Written by Eric Friedland-Kays, Senior Clinician and Development Manager
I love this quote by E.F. Shumacher, who wrote the amazing book, Small is Beautiful, Economics as if People Mattered:
“We must do what we conceive to be the right thing, and not bother our heads or burden our souls with whether we are going to be successful. Because if we don’t do the right thing, we’ll be doing the wrong thing, and we will just be part of the disease, and not a part of the cure.”
So much of the professional mental health field is struggling with a chronic problem of diagnosis and finding quick fixes. One reason this is a problem is because it limits the possibility of supporting sustainable change. True, meaningful, and lasting change is not always quick and is not often based upon diagnostic criteria. Healing through relationship is most plausible when we act with integrity, maintaining presence with ourselves within the environment and in each new moment.
I would like to focus on a few principles of how mental health support through community and relational integration is one way of describing how Windhorse engages in healing. This article will include examining some ways the Windhorse program offers an authentic, contemplative, and interactional answer to an overly medicalized mainstream paradigm of mental health.
Interconnectedness: At Windhorse, we utilize a uniquely powerful combination of authentic one-on-one relationships that grow over time within a dynamic, efficient team process. This consists of a circle of people who spend quality time together over the duration of the Windhorse program. The person receiving services is not in the middle of this circle but rather an empowered member of the team, just like the counselors, the psychotherapist, the nurse, the housemate, and the team leader. We connect to our common experience, join our lives together, and cultivate a sense of collaboration, trust, and connection. Difficulties and tensions arise, along with joyful ease, and we work with whatever actually arises within the relationships. As a greater engagement in non-treatment activities is built into the life of the client, those relationships in the greater world continue to cultivate a more fulfilling life.
Lynn Hoffman, author and one of the most innovative influences on family therapy, wrote about “the art of with-ness, as opposed to about-ness.” She says that “with-ness” activities operate on a felt sense level, rather than being stuck in adhering to rules that guide the therapist. In this relationship, the exchange that happens bypasses typical hierarchies. Therefore, rather than a pre-arranged goal the result will be spontaneous and intuited through the shared bonds that develop between the people engaged with one another.
Complexity: Systems, including our own bodies and minds, and most social groupings, tend to be complex. Success, in the way that I believe Schumacher was suggesting, must come from a realistic adherence to the complex nature of all issues within any mental health disruption in individuals. At Windhorse, rather than trying to fix a “problem’, such as a diagnosis, we make use of the reality that much of life is uncertain, and we value the cultivation of curiosity about the steps on the journey of a life in relation to others. We are not intending to fix problems so much as making efforts as a group to organize around clinical polyphony. This includes seeing to it that all voices are heard and recognizing that each one of us is uniquely multi-faceted. We value the understanding that each of us has biases, and thus we endeavor to hold our assumptions lightly, notice that we have biases and judgments, and try to account for these as part of the reality. Correspondingly, we endeavor to communicate and listen well to each other.
Growth: In the same way Peter Senge describes what he calls “Learning Organizations,” as agencies that use shared visioning to develop and transform themselves, it is crucial that healing sources deliver services that are open to one another and willing to adapt to the reality of the current situation – rather than being stuck in a particular modality of treatment. We continue to learn and develop so that each unique client and team that comes together has fresh new meanings that are allowed to emerge.
The “right thing,” in regards to the quote by Shumacher, is always going to be seen subjectively. On a team working with a client we cannot expect that all will have the same view as to what to do, or believe, or how to act. But we have a chance to move with the play and vicissitudes of the shared experience on a team if we let go of reasoning that caters to preconceived notions of what will be successful. The only “success” might be a committed intention to regard relational shared experience as valuable. The result will be whatever fruits are harvested from the playing out of that collaborative social experience.
I think of Shumacher in this topic on community integration and healing because he knew that everyone’s life path and each person’s truth is uniquely their own. He knew, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow, said, “A joyful life cannot be copied from a recipe.” As we examine what makes a healthy environment where healing is possible, we need to recognize that each piece within that environment has a part of the picture to represent. And if any of those parts is not allowed freedom of expression – or if any part is not given adequate facilitation to be given the chance to emerge – something will be lost and the healing may be unfulfilled. I am speaking of a collaborative team, a close family structure, a multitude of parts within a single individual, and more. All are complex systems that require synchronicity, openness, and expression. We might even say that each of these systems has an overall soul that desires manifestation of its wholeness. A realization of this kind may well result in both individual and communal healing.