all of the articles being referred to can be found in our articles section here. this is documentation of the first attempt to develop an icarus project reader for student groups.
1. Positive Peer Culture; Participatory Democracy and Group Therapy
PPC seems like such an obvious answer to the problems plaguing the mental health industry. Building a community of peers in a culture that’s isolating to the individual shouldn’t, in theory, that big a stretch. However, I can completely understand how the mainstream consensus would view this model as ‘dangerous” and “subversive.” It calls for the individuals in question to actually take responsibility for themselves and their peers, and stop relying completely on doctors and diagnoses. Giving people a sense of autonomy within a system that tries to completely dominate them is contradictory—and doctors are very unwilling to give up their positions of power. They rely on being “the expert”—the entire practice is built upon the idea that they know more about the individual’s mental structures/experiences than the individual himself. At the same time, though, I’m not sure that PPC could exist on its own—that is, I believe that, at least for now, some degree of “expert” presence is needed. Not that I think that psychiatrists know the answers and can do a better job than peers—they can’t. However, I don’t think that, as a society, we’re at a place where individuals can take that amount of responsibility upon themselves without some sort of authority to fall back upon. I think that PPC is a wonderful supplement to more “traditional” therapies, and I fully believe in the importance of the “experts’” willingness to be open to newer, more alternative forms of treatment. And maybe in the future PPC—or a similar model—will be able to completely subvert the current psychiatric model and give individuals the responsibility and individuality—and community—that they deserve. I do think that we’re moving closer to that point in time. However, change comes slowly—especially to such authoritarian cultures as psychiatry.
2. Somatic Experiencing and the Roots of Our Illness
The thing about “alternative therapies” is that they’re so simple and so organic that I feel like psychiatry can’t see them. Because it’s based on more naturalistic responses to stress and distress, and not on neurochemistry and drugs, the simple things are overlooked. Modern medicine tries so hard to become “Truth” that they overcomplicate things that can be very simple. I don’t know a lot about SE in particular—I’ve never heard of it except for in this article. I do know that health care professionals are recommending exercise as a way to cope with stress, which seems to be very similar to what the article is saying. Of course, to them it’s because exercise has an effect on the different levels of neurotransmitters in the brain—it can’t be as simple as it feels good. I know that when I dance, I immediately start feeling better. I feel whole and pure. Many times I dance better when I’m distressed, because I have that much more energy that needs to be expelled. There is also much deeper reservoir of emotion to pull from—expression becomes so much more important, since at times it can be the only way I can let go of feelings—when I am unable to verbalize, I translate it into some sort of physical activity. I’ve actually met one woman who quit psychotherapy after starting bellydance, because the dance was so much more therapeutic and helpful to her. She claims that it “cured” her. I have no trouble believing that. Movement is deeply spiritually cleansing, and can release many things which are not accessible by spoken language.
3. Theatre of the Oppressed
I’m not sure I understand how TO is different from role-playing. Role-playing also involves a re-enactment of events that allows individuals to explore different actions and reactions, and stresses empathy. Is it that TO is specifically related to oppression and role-playing can encompass anything? Or is there a more collectivist slant to TO that I’m missing? Although role-playing does not necessarily require an expert or an authority figure. At the same time, TO requires at least one person who is able to lead, so “expertise” is not entirely ruled out in their model. Maybe it’s that role-playing has an element of a cure attached to it, whereas TO is merely a place to open up dialogue. Role-playing may have a slightly different agenda—to change the individual’s response to people and situations, whereas TO is focused on changing the social atmosphere surrounding the individual.
