Friday, June 23, 2017

Ministry in Mental Health Alternatives Advocacy

Human Rights leader David Oaks, once called me "Minister to the Mad Movement." His words were an overly generous explanation of my 28 years of community ministry participating in the Peer Support and Human Rights in Mental Health Movement.  In various roles,  I have advocated for people's access to the spirituality and faith based supports of their choosing.  Although I'm not seeking converts or new members into Unitarian Universalist congregations, I believe this ministry puts UU values and faith into action.

There is a significant and qualitative difference between the worldview and practices of this movement, and that of the dominant paradigm of our mental health industry.  Industry treatment often begins with the giving of a label from the Diagnostic Statistic Manual.  From that moment on treatment focuses on what is allegedly "wrong" with them. Our human rights movement has a very different focus.  #1 We address the larger context of social injustice (oppression, inter-generational trauma) that impacts people who have received a psychiatric diagnosis. #2 We also affirm and promote the inherent worth and power of every person.  Rather than an individual focus: we seek to create conditions where people gain the supports of their choosing in order to achieve the repair, recovery and wellness they seek. 

Almost 50 years after the start of this movement, it consists largely of peer support communities that promote alternatives, a great variety of paths to wellness and recovery. A core value in our movement is respect for the diversity of our worldviews; the right of each person to make sense of their life experiences in the manner that they find meaningful. (Note that this is a value shared with UU tradition).

Some of us embrace medical diagnosing language.  Some find medications helpful. Some use natural and holistic supports.  Increasingly, we language and understand our life experiences without using medical language or models.  All of us value choice, self-determination and “grass roots” rather than top down approaches.

We know the healing power of being part of communities.  We have collected a wealth of resources for helping each other through trauma and experiences of extreme mental and emotional distress.  In many cultures all shamans /healers are people who had experienced extreme states (what the West calls psychosis).  The difference is that mentors guided them through or from the "madness" (visions, voices etc).  Most of our communities have developed some capacity to mentor or companion people to be able to journey from distress to learning and the acquiring of gifts.   In one on one and group settings, acceptance and deep listening facilitates connection that heals and empowers! 

I have had the honor of being part of numerous “communities of care” in various roles; as student, as instructor, facilitator, community organizer, program director and Minister. I have learned how to teach others how to make an empathetic connection with people experiencing an extreme state of mental emotional distress.