Smoke and Flames: Silence In A World On Fire – By Will Hall

Power does not just corrupt, as is so often said. It also reflects. The sun has gone deep red and the sky obscured with smoke this week, but some clarity has also emerged in that reflection.

When I was 16 years old I wrote a paper for my political science class that was three times the length and involved far more research than the assignment required. It was an “A” paper. I got a “B” on it — and my first lesson in the misuse of authority, and becoming complicit with corruption in the world.

My professor (I started college two years early) wrote in red pen next to my “B” grade that the paper was indeed impressive, but he disagreed with my political views expressed, thus the lower grade. He had a reputation for adulation around campus, fawning students forming his entourage, and I had dared to disagree with him. He was entrusted by the school with supporting my learning, but instead he was advancing his own self interest and punishing me unfairly when I wouldn’t go along with his personal political beliefs. And so there it was, plain to see: he was corrupt.

I then learned my second lesson of the misuse of power. I wanted to speak up for what was right, but when I considered it my stomach twisted, sheets of cold swept my body, and nausea stirred my gut. Growing up I was often the bright kid who stood out at the head of the class, and I paid a price for it: I was violently bullied. And now when I considered speaking up to the school administration about my grade, I was again paralyzed with shame: I feared that the act of speaking up for what’s right would expose me, bring shame down on me, I’d be seen as selfish. And I was afraid the end result would be losing some standing in the school. Memories of the bullying held me back, and I opted not for what’s right but for what I thought was my self interest. I didn’t speak up about my professor’s corruption.

I was going along with his misuse of power, and I realized he was doing to others what he had done to me. I saw that I was in a way now part of his entourage, not adoring him, but carrying some of his secrets with my silence. By not challenging him I kept my allegiance to him. The next student to come along wouldn’t hear about any of this, and when it happened to them they too would feel alone, also too afraid to speak up, and the cycle would repeat. A corrupt world is built brick by brick by such individual acts of shame and silence. And I made my decision, and I was caught up in it.

I moved on with my life. Or so I thought.

The Academy Award winning film Spotlight, about the Catholic Church’s current protection of serial child sexual abuse, makes this same crucial point about how corruption is supported. The team of journalists track the scandal from corrupt priest to corrupt politician to corrupt judge, at each step finding cover-up and denial in a broad web of complicity. Corruption spreads out from the actual violations like concentric pools of blood, leaving stained hands to the very heights of society. And then the journalists make the final devastating discovery of the film. As they probe the depths of denial and cover-up throughout their community, they discover that the complicity extends back to the newspaper they are working for, which for years dismissed evidence of the crimes and wouldn’t investigate. They realize they are part of the very crime they are uncovering. Looking for corruption out there they end up looking in the mirror. The Other was in fact in them.

It might seem that I am blowing a trivial mistreatment over a grade into a major scandal — that teachers unfairly cut down their students’ grades for petty reasons all the time, and that I should get over it. But years later, after I had left the school, my professor and my B grade behind, I learned how far his corruption had gone: the professor had a sexual relationship with one of his teenage students, had gotten her pregnant, and was fired from the school. It was a community scandal. I was shocked but not completely surprised. The broader pattern was clear; there was consistency in his corrupt behavior. He felt free to use power with impunity to advance his personal interest and agenda, even to the point of hurting others, and he did.

Part of his impunity relied on people going along and not speaking up. Though it was just an unfair grade, if I had spoken up it might have formed one part of a counterforce to his behavior. Others might have paused to think, scrutinize him more closely, or be more cautious around him. It might have emboldened more people to speak up. If I could have made a stand and done the right thing, it might not just have been for the sake of saving my A grade, I might have played a part in preventing the more serious harm that was to come. But my own self interest about how others would see me, my own shame and fear, held me back.

That was decades ago. And last night a powerful synchronicity lit all this up again for me and brought me to a new place of speaking up.

