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Sunday 15 January 2017

Choices as to the 'cultural imagining' of the society we want to achieve and the amelioration of negative social constructs to help get there - an opinion piece by Dave Traxson.

What is our “ dominant cultural imagining” for a fair and healthy society and school communities? 
(thanks to Dan Goodley 12-01-17 
at DECP Conference)

                -the Cultural Amelioration of Negative Social Constructs of Difference
                  in the Context of Holistic Psychological Formulation.

“A negative focus on difference damages an individual human being’s ability to make relative progress in a range of important skill areas.” DT 2015

Reframing negative constructs of difference to being more positive manifestations of a human being's right to individuality, creativity, and potentiality is a process that is well under way in society but there is still along way to go. Aprocryphal tales abound of young people whose special talents were missed by the adults around them including educators and then suddenly when unleashed led to a transformational levels of progress. One of my own, is a young woman who was two days away from permanent exclusion as a fifteen year old, when I asked an obvious question about what she could see herself doing in her mid-twenties. Without hesitation she said, “ I am going to be a semi-professional footballer and a car mechanic.” No one in the circle of professionals and parents, including the careers guidance officer, knew that, but when the necessary curriculum adjustments were made to achieve this, she thrived and even stayed on to the sixth form to improve her chances further. We also noted profoundlythat she was co-operating previously in all subjects that, she could see, related to her ambition and was not co-operating in subjects that she could not see the relevance of , in achieving her clear goals.

It seems that there may have always been a part of the human condition that fears and often demonises difference in others compared to ourselves. This may have had a Social Darwinistic function for protection, to ensure that ideas and values of our own particular closed subgroup survive and even thrive.

The problem and question for us all is, can this be challenged and can tolerance of social variation 'genes' be woven intentionally into our collective values DNA?

I am optimistic that they can be and already the 'radiation' of ideas from the recent inclusion agenda, that have been emerging for the last thirty years, indicates that a dramatic evolution of societal values can occur e.g. the Tsunami of change occuring in front of our eyes with the massively improved tolerance and understanding of same sex relationships and the consequent legislative changes.

So what if we learn from this journey and apply the same 'selective pressure' to wider areas of intolerance to difference such as mental health or as 'medical modellers' would prefer, mental illness. If we can choose and promote a more socially and psychologically inclusive perspective on the normal range of human behaviours, that we mainly work with, then just imagine the long term benefits to us all:

·         less stigmatisation of children and subsequently adults.
·         many more people feeling a gteeater sense of belonging.
·         a massive reduction in the pathologisation of normality.
·         subsequent reduction to the costs of labelling for society.
·         a massive gain in individual and collective self-esteem.
·         empowerment of people with 'ups and downs' to succeed.
·         and a huge improvement in our collective Wellbeing.
·         And last but not least massive savings in NHS costs.

The acronym below tries to convey some of the key principles of ameliorating difference as a discriminatory construct:

D- ifference is beneficial to the community in which we live
I - ndividuality should be highly valued in schools and society
V- alidate childrens’ unique contributions to empower inner creativity
E- xpect relative progress by caring target setting and feedback
R- eview the progress achieved regularly and reinforce creativity
S- afety and security are fundamental to mobilising creativity
 I- nclusive ethos promotes the value and benefits of diversity
T- reat all childrens’ strengths and abilities as being equal in status
Y- ou are important and deserve personalised planning and outcomes.'

Schools as institutions are driven by uniformity and not creativity based on the wonderfully different skill sets individuals. Sir Ken Robinson in one of his seminal TED TALKS entitled “Schools kill creativity,”(2006 on Youtube) takes this argument to a logical conclusion. To progress successfully into a twenty first century of rapid change and challenge we need to discover the ‘Gold Nuggets’ of creativity that exist in everyone and maximise their abilty to follow their heart and soul in becoming a dancer, artist, sculptor, poet sportsperson or entrepreneur all of which are not as highly valued in our Education System as Maths, Science and English skills.

