“Man is the leopard who knows how to change his spots.”
Lewis Mumford, Sociologist and social critic
On Monday, October 2, I am scheduled to be interviewed on NPR’s Colorado Matters. The topic of the interview is an introduction to the international Hearing Voices Movement, an important breakthrough in re-defining the meaning of voices and visions for people who experience them. I have been co-facilitating a HV group for almost 2 years in Boulder, Colorado. I deeply believe in the importance of both this and the myriad of emerging services that recognize the significant wisdom and contributions of people who have taken personal responsibility for re-constructing an identity that rejects diagnoses that come with a life-long illness label. People may identify themselves as psychiatric survivors, consumers, ex-patients or as peers. Their lived experience provides a diversity of expertise that demands change. Respect, inclusion and an honoring of one’s basic rights are among the demands for services and supports that provide choices which recognize that an individual’s needs are not static but dynamic and changing. What works for one, may not work for another. Most who have experienced treatment for “madness” and have recovered know that a psychiatric system that relies exclusively on psychiatric drugs has been a colossal failure.
Extreme emotional states do not need to be permanently incapacitating. In my decades of work, first as a patient diagnosed with schizophrenia in my 20s though my work as a psychologist, as an educator, activist and psychotherapist, I know that people are able to transform and overcome their deep and painful emotional struggles. They can and do live fulfilling and vibrant lives. Time and time again, people have demonstrated their remarkable capacity to overcome just about anything.
When treatment choices are few and unwanted, and services are forced upon people, we are left with despair, hopelessness, and dependency. Absent hope and discouraged from believing in possibilities, too many potential beacons of light have not been able to manifest their gifts. Those who have pushed the boundaries of compassion and understanding regardless of the cost continue to create the building blocks for those who follow to continue to move the work forward.
I do believe that an individual as well as a community – perhaps even a country can change.