Authors: Sarah Roffey, Natalia Jerzmanowska
Event: 2017 TheMHS Conference
Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers
Abstract: Theory is often considered by mental health practitioners as the necessary evil: needed to gain professional qualifications, but eschewed once they enter the realms of the ‘real’ practice. Many service users may avoid it as intimidating and inaccessible. Following bell hooks (1991) we argue that theory and practice are not simply in opposition. Theory, when experienced through the process of close and attentive reading and group discussion can be a liberatory practice.
Our paper will speak to the emancipatory and perhaps even ‘therapeutic’ or ‘healing’ possibilities offered by Critical Perspectives on ‘Madness’ Reading Group - an innovative community space of which we are founders and lead facilitators. We conceive this initiative to be both a service and a research space. In a society where the bio-medical model of mental distress largely dictates people’s thinking about non-normative psychological experiences, ours is a space that gives people the opportunity to both critique the dominant model and consider other, perhaps more generative and “empowering” fields (social model of disability, anti/critical psychiatry, Mad studies), discourses and directions of understanding and response to distress and difference.
The group aims to offer a space for alternative ways of ‘knowing’ that is welcoming to individuals who don’t identify with clinical narratives or have been harmed by the mainstream system. The participants learn to develop their own critical eye around the dominant views and practices in the mental health sector and in turn construct new nuanced subjectivities for themselves outside the bio-medical discourse.
We aim to present the outcomes of our evaluation research focusing on the gains, challenges and limitations of our project. We will explore the pros and cons of our decisive positioning as outside the mental health system and elaborate on the function of reading as location of activism or even ‘recovery’ through resistance (Epstein, 2010). Finally, if madness is not an objectively defined, treatable medical affliction, but a material experience that is defined and disciplined through cultural discourses of normative behaviour (Herson, 2016), what are our responsibilities as advocates, activists and researchers?
Learning Objective 1: To introduce the audience to critical perspectives in mental health and their potential to create more inclusive anti-discriminatory and just practices within the mental health system and to influence real policy and systemic change; to make available learning about the practicalities of establishing and running a volunteer-run service and community space outside the mental health system.
Learning Objective 2: To advocate for the need of alternative spaces that honour and explore non-clinical perspectives on madness and distress, that are inclusive of individuals who do not identify with bio-medical interpretations or have been harmed by mainstream mental health interventions; to explore therapeutic/healing and empowering potential of reading and discussion in the context of mental health service users often being discouraged from “thinking too deeply”.
Epstein, M. (2010). So you have a ‘mental illness’…what now? Our Consumer Place. Accessed on 12/03/2017 from: http://www.ourconsumerplace.com.au/files/MentalIllnessbook.pdf
Herson, K (2016): Transgression, embodiment, and gendered madness: Reading Homeland and Enlightened through critical disability theory. Feminist Media Studies, DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2016.1189947
hooks, b. (1991) Theory as Liberatory Practice. Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, 4:1, pp. 1-14.
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