I was in my kitchen playing Jenga with several friends. Jenga as you likely know is about building a tower of blocks that someone inevitably has to bring crashing down. One of my friends turned to me and said that his parents teach at the same school where I got my degree in Jungian psychology, the Process Work Institute of Portland. I had known this friend for a few months but didn’t realize the connection. It was a stunning coincidence. We started chatting, and I asked him why he didn’t get his own training as a Jungian at the Process Work Institute, but went to a different Jungian school instead? The Process Work Institute is great, he said, there are many good things about it, but, “it has some problems…”

I immediately knew what he was talking about. The uncanny scene, there by the Jenga tower with the son of two of my teachers from school, sent a cascade of memories — and new clarity — into motion within me.

After dropping out of a San Francisco graduate program in 1999, sinking into a crisis and going back into a mental health facility, I eventually pulled my life back together seven years later to try again, this time studying at the Process Work Institute. The Process Work theory and approach were much more sympathetic to the patient survivor movement perspective, and a school where RD Laing’s Politics of Experience and Jung’s Red Book were held in regard promised a supportive context for me to start again and pursue a Masters in Counseling.

For the most part my expectations were met. The school taught me a great deal and I did finally get my degree and start my work as a counselor. I consider Jung and Process Work to be a valuable approach, with much more to offer than most other therapy approaches I have looked into. At the same time, however, I kept running up against a kind of discipleship hierarchy at the school, where critical thinking about Process Work and Arnold Mindell — Jungian analyst, the school’s founder, and creator of Process Work — met automatic resistance, a closing of ranks by those at the top of the school pyramid. There was a clinical air combined with a spiritual insularity, with expertise and enlightenment vested in the higher ups. The school, it seemed, wasn’t as comfortable facing its own shadow as it was in pointing out the shadows of others.

I tended to shrug off these reservations and keep going, and eventually made my way through the program and to my goals of an MA and a Diploma in Process Work. I was enthusiastic with my new skills and soon I had an office at the Institute, a thriving private practice as a therapist, was teaching Continuing Education Credit courses, running a highly regarded community group Portland Hearing Voices, and lived in my own apartment a short walk from Forest Park. I got off Social Security and the disability checks I had been receiving since 15 years earlier. I was growing roots into a new life.

Then one day I unexpectedly ran headlong into the schools’ discipleship and shadow I had been trying to avoid. The Director of the Institute walked into my office to chat, as we often did when we had a break from clients or a pause in our work. He sat down, and said, in a casual and indifferent manner, sort of oh-by-the-way: “You know,” he said, “I lost my license to practice as a psychotherapist.”

“Oh?” I said.

“Yes, I had a sexual relationship with a client,” he said.

“Oh?!” I said, alarmed and confused.

“Yes,” he said. “I got unlucky.”

I looked at him in growing shock and dismay, and he said, “Yes, I got a borderline.”

“I got unlucky. I got a borderline.”

Suddenly, just as I was getting my own career going as a counselor, I was grappling with unethical behavior by the Director of the very institution I was affiliated with and had invested many years of my life contributing to. I was grappling with him presenting no indication of remorse or self-reflection about the wrongness of his actions. I was grappling with his vile use of a misogynist clinical interpretation to justify himself and discredit his client. And most crucially, I was grappling with the possibility that the Institute knew about all this and was keeping quiet, protecting him in his position as Director. I had realized long ago that, broadly speaking, psychotherapy is a corrupt industry, rife with the harmful misuse of power and classifying people as higher and lower. Diagnosing clients as sick to defend harmful behavior by therapists is one of the most egregious forms of this corruption. I just hadn’t expected the corruption to reach to my own school.

I was immediately paralyzed with shame. Should I speak up about this? Or, just as I had feared challenging my professor years before, would that risk exposing me and I would become the problem?

In my boiling shame, I froze. I failed to take action.

I buried the shocking encounter with the Director somewhere inside me. Like my school professor, he had dumped one of his secrets on me and pulled me into his corruption. And so by failing to act, I became part of his misuse of power. He remained practicing at the Institute. The Institute was not transparent to students, clients, or the school community about his history of losing his license and being fined for it. Behind closed doors the school must have had its reasons, believing they should hire him anyway and remain quiet about his history. They must have deemed him rehabilitated and remorseful and worth protecting from scrutiny, but here I had clear evidence that he wasn’t. He remained Director. My therapy office was down the hall from his. It was business as usual, except that I had a neighbor who seemed to think he was “unlucky” for sleeping with his therapy client and losing his license because, well, she was “borderline.”

