I have recently started a new blog, because I felt that I needed to strictly focus on recovery in serious mental illness, as a theme by itself and calling it any other name would not do justice to my commitment, engagement and research. I have, in the past, tried writing on this blog about mental illness related encounters I have had. However the purpose of the new blog is slightly different.
The new blog is committed to one single theme. All my mental ‘illness’ oriented work would go on that blog as it is also my desire to share with the lay intelligent reader whatever knowledge I interact with, in the course of my phd research. Since a researcher by definition tends to be looking into a vaster expanse of information, data, analysis and study than someone who is not a researcher, for reasons of social good and making research accessible, people could routinely offer small chunks of that knowledge to the wider audience. This is my attempt in that direction.
However research is not an easy journey to make, for it is largely solitary and a tough act of balancing one’s financial needs, professional goals, study commitments, family responsibilities, domestic routines and you name it. I cannot say I am in any enviable position except that to reduce the monotony of my work, I have started teaching classical music to a few youngsters- it is a breath of air for me. Of course I continue learning with my own guru also- another breather!
This blog post is basically to re-direct anyone who is connected to me for the above reason, to redirect their gaze in a more appropriate corner. You can well imagine that I am likely to post little on this blog, while my focus lies in recovery. However peace is close to my heart and at the heart of all my efforts. If one can help even a single person come into their own center, attain a little peace- they will gradually create their own peace and spread it further as well. I call the new blog- recovering self, because only in re-covering ground that people lose due to setbacks which are called mental illness, do we become our WHOLE SELF again- the self that we were intended by Mother Nature to be. The recovery blog is only meant to be a little offering in wholeness, a testimony to the work I am doing as well as a knowledge sharing blog- diminishing stereotypes about mental illness, challenging convention and offering alternatives.
The Open Dialogue approach is a very well appreciated model, developed for early intervention in psychosis. It started from the Western Lapland area of Finland and moved to many Scandinavian countries and now also the United States, where Mary Olson is teaching it via her organization.
For the last few days I have been studying the method and background material of the Open Dialogue to see whether I can adopt some part of it in my own work too. And I feel that though directly there may be some divergences, the idea of networks talking to networks is certainly very appealing. Since in my own work I have already identified Systems Theory as one of the key pillars of the structure, it makes sense to see the possibilities that come via the Open Dialogue Approach (ODA) as well.
Jakko Seikkula has been one of the key founding members of the ODA, and yesterday I read his book chapter in a book edited by Harlene Anderson and Per Jensen and right now on my computer there is a research article written by Seikkula and Olson, lying open in another window. I find many convergent ideas at play there and some that will just not work in poorer nations.
But by far, the most important thing, as the article also talks about is the poetics and mircopolitics of institutions in poorer countries. I feel that the poor nations not only suffer from a colonial hangover, they are also deeply entrenched in a system of psychiatry that suffers from an inferiority complex in comparison to its Western counterparts that for the Open dialogue approach to even remotely make inroad into our countries is not a distant dream- it is an impossible one!
So let me point a few of them here, which come to mind immediately-
The Open Dialogue is a psychiatry led enterprise. In poorer countries psychiatry itself it lead by the rich countries/pharma industry, which operates out of rich countries. So how and why would they dare to go beyond the mandate of the rich countries? Even in the US, there is only one group of people who are working in the Open Dialogue, and the opposition to psychiatry is very muted and marginalized.
The sociocultural imperatives of open dialogue approach are an atmosphere which is completely different from our reality. For instance just take the case of Finland, Sweden, Norway etc. In these countries the focus of their government is the welfare of their own people and nothing else. They are not interested in any neighbouring politics, war mongering, any racial, religious, ethnic or you name it conflict. In a most astonishing research that I was recently reading, I read the case of a Swedish prison which (guess what) had only 65 prisoners and the writer was concerned why even that many ought to be there! Then she shared that most of them were refugees or immigrants from other countries. Just contrast this with our prisons that are bursting at the seams, filled with people more than two or three times their capacity. Those societies are not simply welfare oriented- they are very evolved in their humanistic goals and clear about the role of government institutions. In poorer countries the governments are doing their most to hand over health care to private enterprise rather than be responsible for the vast humanity that inhabits its national borders. At least in India, the latest is that they are trying to dismantle the biggest structures of healthcare- the CGHS (the central government health scheme).
In Scandinavian countries Psychiatry is not under the thumb of the pharma industry and they are free to decide their own course, even if it is not widely accepted. If they can empty out their hospital wards, then so be it. But more importantly, in the western Lapland where this method has been explicitly developed, the work has been carried out in the community networks, not inside psychiatric facilities. In other words, this is community psychiatry at its best which has emptied out psychiatric wards and not psychiatry insulated from its social bearings. Can we imagine Psychiatrists working in the community in India, leaving behind the cool comforts of their air-conditioned spaces. I do not see such fanciful dreams.
Even more significantly one of the key figures- Tom Andersen, who is so remarkable for this work, has time and again, featured in the writings of numerous people that I have read, has always come across to be a man with a great vision, compassion and foresight, who could and would work with scores of different kinds of people- from psychologists, to family therapists and psychiatrists and social constructionists and whatnot. To find Harlene Anderson and Harry Goolishian having close ties with Tom Andersen was fascinating- they all came with their different yet similar ideas and fortified one another. We do not have a single psychiatrist like Tom Andersen anywhere…but that is not the only lacuna, there are a million others!
But I must not forget to add here that even within Finland, the Open Dialogue is very limited in its reach and appeal and a whole lot of people go the regular psychiatry route, for dealing with psychosis. So even in the country of its origin it is best called marginalized, what to mention in poor countries, where people can only hear of its possibility from a distance and never come close to creating those institutional and human resources which can turn a dream into a reality.
Anyhow the reasons why the Open Dialogue Approach cannot be replicated and will not work in the global south is not so simple as the lack of a Tom Andersen or Jakko Seikkula- it is much more systemic and fundamental. It is the freedom to choose a course of action and having an environment that supports your choice. In India or the poorer nations, if one psychiatrists were to be so daring as to challenge the status quo, s/he would be beaten into submission by a structure which is so heavy, bureaucratic and monolithic in its framework that instead of a doctor we may end up having another patient- with psychosis, who is unable to fight the system and instead succumbs to it!