Is Disorder Healthy? Rethinking the Language of ‘Mental Illness’


From Child in Mind: “In the program notes of a recent concert at my son’s university, the choral director wrote: ‘While the music in this concert is mainly secular in nature, each piece contains imagery which tells the story of our collective movement through the life cycles of order, disorder, and re-order.’

The phrase brought to mind the groundbreaking research of developmental psychologist Ed Tronick, who in his moment-to-moment analysis of videotapes of our earliest love relationships, offers evidence for the critical role of moving through mismatch to repair in healthy development. Tronick’s research, founded in dynamic systems theory, shows us how disorder followed by re-order is in fact the process by which we gain energy and grow.

If disorder, and the process of moving through disorder to re-order, is not only healthy, but an essential part of human development, perhaps it calls for a rethinking of what we now name mental ‘illness.’ […]

When we move through the experience of disconnection to moments of connection and healing, we grow and change. Relief of emotional suffering lies not in naming and eliminating problematic behavior, but in creating ample opportunity for a mosaic of social connection, with all its inherent messiness and disorder.”

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