None of this felt okay of course, being in that shame trap. I was frozen but unresolved, in a no-escape bind. My time in Portland started quickly to unravel. The ingredients for renewed madness were beginning to work on me. I had a lot of new factors in my life, and I didn’t go into a self-destructive crisis like I had so many times before, but I was at a loss. The corruption I had run into started to fit with other hesitations about the Institute, and I had also seen before how poorly the Institute responded at times when challenged. I was there holding the shadow of my school and I couldn’t handle it. My own sense of despair and confusion took deep root.

I responded in the hurt and powerless manner shame had taught me throughout my life: I became invisible, quiet, small. I slowly distanced myself from the Institute and Process Work, I gave up my office and apartment, I turned away from my growing income as a teacher at the Institute, I let go of and stepped away from the life I had spent years working to build. All in a cloud of confused shame. And silence.

In the kitchen playing Jenga, in the wild coincidence of sitting there with the son of two Process Work faculty I knew and had studied with, something was shaken inside of me. The life pattern around shame, stretching back to my professor and school bullying and my family history of trauma, came into greater clarity. Something fell apart — my own inner story about it all couldn’t hold up any more. It was wrong for the school to hire a Director with this history and not tell anyone about it, and consider him rehabilitated when he clearly wasn’t. It was wrong that a male therapist blamed sleeping with his female client on her being “borderline.” But the realization became clear in me, that regardless of what I was afraid of happening, I was wrong not to speak up, because I was now with my silence complicit in the misconduct. I realized that shame not only hurts us, but drives us, out of fear of exposure, to be part of things that our hearts would otherwise want no part of.

I started to see how self-serving and wrong it is to think of “corruption” as something “out there” in other people.

I deeply regret that I did not sooner address this publicly. It was my decision to not speak or act, mine alone. I can’t say the reason I kept quiet is because others also kept quiet, or because the several people who I did tell thought it okay to keep quiet, or because speaking up at the Institute meant facing a possible pushback. It was my decision to not speak up. And with that decision I became part of the problem. I should have done something more.

So with my new clarity, I took to today’s public square, Facebook. I was shaking with fear of what might happen, all the shame stretching back to my childhood clawing at me to hold back. I feared I would be exposed and lose some standing for stepping out into the light with all this, and would now be seen as the problem, something wrong with me. But I spoke up anyway. I offered my public apology. I apologized to all the people hurt.

And the shame set in, eating me away inside like a poison.

When I was 16 and didn’t stand up to my corrupt political science professor, I had all the shame from bullying in my family and school holding me back. Now there was that same twisted feeling in my gut, the same cold waves running down my body. But now I was speaking up against a therapist, and publicly challenging other therapists in a school and clinic where I had worked — some of them had even been my own teachers and my own therapists.

I was afraid diagnosis would be turned against me, labels that still, after all these years, have their grip and can sow doubt and undermine my stability. Despite a clearly much more open and insightful understanding of madness and psychiatry, I had seen at the Portland counseling school what I had seen at every other counseling school I have ever come across (perhaps with the exception of my Open Dialogue training, and trainings in the peer movement). People are scrutinized and then devalued for some defect related to pathology. Those lower in the hierarchy bear the brunt of the clinical judgments of those higher. Whether it’s “schizoaffective disorder schizophrenia” and being delusional, as I was labeled with at Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute, or the “having relationship edges” and being a “difficult person” needing more enlightened awareness in the language of Process Work, clinical institutions wield a power of labeling that cuts deep. I could be discredited because something is wrong with my personality and even my spirituality. I was making it up. I was acting out. I was playing out some hurt or wound or pattern. I wasn’t compassionate enough. Me speaking up was just my own “self-sabotaging” pattern, more pathology. Speaking up wasn’t a principled act, a desire to do the right thing and embrace the truth. Speaking up wasn’t about the issue, it was about something wrong with me, my broken self, now being exposed, my stigma showing, my own self-interest.

