I present myself as the “empowered patient” on this blog for a reason. I advocate for many who are being harmed and need to learn how to advocate for themselves. The reason I do it well, however, is because I was a mental health professional for so many years. That means I know how professionals think and I know what and how much it takes to become empowered as a patient. The result of this for me, and it’s very sad really, is that I continue to be treated like a patient by far too many of my colleagues. It’s really very depressing that there is such a thing…”being treated like a patient,” that is. But it’s really clear when one is approached with that undeniable sort of sickly sweet condescension or alternately, complete dismissal when I’m presenting with my “patient” hat on. I am never treated this way if I do not disclose my personal history and only refer to myself as having professional experience.
To be clear this isn’t about the issue of how I’m personally treated anymore…not at all…it’s really about the fact that this sort of dismissal and treatment happens at all and to so many others and how to stop it from happening to those still subject to the care of such systems. I have found myself able to largely avoid entering such relationships at all anymore.
And that is why it’s very likely I will never again work in the system, too. I will work from outside for change as I do now, though I’m sure as my physical well-being improves it will begin to manifest differently. I don’t want to do this blog forever! And I’m happy to know and network with so many enlightened folks both professionals and lay people who understand the problems with the system and treat all involved parties as equals.
We need people working for change everywhere. I actually greatly admire those who understand how badly broken the system is and work in it anyway. The reason being that those few lovely honest souls who really get it and who still choose to be in the system can be a small beacon of light for people who are otherwise subjected to trauma everywhere they turn. I found those sorts of folks my life savers, both when I was a patient and then also when I was a professional. I can’t work in there again, but I am grateful to those who manage because I know that they can truly help people and make an important difference.
Here’s a piece about learning to be empowered in the medical system: Medical compliance? Adherence? No. My MDs are my PARTNERS — much of it can be generalized to any sort of clinician in the system.
I’m cutting and pasting the bulk of another post on my being both professional and patient below.
I collected the pieces from Beyond Meds that speak to my experience as both a professional and a patient in the mental health system. As someone with lived experience as both a mental health professional and someone who was once treated with psychiatric drugs and various kinds of therapy, including forced “treatment,” my experience allows for some interesting and sometimes very uncomfortable insights into the mental health system in the United States. I have worked closely both as colleague and as patient with social workers, therapists and psychiatrists. I know these people both as my oppressors and my colleagues and friends. These experiences illuminate the true muddiness of human reality that extends to the chaos and ugliness of the mental illness system.
I am no longer either a psychiatric patient or a mental health professional. I could not be either one at this juncture and have any sense of integrity. (That statement applies to me — at this time — and is not intended to be generalized to anyone else.)
I will be including this page with this collection of posts as part of the navigation menu at the top of this page so that it can be easily accessed at any time. I always got a lot of feedback from others who had similar experiences when I originally posted these pieces. I’m hardly alone in having both experiences. If people could come to see that we are all peers (professionals and patients)…all members of the human race, struggling to understand this mystery called life, then professionals might stop imagining they are in any sort of position of “knowing” anything at all about what might be in the best interest of those they profess to want to help. Real help starts with a deep respect for the mystery of the person who is in front of you, whether it’s a friend, a child, other family member or a “patient.”
● Bridging Patient-Professional Divide – this is the most developed and academic piece in the bunch (first posted at Mad in America)
● Healing journey (brief thoughts from this morning to a friend…unedited) The truth is my journey to healing has been so isolated, by necessity and because there has been NO available professionals with the appropriate skill sets, I’ve had to find my own healing path.
● Part 2, healing journey: Attn: mental health professionals of all stripes – “It’s okay to let your clients leave you without declaring them resistant to your care. They know better than you do when they are ready to work and with whom. It should not be assumed that just because they walk out of your office they are not finding their way even as they take that action…”
● To be or not to be: professional or consumer? – a very early piece on the topic I just found in the archives. I figured I’d put together this page for the navigation menu as a result.
● Talking to the MD who prescribed the drugs that made me so very ill – Communicating with the guy who put me on all the drugs that have made me so sick. I’ve dealt with numerous, many not so easy, emotions in coming to find a way to communicate with him. Some of my readers seem to have an issue that I would talk to him at all. This has been the case since I first started corresponding with him and sharing information about our interactions. The fact is I do it because I hope to impress upon him the harm he’s caused so that he might not harm others. As I said in comments at Mad in America and at David Healy’s site, it’s not a touchy feely exercise that I might commune with him…it’s that I might help those who might otherwise be harmed by him. I may not change him 100% but I am quite sure that he considers what I’ve told him now before prescribing to new patients.
I’ll end this post with a couple of quotes from Rachel Naomi Remen, whom I think shares with me a similar view towards service to others. It must include a deep sense of how we are all alike. For the time being the mental health system is staffed with professionals who are in denial about their own limitations vis a vis the people they are charged to support.
Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul….
…Serving is different from helping. Helping is not a relationship between equals. A helper may see others as weaker than they are, needier than they are, and people often feel this inequality. The danger in helping is that we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity or even wholeness.
Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to to find other people or to even know they’re alone with an illness. I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of. – Rachel Naomi Remen