Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Time to practice what I preach

The teenage son of a colleague of mine has just been committed to a psychiatric hospital. He's fourteen years old. He's been receiving psychiatric help for years, but the situation was taking a new turn and becoming dangerous. His father feels all the psychiatry his son has had to date hasn't prevented what is happening now.

Here's an excellent opportunity for me to rush in and give my friend the benefit of all my experience, and yet, I don't. At least, I don't very much.

My advice wouldn't be understood because it's too soon for most people in crisis mode to absorb its simple and, at the same time, complicated message. Mental illness is so personal that it seems that nobody else can possibly have the answers for your own relative. And, of course that's true to some extent. It seems all of us are fated to learn about how to get over mental illness the hard way.

It shouldn't have to be this hard, but it is, because, unfortunately, most psychiatrists aren't willing to embrace alternatives. Right now my friend's son is in isolation, so early empathetic intervention à la Soteria or Open Dialogue isn't being considered. Even if it's not Soteria, doctors should get in there early and tell the parents it's their job to be non-judgmental, low expressed emotion and unafraid. They should but they don't. As long as the parents are scared stiff and worried, doctors can count on being in control.

In our own case, Chris's psychiatrists have, at various times, rejected vitamins, second opinions, sound therapy, and ideas coming from us. Had Chris's psychiatrist known about the Assemblage Point shift, well, I never even proposed it because I knew it would be rejected.  Most psychiatrists, even the ones I think have been helpful for Chris, don't appreciate hearing about add-on therapies. I can understand that to a point. But it often looks more like they want to control the entire process, even if it means that recovery will never happen or be delayed.

So, what did I say to my colleague? Not much, but I tried to interject optimism and a positive attitude about his son's future. I suggested that psychiatrists don't have most of the answers and a healthy amount of skepticism is needed. I mentioned that the Internet is full of different views about mental health. It's far too early to confide in him that one of the best therapies for Chris was for his parents to decide to change the family dynamics by changing ourselves, rather than our thinking that Chris was the problem in need of changing.

It's too bad that psychiatry doesn't share these insights with the family. If it did, recovery would be quicker than it actually is.


  1. Rossa,
    You are so right, as it is almost impossible to lead people away from the main stream medical model without a promise of a quick fix. This is especially so when the person needs desperate immediate attention.

    Lately I have been suggesting Robert Whitaker's book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, whenever the topic of "mental illness" comes up.

    My acupuncturist claims that she is able to quench the worst suicidal ideation with five needles in one ear. She used the treatment repeatedly with a young woman who lived with her. I have seen amazing result with my daughter with a single needle in the top of her head. But, there needs to be confidence behind any treatment you enter into and alternative treatments' track records are just not available. It is all hearsay until a "professional" slaps a seal of approval on it. The outrageous thing is that there are plenty of people who admit that pharmaceutical don't work - yet, they continue to try them.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I hope to introduce my colleague to the Whitaker book when the opportunity arises.

  3. Rossa,

    I hope you're able to give them some resources soon...

    Conventional psychiatry can do a lot of damage in a very short period of time....

    Peer-run respites work so much better than conventional psychiatric "hospitals"... and almost anything works better than mind-altering drugs for the long-term.

    Duane Sherry

  4. The opportunity presented itself and I gave my friend some reading material for the week-end. Robert Whitaker's "Anatomy of an Epidemic," Bruce Lipton's "The Biology of Belief," Thomas Szasz's "The Manufacturer of Madness," (first edition!) and "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden." This was just what I had on hand. The problem is, as usual, where are the alternatives? My friend was wondering if he should transfer his son to a hospital "with a good reputation" four hours away, and I opined that psychiatric treatment is the same everywhere. (Everybody thinks they are getting top psychiatric care in the major centers, and it just isn't so. He said his son actually seemed to be getting worse, and I said that yes, he will be getting worse because that's what happens to people in a psychiatric hospital. They are cut off from family and friends and they are scared. I am all for the empathetic Soteria approach, but then there is a reality check. The parents are frightened to death he'll run away, as he has done three times in the past, twice from the hospital. So, the situation right now is pretty scary, and yet, psychiatry doesn't get in there and tell you to take him home, change the home atmosphere (it's too early for my friends to accept that the environment needs changing too, and of course, psychiatry doesn't clue them in). There are no Soteria's and Open Dialogue programs just about anywhere. Nobody is going to go into their home and help them as they do in Open Dialogue. Duane - Are there peer run respites in the USA? We live in Europe and I frankly don't know any, especially for fourteen year olds. Thanks for your message. I agree. Psychiatry sets the stage for how things will play out and it's good to get in at the beginning with the possibility of another way.