The Director had put all this clinical power on display when he dismissed the woman he violated as “borderline.” Seen through the label, she wasn’t acting on the side of truth when she spoke up and got him to lose his license, she was exposing a symptom of her personality disorder. Seen through the label, he had gotten into trouble not because he had done something wrong, but because something was wrong with her. The message was clear: If we just would accept the fact that she is “borderline,” and if we knew the full story, we’d see that, instead of this being about the clear prohibition on sex with clients, well, it was actually more of a grey area, she was at fault, she was acting out her damaged personality.

Now I was afraid that by speaking up I would join her. I was afraid the Institute I had been part of, the teachers and therapists I had worked with, would deploy their own categorizing and labeling against me. I knew they were good people and I believed many or even most would take the side of supporting me standing up… but there was also that fear… I knew, from years of training both at the Process Work Institute and at the California Institute for Integral Studies, that the mentality to use labeling and diagnosis comes swiftly to skilled therapists and becomes reflexive in learning to defend themselves when challenged. The Institute counts itself as a caring place, and I’ve seen a great deal of healing there, and Jungians might wrap it all in a more sophisticated language, but the message is clear: There is something wrong with you, you are not one of Us here at the top, you are one of Them, down below. It’s an insidious dynamic, and I have even caught myself doing it sometimes (and I am thankful to people who have spoken up to me against this).

I might also be given a kind of spiritual diagnosis: not being caring and self-aware enough. I shouldn’t speak up, because I would just end up making things worse, turn the tables and now I would be the one doing the public shaming and diagnosing, by outing the school Director. Shouldn’t I just keep it all quiet, maybe speak up at a secret committee meeting to keep it under wraps, instead of risking, because something is wrong with me, reversing roles, and becoming a bully myself? Wasn’t speaking up just changing places with the person doing wrong, because I wasn’t worthy, enlightened enough, skilled enough to speak up?

In our world of media poison and political slur, scapegoating and righteousness, it is very hard to imagine how to challenge a specific behavior without launching a broad attack on the badness of the Other. Pointing out another’s wrong behavior can quickly spiral into attacking them as a person, discounting their good side and shaming them for being bad. By speaking I was risking being exposed for doing that. I’m sure the Director has done good work as a therapist, helped many people, and I knew him to be a perfectly nice and caring person… and yet here was his corruption. He also had a huge horrific blind spot. This dilemma shouldn’t hold us back; I had to find a way to challenge his misconduct and the school’s protection of it, and at the same time not just flip it around and make him and the school in a sense a new victim — now with me as the accusing perpetrator. How to challenge the behavior, and also be concerned and compassionate for the other side? Without ending up being paralyzed and protecting misconduct with silence, as the school had apparently done and I had gone along with?

(I’ve known of this dilemma since I was a teenager and learned about Dr. King’s nonviolence, which aims to respect the humanity of the other while being ruthlessly outspoken and militant in confronting their behavior. In King’s legacy today we tend to remember the peacemaker and the preacher of tolerance, and forget that King and Gandhi’s nonviolence actively provoke fierce outspoken confrontation, trigger a dramatic response, and bring injustice dramatically out into the open. King was a troublemaker and a disturber, not, as he has been so often revisioned, someone just on the side of being “peaceful.”)

That night playing Jenga I decided that all the reasons not to speak up just meant I was doing what I had done with the professor who had given me the lower grade. I was becoming part of the protection of the misconduct itself. And I had kept the whole thing going not just out of fear of retaliation and exposure but out of what amounted to my self interest — self interest in my status and standing among colleagues at the Institute. I had been selfish in going along with their decision to keep his behavior quiet and give him the benefit of the doubt, when he was in fact taking no responsibility and was going around blaming his client for being borderline. That’s a much harder reality for me to face, the real shadow of the shiny self-regarding view of myself: I had been selfish and self-interested. It’s one thing to admit I had been afraid, quite another to admit I had made a selfish choice to advance my own status over doing the right thing.

