Introduction: Why Facilitate Dialogues?
Dialogues are an effective process in bridging an illusionary divide. Any group anywhere can follow a dialogue format and propose questions for inquiry and reflection. Dialogues are relatively easy to convene and they typically result in participants establishing deep connections with one another, having new insights and enhancing one’s knowledge and skills about how to be – or work in – partnership with others.
I have been convening dialogues with people who have been labeled with a mental health condition as well as with those who have not in a way that invites transforming consciousness. Convening people of different perspectives or cultures to explore our thinking and our wisdom creates sparks of insight that ignite new thinking and moves us beyond our cultural conditioning.
In this safe and open space we discover how to move beyond cultural constraints and understand how we are more deeply connected than we may have realized. We evolve forward as we begin to see new synergies for creating elegant solution to the opportunities we face. The opportunities themselves become invitations to expand our minds and tap into a new fertile ground of unlimited possibilities.
My journey of recovery and liberation has led me to deeply embody inner peace and find that I am drawn to create peace in relationships and in community and, in turn, to create global peace. My intention is to support others on their journeys to inner peace, harmony, joy and being creative stewards of humanity. I am finding that the more my heart is aligned with my highest vision the more I am able to transform wisdom into action.
Although the series of dialogues summarized here was primarily but not exclusively comprised of “mental health” service recipients subsequent dialogues have been mostly with broad community participation and “mental health” services users were in the minority. Everyone is impacted by the forces to conform to how our society defines “normal”, whether we are aware of it or not. The impact is typically a suppression of emotions, a reluctance to getting close with people particularly people of a cultural background different from ourselves and a sense of being confined by conventional thinking. In addition, our culture thrives on the illusion of separation and competition. How safe are we to be our authentic self? How safe are we to reach out to others from our heart?
The overall outcome of the dialogues – as participants stated – was a sense of connectedness around the human and spiritual qualities we share. Many spoke about the desire for deeper connections, for support and for a sense of belonging in community.
What participants said about the Dialogues of Discovery:
- We change each other easier than we think. Being on this call and hearing other peoples’ heart-felt exploration is changing and expanding me in ways I never expected! I really appreciate it.
- I see the truth of who we are and we are not our diagnoses. There is not a disorder in me but a gift… to use as blessings for the world. I appreciate the opportunity for all of us to come together and share our authentic self.
- I loved the variety of voices from all over the country!
- I learned so much about not only listening, but hearing…The comments were enlightening.
- The dialogue enabled me to look deeper into myself to see who I am and who I can be.
- I found deeper connections related to relationships. Appreciated the many different ways of looking at emotions, spirit, soul – and seeing the common thread that runs throughout all the different perspectives.
The series of three free dialogues was advertized via email. All dialogues were open to anyone who wanted to join. The process for each of the three ninety minute teleconference dialogues was the same. After brief introductions of all participants, the dialogue approach was explained, and then we had a participatory process to establish a safe space. People expressed what would help them feel comfortable sharing, many people spoke about what they needed to feel safe and not judged so people could speak honestly and an agreement was made to maintain confidentiality. Since we could not see each other, we used a telephone “talking stick” meaning one person at a time had an opportunity to share their thinking regarding the topic of the dialogue. The teleconference dialogues were held one month apart in January, February and March of 2015. The topics were, respectively:
1. Who were you born to be?
2. Exploring the relationship between emotions and the soul.
3. What is your life’s purpose and how are you embodying that day-to-day?
One hundred and ten people registered for the dialogues and approximately 45 people participated in at least one dialogue. Approximately 30% of the participants of each dialogue responded to an anonymous evaluation. The following is an aggregate summary of the three dialogues as reported by participants.
The vast majority of participants reported that the dialogues were valuable and that as a result of the dialogue, something changed for them or they will do something differently. For example responses included:
- I will speak with more love and positiveness.
- I will look beyond what I am not and focus on who I can be as a man and as an active, contributing member of society.
- I will be real and authentic with others and more open to giving and receiving love.
- Other people’s words helped me find focus and vocabulary for ideas that I had floating around in my head.
- Increase my belief and value of healing happening in relationship versus alone.
The vast majority of participants reported that they felt safe on the dialogue.
Ninety-five percent of respondents reported an interest in participating in future virtual learning opportunities. They shared ideas for topics of interest.
- Peer Support and how it is different than friendship.
- Life changes – how to handle them; discovering yourself
- Strengths of recovery. Learning language to communicate with providers
- What brings you joy? What does freedom mean to you?
- Time management; how to shore self up doing peer work; burnout; needing peer support myself, yet being seen as someone who only provides it… dealing with difficult emotions and self sabotage
- Balance and Harmony in one’s life
- What is peace?
- Ways to achieve better harmony, balance, and health in the communities in which I live.
- Peer interaction for individuals who have, are or are considering getting off psych meds. A place to discuss experiences and hope.
- What really helps me change or succeed?
- What guides us in our lives and why… What ways have we found to connect with ourselves and others on a deeper level
Most respondents were interested in being part of an ongoing virtual community. They shared what they would want from it:
- Emotional support
- Learn from others by exploration and discussion on relevant topics
- Having access to support where I could speak honestly
- Rich sharing, inspiration, deeper integration of new answers to these vital life questions
The dialogue format created a space for participants to have an inner dialogue (intrapersonal) more than an external (interpersonal) dialogue. The process encouraged participants to get in touch with their inner wisdom by observing the interaction of their own mind and their emotions and to focus more on listening and not be distracted by feeling a need to respond to what was said or to question what someone shared. The sense of safety may have been enhanced by understanding that whatever someone said would not be questioned by others in the virtual circle. Many of us discovered that when we open our hearts and listen deeply we change each other easily.
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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.