire and wish to be met as a human being amongst other human beings, far beyond diagnosis and medication, beyond the very individualistic and if I may say “technical” idea about what it means to be a human, with all the beauty and complexity which goes into it.

We are often asked to tell about our work and about experiences, and each time it feels important, and maybe so far it is the best thing to do. To try to engage others to dare to start something like our organization and to inspire others to believe in knowledge which has existed for thousands of years, the importance of being present and participating.

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Interview with Carina Håkansson

14 COMMENTS

  1. Carina,
    This is such a wonderful model! I am the mother of a psychiatric survivor. Our first encounter with the psychiatric system was in the ER of our teaching hospital for the state university. A new resident saw my son and listened very carefully to his history. He said, “This is very complex and I am too new to have any idea what to say to you. But thank you for sharing your story with me.” A seasoned resident came in glanced at the chart for all of two seconds and said, “I have seen this before. Bipolar. Admit him.” I said, “Over my dead body.”

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  2. I’ve heard it said that genius is the ability to see the obvious. You’re a genius Ms. Håkansson. If there were more people following in your footsteps, you would not have to be stretched too thin.

    Good for you, RISN. You’re both swimming upstream, but it’s a brave and loving thing to do.

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  3. Thank you Carina for your work. It’s great to hear there are people who understand the problems and needs of people in mental crisis. I hope your model becomes the norm and eventually replaces the abusive psychiatric system.

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    • tahnk you B, yeeeh, the psychiatric system is difficult to make sense of, as I think. I know many people working in the system, and they have the best of intentions but still it seems as if again and again coming back to the question, is it possible to define social, political and contextual difficulties in an individual psychiatric diagnoses? That is for me very tricky…

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      • The purpose of RISN House is to address and integrate the four quadrants of human experience: the exterior of the individual, the interior of the individual (which includes altered states), the interior of the plural, and the exterior of the plural. We too are attempting to create a unique We that can serve as the support for psychiatric survivors in our context. I recently read a book by Bruce Levine, “Get Up, Stand Up” in which he suggests that we unite populists (the WE) against the Corporatocracy. He does a rather interesting analysis of how we (in the United States) learned powerlessness. The list is very long! So long that it feels overwhelming and induces powerlessness. I believe that one place to start which has been used well by MIA is the survivor’s autobiography. When we can tell our story as outrageous love in response to outrageous pain in the world, we become audacious actors and not powerless victims. We meet in our stories. (Which is the point of my story about the 2 psych residents above: one listens to story and the other does not). The first time someone in the psychiatric system does not listen to your story, run.

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      • A road to hell is paved with the best intentions… You can’t do much good working within a broken system and if you try the system will spit you out. That’s why it’s important that alternatives like this exist.

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  4. Carina,

    We need programs like yours in the US, thank you for sharing. Your video is heart-warming, and I believe love, mutual respect, common sense, and “being there” is how to actually help people. Mainstream psychiatry’s opposite approach was, from my perspective, utter insanity, to the point I found such appallingly disrespectful “treatment” incomprehensible.

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