4. A Hypodermic Shot to the Heart
Harm reduction is so much healthier than complete abstinence, especially when applied to mental health. For a society that claims to celebrate individuality, we have very strict views on what is acceptable and what is not. As a whole, we don’t recognize the possibility for different versions of reality and of health. So instead of broadening our worldviews, we force people to take drugs and discredit their personal histories and experiences. Because we are so afraid to open ourselves to the possibilities of other ways of living and existing, we have to discredit and dehumanize anyone who challenges the status quo. My version of mental health is much different than a psychiatrist’s version. For me, personally, I’m healthy if I can get through the week without the urge to inflict harm upon myself. The thoughts will always be there—I’ve come to accept the fact that cutting will probably always be my first response to severe distress. However, as long as I don’t indulge in it, I’d consider myself to be healthy. Life shouldn’t be reduced down to neurochemistry and doctors. We need to recognize that different ways of thinking and feeling are valid, and not necessarily dangerous. There shouldn’t be one version of “healthy” that everybody has to fit into. Humankind is much too varied for that to work. Personal histories, life situations—everything has an effect on how the individual thinks and feels and reacts to the situations around them. Obviously, not everybody comes from same situations, and had the same experiences—so how can everybody be expected to live up to the same model of health?
5. Welcome Home Zapatista: Finding Community in Revolution
This article describes one of the ways in which a community of misfits came into being. I personally don’t remember the Zapatista uprising—I would’ve been 10/11 at the time. Zapatistas are also not really mentioned in the Spanish-language textbooks. Granted, these are not meant to be comprehensive histories by any means, but there was always a focus on the history of Mexico and an emphasis on its social movements. The fact that this uprising was able to draw together so many people is amazing. Increasingly, in our modern society, people are isolated from each other—there isn’t a huge amount of interaction between different groups. No-one attempts to find common ground. Even within counter-culture groups, there seems to be an “us against them” mentality—competition is a way of life. However, this is a movement that, despite being in another country and for a different people, managed to unite an incredibly diverse group of individuals. What was it about this particular movement that made it so special? There are uprisings all the time, all over the world, yet so few of them are able to attract a bunch of outsiders who are willing to fight for something that is not inherently “theirs”. I would guess that their desire to create a global community—one that exists across language and culture—is the difference. Most movements are self-focused. They have an immediate objective that doesn’t necessarily include anyone outside of their own group. At the bottom of it all is the empathy that the marginalized have. If an individual knows what it’s like to be on the fringes of society, they are able to relate to someone else who is in the same position. Differences in details don’t really matter. Built into the human experience is the need for community, and the ability for empathy. Most people today get so caught up in their own lives that they forget that these drives exist. They are content to live with whatever community they are handed by mainstream society.
6. Food Not Bombs as a Radical Non-Hierarchical Grassroots Organizing Model
Food not Bombs is another way in which “misfits” can organize themselves around a common cause and create a community through activism. Since it lacks a bureaucracy, FnB creates a non-competitive, non-authoritarian environment. Without an official leader, individuals are able to interact as complete equals. No assumptions of superiority or inferiority are made, making the community much more open to new people. At the same time as it’s creating a community for itself, FnB does outreach to other marginalized communities—in this case, the homeless population. Because it “lacks the arbitrary distinction between giver/receiver,” FnB attempts to meld two communities into one. That is, instead of saying “we have the means to help you” (which would be a position of superiority), they say ‘we are the same as you” (equality), removing pity and sympathy and replacing it with empathy. This creates a more welcoming atmosphere to the second community, since they don’t feel like they are being imposed upon or patronized.
7. On Finding My Tribe, and Thinking for Myself
Labels of any kind can be dangerous. Regardless of what the label is—be it ‘mental health patient’ or ‘ex-patient’—when the label starts to define the individual, the individual gets increasingly locked into that label and lives out the definition. Labels like these can be used as weapons. In my own personal history I’ve had experience with the power of defining labels. I’d never really considered myself to be a “depressed” person—depression was something that came and went, but it wasn’t necessarily a stagnant description of me. Then I met someone who began to use that against me. After being constantly told that essentially everything I did was because I suffered from a disease called depression, the label “depressive” began to define who I was. There’s a subtle but important difference between being someone who sometimes feels depressed and someone who has a disease called depression. When I thought of myself as someone with a disease called depression, it began to define everything about me. I exhibited more depressive symptoms, since I had come to view depression as this