In a way I had done the very thing that a corrupt professor or an unethical therapist does: put self interest first. And when I started to see it more clearly this way, as about my own status and standing and selfishness, I realized I had made a choice I didn’t agree with. It just wasn’t worth it. I had made the wrong choice before, and now I needed to make the right choice. I needed to speak up, regardless.

* * *
On the phone with another colleague trying to make sense of all this, I was told something that stopped me in my tracks. “You know, Will, you can’t really speak out about things, because of your own misconduct. People will use it against you.”

It was like a whole picture coming into focus, him telling me this. I think I knew what he was referring to, a wrong I had done 13 years ago, and even though he was advising me to keep quiet, on reflection I instead felt more emboldened, more sure I needed to speak up. I began to see what might be at the heart of this shame and corruption dynamic in our society, and to sense, maybe, a pathway out of it, for all of us.

13 years earlier I had been called out — deservedly — for dating another activist in our advocacy and support group. She was vulnerable and a lot younger than me (15 years younger, she was 24, I was 39), and what I did was wrong. It was a consensual relationship and as a collective I wasn’t in any supervisory or hiring role, but I certainly had power and status that I didn’t take into account how it would impact her. When we ended our dating she was very hurt. I put my self interest in sexual pleasure and easy companionship above my caring for her needs. I chose someone younger and more vulnerable than me and I felt safer and more free that my power wouldn’t be threatened. I pursued a relationship I knew wouldn’t last, on my terms, based on her being more pliant to me as older and more established. And to make things worse, at the beginning when I was challenged I had defended myself, and it took a long time of our group holding me accountable for me to finally realize I had made a big mistake, and for me to apologize. With my apology I didn’t want to deny the facts of what happened, but at the same time when gossip started flying I didn’t want anything inaccurate to be spread about me. And so I also made the move — questionable in hindsight, as I was certainly wielding my power and influence — to approach the woman’s employer and ask to rein in anything inaccurate being gossiped.

I realized how hard it must have been for the woman I dated to speak up when I had more power and status in the community. I saw, reluctantly, that I had been given a valuable wake-up lesson. It kicked off discussions about sexuality and power in my life. I looked at my choices to date and have relationships with people younger than me. I looked at the differences of vulnerability with people I was dating, questioning myself in the relationships I had with other women who I had met in our group. I looked at power and leadership and vulnerability in activist communities. I reached out to female friends to help me look closely at my patterns of relationships and sex, exploring if there was something I wasn’t seeing or was defending unfairly.

This was at a time when I was growing into more status and prestige. The Freedom Center, Valley Free Radio (another project I was part of), and The Icarus Project, a national group I started working for — all were giving me status to some degree in the community eye, and some people were looking up to me. Sex was caught up in “movement” settings that were in some ways mixtures of both workplaces and communities. After hiding for much of my life under the darkness of a mental illness diagnosis, feeling weak and vulnerable, mistrustful and lonely around people, I had to grapple with the reality of visibility, status, and power. I was in a world where I was being seen more, and having more of an impact — and facing my own exposure and shame more. My identity as a bisexual man, being polyamorous, and being unmarried and childfree meant something in a world where these things are all, for some people, bound to invite scrutiny and gossip.

As money and power had started to flow more into the recovery and alternative mental health movement (state and federal contracts, wealthy donors, international coalitions, media interest), there were new dynamics of politics and competition at work. New levels of secrets and backbiting seemed to be taking hold as they do everywhere there is money and power at stake, with everyone vying for positions that hadn’t been so appealing when I first began my volunteer organizing in this movement. Competition and gossip were reality. I was seen and held up and looked up to more often, and under a lot of criticism from people, including those who might be competing. It was a new world for me, a world where the corruption of “the system” was starting to show up more and more everywhere I looked, and where a movement was starting to seem and act more and more like an industry. I struggled with “paranoia” and wanting to hide, but I knew I had to come out more, I had to start to learn how to take more responsibility for my status and influence and understand that the world where I had begun as co-founder of a small community support group was now a different world.

