Let's have an inclusive national dialogue on Mental Health

September 20, 2013

On January 16, 2013, President Barack Obama called for a “national conversation to increase understanding about mental health” and directed Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Arne Duncan of the U.S. Department of Education to launch a National Dialogue on Mental Health.


Creating Community Solutions http://www.creatingcommunitysolutions.org/about is an on line conversation and resource center to support the President’s directive for communities to create dialogues on mental health and mental illness.


This is the official response from our Social Therapy community that I want to share as a hope for moving forward.   We offer a positive path for growth and development in light of yet another tragic mass shooting....in a world that is not well.


We applaud this national campaign to open dialogue that can reduce the stigma and misunderstanding of mental illness. We enthusiastically support the campaign’s mission to ensure that all people, particularly our young people, have access to effective treatment and care. Our society is in emotional crisis and desperately in need of a national dialogue on what to do about it.


We urge that this national dialogue be fully inclusive and include the many diverse viewpoints and varied practices concerning mental health that exist. To accomplish that, we have three recommendations.


1. Deconstruct Diagnosis. The revised diagnostic manual DSM-5, is far from universally accepted. The controversy it has engendered and the critiques of it offered by mental health practitioners, researchers and consumer advocacy groups are vitally necessary in this dialogue. Among the issues they are raising that need to be on the agenda in this national dialogue are: Who should decide diagnosis? Is diagnosis scientifically valid?  Is it necessary?  How helpful has it been?  How does it impact on people who receive psychiatric diagnoses?  Are there non-diagnostic approaches to helping people in emotional distress that are as, or more, effective? 


2. Include Ordinary Americans. All of us are impacted upon by the mental health crisis. Therefore, the voices of ordinary people must be included in this important national dialogue, including—but not limited to—mental health clients and their families.


3. Look at Health and Wellness. We believe that it is critically important that this dialogue include discussion of how to create emotional health, wellness and development in an uncertain and difficult world. There are many practitioners who have developed highly effective approaches that are focused on health and growth rather than illness and symptom control. Among the most sustained and well-known are: social therapy, collaborative therapy, narrative therapy, solution focused therapy, drama therapy, social constructivist and existential therapy. 


Social therapy is our practice at the Social Therapy Group, a national network of community therapy centers that treat hundreds of clients weekly. We help people with their emotional problems by bringing them into therapy groups where they work in close collaboration with the therapist to build an environment where everyone is supported to grow and develop emotionally. Our groups are heterogeneous, including people from all walks of life, diverse backgrounds, different races and sexual orientations and having the whole variety of emotional problems. In addition to our group work, we regularly hold dialogues with other mental health professionals and clients and go out in our communities to speak with people on the streets about how we together can create emotional development.


We look forward to participating in this dialogue, bringing with us the voices of mental health professionals, clients and communities across the country.

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