Cultural amelioration of difference is the systemically valued driver of wanting a school that you work in to collectively promote the importance of the unique human contributions that all children can make to any aspect of a hugely broad menu of curricular pursuits.

It is based on a triad of Ethos/Beliefs driving change in Actions/ Behaviour which in turn promotes collective Emotional Wellbeing/Mental Health.

The 5 Ms of Cultural Amelioration of Difference are :

1.                 1.  Moderate the use of labels of disability/disorder based on ‘Medical Model’ hinking.
  1. Modify educational programmes to allow a ‘Punctuation of the Day’ with creative activities that a young person demonstrably enjoys and engages fully in as a healthy learning process that promotes coping and resilience.
  2. Manage the individual’s needs /wants and the necessary resources to release their inner creative energies.
  3. Make appropriate adjustments to achieve success.
  4. Mollify conflict and prejudice against certain creative activities.

“Deliberately demoting difference effects can maximise the normalisation of childrens’ responses, as strengths and not difficulties.”

The ‘Medical Model” promotes ‘within child’ explanations of difficulty whereas the ‘Social Model’ promotes a holistic understanding of causation and possibilities for positive change. We as professionals are duty bound to see and recognise the rich palette of colourful skills as capacities, strengths and contributions which can enrich the sometimes apparent dullness of our communities and society as a whole.

Psychiatry applies the Medical Model conceptualisations to mental distress and anxiety whereas the new field of Psychological Formulation expounds an optimistic approach that maps the ‘Ordnance Survey Map’ of a young human being’s multi-various attributes, potentials, personality variables, interests and strengths and plots them in a way can help them determine the exciting journey that they are keen to embark on.

What is important is not to focus on arbitrary and prejudicial labels that are proliferating currently but to understand the complex web of interactions that results in an individual's mental distress. Understanding the interactive nature of a person's difficulties is a more progressive and inclusive way of finding how we can help them to succeed fully in an evermore complex world.

Reducing the continuous focus on difference and threat,that we see daily in our chosen media, axiomatically helps us to realise how similar we are and by focussing more on our 'common ground' we will develop the humanistic potentials of all individuals in our improved societies.

In essence creativity at all levels is the vibrant solution to our current shared ills and appreciating uniqueness and difference is the shared vehicle for progress.