I certainly had done wrong, that was definitely true, and certainly people will (and should) evaluate me for it; I have to accept that, that some will judge me and raise questions. I remain open to talk about it with anyone who asks, doing my best to set aside my prior defensiveness. I tried to learn from it and incorporate it into my life in the process of being a man, having status and authority, and learning from mistakes how to do my best. I really began to understand that we all have our shadow sides we can’t see — me included — and the challenge is not just to be a good person, but to respond well when our inevitable failings to be a good person blindside us. Especially when our first reaction is defensive.

What happened happened and I don’t want to hide from scrutiny — or have it hold me back.

So when my colleague told me I shouldn’t speak up because I would be exposed and shamed for my own wrongdoing, the whole social pattern came into clarity. The usual way that corrupt and unethical behavior gets “called out” is in a righteous tirade of Us vs Them. Perpetrators are denigrated and victims elevated. The spotlight goes out against Them, and everyone starts Othering and picks sides. Then the target you sling mud at slings mud back at you, and we all go to the ground. You will also be under the spotlight. So you better not speak up unless you want to be exposed and have someone talk about you. Speak up, toss the first stone, and get hit back. So we as a society have built walled camps of righteousness against the bad Other, hiding our own shadow as we attack the shadow of those we see as lesser. Democrats and Republicans do it to each other. Men do it to women. Women, certainly, do it to men. And without a doubt survivors, psychiatric survivors, do it to mental health professionals. Scapegoating can become the flip side of complicity, our shared trap of shame. I have seen abuse flow in all directions in families and between patients and professionals. We may have different access to power, we may be in unequal relationships, but it’s in everyone, this Us versus Them shaming dynamic. We all do it.

We are all in these shame traps: Be silent and be complicit? Speak up and be exposed? Bully in reverse through accusation? Keep status or lose it by becoming a troublemaker? Protect the misconduct of others so you can hide your own shadow side from scrutiny?

It isn’t just “them.” It’s also us. When we discover some abuse of power, and we honestly trace its roots, we always will end up finding ourselves in it somehow. We will find the complicity of silence and denial, we will find the unleashing of scapegoating and persecution of the bad guy, or we will find we are hiding our own transgressions from being exposed to scrutiny. My colleague was advising me to turn away from that mirror, to avoid having my own shadow in the open, to not be honest because it would bring shame down on me. I should stay silent and go along and be complicit, so that everyone else would be complicit with me. We should all just keep our heads down, stay silent, cash our paychecks and enjoy our reputations.

But I disagree. I think the opposite is true. I think we all need to face our shadow. In these traps we all suffer, our world suffers, our movement suffers, the future suffers, our hearts suffer. We all sink into stress and despair, we all are pulled into cynicism and giving up. We betray younger generations who have trusted our words and haven’t learned the lessons of listening for our silences. These traps are the ingredients of suffering and madness for all of us. We are all held in these dynamics of shame, and it is setting the world on fire. Hiding and silence help no one.

If we are going to make a world we all can feel at home with, safe in, we often start with movements. In our movement since the early days of Freedom Center I’ve tried not just to advocate for changes out there but also to nurture changes within ourselves. We are survivors who need empowerment both in terms of the system and inside our own healing process. We envisioned Freedom Center as an activist and also a support community. A place to be at home and to be safe. In many ways we joined the nonviolent tradition of Dr. King, where we march against injustice in the world and also create together a “beloved community” of caring for each other. When I was held accountable and challenged for my misconduct 13 years ago, it was painful and overwhelming, but it served the right purpose: holding me accountable and protecting the integrity of our beloved community.

In this movement I’ve found we create in microcosm the things we oppose: looking at the “out there” we also find it “in here.” Not in exact proportion, and the power differences are real, but we mirror each other. We all face shame and the dynamics of speaking up or keeping silent. There are many closets around with skeletons in them — and many people walking around with the keys to those closets. People hold each other’s secrets in webs of complicity to corruption just like people did around my professor, just like around the Director of my therapy school. I’ve been part of that. And I want to start to unravel those dynamics. We are in this movement together, but at times we lose the bigger vision. I’ve heard over and over quiet whispers of gossip hidden from the light of day when what is needed is transparent disclosure — and the gossip protects the person gossipped about and fuels competition and turf battles for funding. I’ve seen corruption and tried to speak up (intellectual property theft, sexual abuse, money mismanagement), then struggled with these same traps of shame and complicity, scapegoating and retaliation. I’ve gotten burned many times, learned to keep quiet…

And then I remember the deeper vision, and I keep trying. I have a commitment to the people I have met and worked with and represent, a commitment to the work of healing. I have to keep taking risks. I am always encouraging clients, support group members, and families, to find courage, to speak up, to live honestly and find their truth. So don’t I also have to do this work myself? Don’t we all have to do this work?

