The INTAR network held a conference yesterday (Monday, Nov. 23, 2009). INTAR is a loose network of mental health professionals, survivors and family members. Most of the conference was devoted to presentations on alternatives to the existing degrading and harmful mental health system. See www.intar.org and see the book Alternatives Beyond Psychiatry for more information on the alternatives mentioned below and others.
I felt a mixture of disappointment and hope. Disapointment that Open Dialogues, which is being practiced on a systemic level in Finland, does not respect self-determination to the degree I would find necessary. (And this was the one I chose to learn about in-depth in the parallel workshops; I would also have been very interested in the one about Soteria.) And, especially in the beginning, that there was a gulf between survivors and mental health workers in relation to force and self-determination - survivors all saw it as fundamental while many of the workers didn't mention whether their program used coercion. One important point I took away is the need to insist that self-determination is essential to recovery, it makes no sense to talk about "recovery-oriented services" without self-determination.
Hope in the end for these reasons: The gifted people including mental health workers and survivors who are really doing the work of helping people through crises - the peer support bonds that strengthen us individually and collectively - the determination in the movement to stop all the violence and harm, and have all our human rights (knowing what they are, and that the UN is backing us in these demands).
I feel that we are emerging, and that even though it is still dark and so many children and adults are still being harmed and killed in a violent system masquerading as care (in spite of some workers who really want to care) - something is growing that is young and strong and even if fragile, is confident enough to sing, dance and shout. That is metaphor - I'm not describing the younger people as such - but each time I see this new thing in the movement, I feel layers of dead skin over my heart flake away. And I see it in the faces of other people my age and older who have had to face disappointment so often and very few real victories; we are also part of this new thing and best of all there really is a new generation that is coming out strong and starting to do its work.