Tuesday 3 January 2017

Drop the Disorder by Jo Watson - 3-01-17 Courtesy of the MadinAmerica Website

It was February 2016, the UK-EU referendum debate was beginning to warm up and my tolerance for absorbing toxic tweets and frustrating Facebook posts was dwindling fast. What then pushed me over the edge was yet another celebrity-inspired media frenzy about a psychiatric “illness.”
Despite the progressive image conveyed by British critics of psychiatry (both professionals and survivors), the biomedical discourse in the UK is still deeply embedded in public consciousness and actively promoted in anti-stigma campaigns and media reporting. Actor, writer, and national treasure Stephen Fry's documentary “An exploration of manic depression” told of how he needed to take lifelong medication for his “bipolar disorder.” Celebrity and comedian Ruby Wax was on a riotous roll, and everywhere you looked, it seemed, someone was promoting the “broken brain” message.
The mainstream narrative, which tells of discrete diagnoses and disorders, was all over the place.
I am a psychotherapist, and somehow, when we weren’t looking, this “disorder” narrative managed to sneak into the field of psychotherapy and counseling. Despite all our knowledge about attachment, trauma and relationships, many of my colleagues have ended up colluding with the message that people are “ill.”
I see an increasing number of clients—and particularly young people—who arrive at their first appointment convinced that they have bipolar, or even worse ARE “bipolar.” Many, by the time they get to me, have internalized this as part of their identity along with the understanding that it's a lifelong situation. Others come with crippling anxiety and a parallel belief that it is something that is part of them, that their brain is dysfunctional and they have no control over it.
I finally thought: I have to do something or risk getting a diagnosis myself!  I figured that getting people together to initiate a conversation about psychiatric diagnosis would be a pretty good start.
This conversation led to the creation of a daylong event on October 15 in Birmingham, England with Dr Lucy Johnstone, clinical psychologist, MIA blogger and author of A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Diagnosis. Lucy had been a Twitter ally of mine for some time, and within a couple days of advertising the event, which we titled “A Disorder For Everyone!”, we had people eager to travel from afar. People came from London, Wales, Scotland and Ireland to discuss the culture of psychiatric diagnosis, evidence of a growing popular resistance to the “broken brain” narrative.
The day was a huge success! Survivor Jo McFarlane got us started with a moving live performance of some of her powerful poetry.
Lucy then talked the audience—a mixture of professionals, current and former ‘service users’, carers and interested lay people—through a critique of diagnosis and an overview of the alternatives. In the afternoon there was time for discussion and trying out some of these ideas.
Finally, spoken word artist Jasmine Gardosi ended the day by bringing one of my own poems—inspired by voice hearer and activist Eleanor Longden—to life.
Feedback on the day was excellent, and we have been invited to repeat the day in several other cities, starting with ‘A Disorder for Everyone!’ days in Edinburgh and Bristol this coming March.
After the Birmingham event, I started the Facebook group 'Drop the Disorder?!' with the aim of providing a supportive forum for the discussion of all matters related to psychiatric diagnosis, ‘medication’, and medicalization of emotional distress. In three months, membership has risen to over 2400 members globally.
The members of ‘Drop the Disorder?!’ come from a variety of backgrounds: they are professionals, survivors, ‘service users’, carers and people with a general interest in the debate.  We have been delighted to welcome some well-known figures in the movement, including  Rufus May, Rai Waddingham, Michael Cornwall, David Oaks, Bob Nikkel, Jim Gottstein, Kermit Cole, Malcolm Stern, Mary Maddock, Ted Chabasinski, Terry Lynch, Bonnie Burstow, Peter Kinderman, Lucy Johnstone, John Read and Katinka Blackman Newman and Paula Joan Caplan who I had the pleasure of meeting in New York in November. As you can see there are several MIA bloggers among the mix and we hope to welcome more soon.
Joining me on our admin team are activist and blogger Nicky Hayward, clinical psychologist and author Gary Sidley, counselor Teri Tivey, lived experience educator Joanne Newman and social worker Lanie Pianta.
The group provides a space to discuss important but controversial issues that arouse strong feelings, and at times it has felt like a bit of a roller coaster. However, I have been moved by the thoughtfulness and warmth people have shown to each other as they share feelings, experiences and dilemmas about working in, and being on the receiving end of, the psychiatric system. Many such issues that have been discussed and debated include "ADHD," ECT, "Personality disorders" and "medication."
We share lots of great pieces by critics of mainstream psychiatry around the world, passionately promote appropriate events and publications as well as doing the crucial networking which makes our movement stronger by the day.
It feels as if there is an appetite for new ideas and for change. There is definitely a sense of energy and excitement as connections are being made, views are being endorsed rather than silenced, and emotions are being expressed and heard.
People have told me that they feel hopeful, and that the group is a precious space for them. I too am hopeful.
One of the shared ambitions of the administrator group is that we can ultimately develop this resource into a much-needed "Mad in the UK" site.
In the meantime, I urge you to take a look—we welcome members from across the globe, and are indebted to Mad in America for links to some of the most popular articles and blogs. It’s time to 'Drop the disorder!'

Jo Watson
Jo Watson is a UK psychotherapist trainer and activist who started out in the Survivor & Rape Crisis movements 25 years ago. Jo campaigns for a paradigm shift away from the bio medical model narrative of mental distress toward a more appropriate trauma informed response. Jo formed the Facebook group "Drop The Disorder?!" in September 2016 and organizes the event "A Disorder For Everyone!" that is currently making its way around the country.