Maybe this is not just #metoo. Maybe this is #ustoo. Maybe we need to commit to not holding toxic secrets, not just for those around us but in ourselves. Maybe we have to face our shadows, together, not just attack the shadow of the other. Can we imagine something new — not “calling someone out,” but calling ourselves out together? Can everyone who is holding back start to speak up in a mutual process of healing our world? Can we let go of the shiny Facebook status updates and the righteous poses for our funders and the media, can we hold back from the media mud scapegoat spectacle, and can we start getting real about the shadows we all have, the corruption we are all part of?

As I write this the sky is literally filled with smoke and the sun is blood red because our world is changing. Our political system is broken. We are afraid and angry. We are descending into an Us vs Them world. Time is running short. We have to start making real changes — real changes. Real changes! And take real risks. We have to find courage. Psychiatry and the mental health system are failing, but they are also just sets of human relationships, relationships we are also part of. Maybe our greatest act of courage is to see it’s not just “out there,” but it’s also inside of us. Maybe we can bear the shame, and the scrutiny, of admitting that it is “our side” that is also part of the problem, that we are dangerously also part of “the system.” Maybe we can break the silence that protects misconduct and corruption around us — even while it means being exposed ourselves. Maybe we can challenge misconduct in the system fiercely and uncompromisingly, and also keep ourselves open and vulnerable to misconduct within ourselves. Maybe we can start being honest with each other.

The Process Work Institute responded to my public apology with a thoughtful email dialogue about what happened and what to do about it. As of this writing they are in a continued discussion internally about their responsibility to be transparent when hiring and hosting a therapist who has lost their license, and what it means that their own judgement of rehabilitation was obviously so wrongheaded. They are looking at how their behind-closed-doors decision harmed others by not giving everyone the facts so we could decide for ourselves. But I also sense all the same dynamics at play, and I don’t know what they will end up doing by way of apology or restorative process now that their actions are more in the public light. They might just close ranks, say they did nothing wrong, and treat this like a personal problem with me. They might subtly put me back into the client role, and then, as therapists so often do when challenged, say there must be something wrong inside me, something not spiritually advanced enough or psychologically healed enough, in me (and then condescendingly even offer to help my distress). They might see their special skills and philosophy as putting them above playing by the rules. They might just continue to play the corrupt game of power.

But they might do something different. They might instead start to look at all this more clearly, to recognize that even a deep command of sophisticated psychological theory can’t eradicate the fact that we all have shadows, we all have blind spots, we are all in this complicity and corruption together. Maybe instead of consulting lawyers and keeping our secrets close, we will meet together and have an honest conversation, looking at all we have done wrong, all of us, sharing our shadows, together.

That’s a dialogue I’d want to be part of. And a movement worth struggling for.

will hallWill Hall, MA, DiplPW —  is a therapist, mental health trainer, schizophrenia diagnosis survivor, and host of Madness Radio. Will trained in Open Dialogue at the Institute for Dialogic Practice and is author of Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness and the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Medication. He is a PhD Candidate at Maastricht University and lead researcher on Maastricht University’s antipsychotic withdrawal study.

More of Will Hall’s work on Everything Matters: Beyond Meds

6 thoughts on “Smoke and Flames: Silence In A World On Fire – By Will Hall

  1. What a liberating, revelatory and healing read.

    I especially enjoy the compassionate mirror, that doesn’t ignore the trauma of the systemic structural abuse, yet empowers me with the choice to see my own similar shortcomings. To at least know, that by healing me I won’t add to the problem.

    I like the belief that by working on me, I help change the world in some small significant way. Hope is everything in the soul destroying confusion of Mental Health policies and practices.