  5. Rossa,

    According to Dan Fisher, M.D., Ph.D. (Director of the National Empowerment Center), there are several states in the U.S. that have peer-run respite programs -

    The National Empowerment Center is listed as a resource on the page below (along with others)... Maybe your friend could contact some of these organizations to find out more? -

    My best,

    Duane Sherry, M.S.

  6. Dr. Dan Fisher on benefits of peer-run respites -


  7. Duane - Thanks for this information, which I will pass on at the appropriate opportunity. There is so much more available on-line than when I started looking in 2003. This tells me that the tide is turning.

  8. Rossa,

    The tide is turning...

    The myth of conventional psychiatry will soon run its course...

    A myth cannot live forever.


  9. Rossa,

    I'm in the United States (Texas)... you and your colleage are in Europe...mmm...

    Maybe if your friend were to contact MindFreedom in Ireland, the Brain Bio Center (Food for the Brain) in Great Britain, along with International Society for Othomolecular Medicine (ISOM)...

    Also, contacting some of the other links on the recovery page might lead to information for places in Europe?

    Just some thoughts... I hope the best for you and your friend.

    Duane Sherry

  10. Duabne - Thanks for suggesting these additional sources. I think I should also put them in a side-bar to this site as a resource.

  11. Rossa,
    Thank you for continuing to point out that the home environment must change---it is the one thing that we can truly address, however blindly. It is difficult to say the least to have the awareness that my son is so sensitive-

    I am naturally emotional and have struggled with how to be supportive and not be phoney or untrue to myself. I don't know if that makes any sense to you. I feel such a connection, with both my sons and just want to be able to help them however I can. My undisciplined/ unbridled emotion has caused distress--does cause distress, to them when displayed. That is an unmistakable fact. God I am grateful I know it and even more grateful I want to change...

  12. Thankyou so much that you are doing so much for suffering humanity. It really mattersAnd it makes a real differance and it supports those who like myself are putting themselves on the line with regard to the truth s which they have proven in their own lives.Dont allow feelings of futility or doubt about the significance of what you are doing stop you from being true to yourself. I have been there and I know for sure that this kind of work is in fact priceless and like the pebble in the pond the effects are farreaching far more eventually than is appearent initially.


    Noel Gaughan

  13. Noel - Thanks for the support. It means a lot.

  14. Becky - I think we sound like we were cut from the same cloth! A lot can be done in the home environment to promote healing. It's part of the picture, and a particularly effective one.

  15. Changing the home environment is essential to creating a healing environment especially when the person leaving treatment is a child. Family dynamics are hard-wired.
    Parents are not given guidance on how to create a healing environment when child is discharged, but instead they are told how to maintain the "sick" environment where everything is focused on the inability of the "patient" to cope. I cannot tell you how many times we were told that we couldn't handle our daughter, that she was" too sick" and that in order for her to come home, we would have to follow the doctor's orders to a tee. (The NAMI driven model.) "Keep them on the drugs even when the patient protests."
    Your greatest gift to the family would be to talk to them about Low Expressed Emotion and how to create an environment that nurtures healing. After they have read the excellent books you lent them, I expect they will be shocked (as we all have been on this journey) to discover that the medical model so prevalent today is so damaging. This is when your friendship will be the most appreciated. An example like Chris' speaks volumes.
    Because there are no quick-fixes in the alternative approaches, the family could begin now to look into acupuncture, diet, cranial sacral, etc. and think about introducing these alternatives into the the drug load this poor kid will exit the hospital on. The easier things like turning off electrical devices an hour before bed and testing which minerals and vitamins might be lacking in their son's diet are well within the parents' initial attempts at altering the home environment.
    Because no one alternative treatment works across the board, you will need to advise them to have patience and be open-minded. This is scary for parents. You and I have both been there and I remember that confusion very well. Once they take the control back, they will be grateful.
    If only there were peer-run Soteria-like facilities in every community!


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