    Nga mihi (many thanks) from New Zealand.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. thank you Will Hall, as an NHS-Whistleblower in the UK, I have often wondered about the silence of those around me. I am sure it is complex and has different reasons for different people, but I realis through your exploration that I have often felt it (others’ silence) to be my fault. Thank you very much for your work. We are all a work-in-progress…

    Liked by 3 people

  3. In addition to modeling how to brining the light of consciousness to sins and secrets, I appreciated the self-honesty and transparency with which you wrote this article.

    I live in a midwestern metropolitan area that once had a very robust Jungian training program. It fell to shreds after the senior/supervising analyst was also caught with his pants down. The impact of his impropriety was significant. It completely eroded not only the then present but also future faith and confidence in Jungian analysts in this area.

    That said, as I am guessing you know, even Carl Jung himself was also known to engage in indiscreet liaisons.

    What really needs undoing in this regard, is the “centuries of history of having diminished women” such that men still think they have excuse to think and act with their second head. That’s the bigger, ugly shadow that needs to be taken out of the closet.

    Though not at all right, I think it was merely convenient that the director in question was able to use a label in his pathetic attempt to soften the blow to himself. Other men in similar situations find other reasons to blame the victim.

    Most people choose self-preservation. Your moral fortitude is exemplary.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. This is well worth reading, even though rather long. I don’t totally agree with all of it either, but I can see it comes from the heart, from someone whose concern for ethics I share, along with maybe the same kind of imperfections. I have spoken out when I thought people were corrupt, at a big cost to myself sometimes, while maybe ignoring my own faults. Anyway, this article is admirable, and makes me want to reach out to its author.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Brilliant, and right on target. I too believe that I have been more victimized by institutions organized to “help” , because of cultures that aim to uphold “experts” and institutions. I don’t tie the silencing to money and power, I see those as just the new names for enemies. It is natural and realistic for any group of people who want to help others, to seek money and power – it is when the institutions get so rigidified, as their new and interchangeable members try to replicate lessons learned too far away from real lives to pay attention to individual stories, needs, issues, resources – but instead focus communication so firmly on infrastructure process – that responding to struggling individuals gets set aside, and the institutions are content with “helping” those who “ask” for help and seem to be grateful and lives improved by “help” – with any who do not fit those categories ignored, bypassed, left out of growth systems entirely.
    People need TRANSLATORS close to them. Yes, Advocates, key and noble roles, but also Translators who can notice gaps institutional processes and speak the language to clarify needs and local growth processes, and teach those in institutional management, when their processes are adopting blindness. They need to be paid, so they can work and live, contribute to growth outside of the business, in community and family.
    That was a recommendation on a format about Pequod Indian people. For without translators, everyone involved hears keywords from organizations expected to help, even words that name trauma, abuse, in categories lucky enough to be on the list noted for care needs, and organizations claim “success”.
    But that research was only counting those that said they were helped. Any that disagree, or whose needs have not been defined, or that mix several categories, are just shut out, for lifetimes. I think that different cultures, regions, histories, bring different coping strategies, ability to use resources in order to fine tune systemic attention, share different strategies informally, so that systems can respond to challenges and tailor resources,not cut off whistleblowers and shut them out.
    Not all cultures have the same histories, and trying to find universal standards is a process that by definition and implementation – ends up harming more than its predecessor, because busy people believe that care is being given. But traumas come within societal changes, different stresses within same families. Clarity and help for all to learn healing ways to grow with each other, are deeply needed.
    I love the focus of this article by Will – the examples of institutional blocking of progress, rather than support. I too thought the service system would actually help me when I was helping my disabled brother, and was shocked when I saw the blindness, and the lack of openness to views that differed from their lists of categories. It took extensive advocacy to draw their attention to developments that were more proximate to real life needs. We end up with a cultural acceptance of rule by “the clock” when we mock slowness or lateness, and see those as “disrespectful” to business people meeting and we assume that shorter meetings are more respectful. So struggling people are left out, left on their own to flounder, wby busy people, of organizations that we delegate to do care work, when this job belongs to all of us.

    Liked by 3 people

Comments are closed.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: