Paddy McGowan: Recovery – time for a change

paddyRecovery- time for a change

Guest Post by

Paddy McGowan

Dec 2011

When I first got involved in the struggle with and in, the survivor movement we were very clear I think about the problem. The problem was what brought us together, and that was the extreme domination of biological and medical model psychiatry. We had endured this for centuries: the complete power imbalance imposed on us as a community. We can clearly trace the roots of the survivor movement back as early as 1620.

awakening: liberate ourselves from psychiatric oppression

We have always been at the back of the line when it comes to human and civil rights. We needed a cause that we all could sign up to and give our support, and in the early 1980s we found that cause which was given the concept of recovery. We were awakened to the fact that we could liberate ourselves from psychiatric oppression. We had not thought a great deal about the mechanics of how we could do this, other than awakening a debate that we could call our own. At first to me and others we saw the word recovery as giving a two finger salute to the status quo. This word was ours. We were making a statement of our intention to start taking back our power: power which in some cases we had handed over and in other cases was taken from us but, inevitably, was lost. The long fight back had started and we were determined to move forward. We then came to a place in our history when we had to start and make sense of what we meant by recovery and that debate is still very much alive today. We needed to be clear so many people debated and indeed came up with definitions.

We all were in the early stages very interested by the deliberations does it mean the complete removal of what psychiatry call symptoms? Was it about cure? And so on. We started to use different language such as hope, empowerment, narratives and words like the lived experience. We were trying to change the language and understanding we talked about journeys to recovery and that no two people recovered in the same way, and that recovery could not be defined as a model. So you can see we were engaged in a lively debate and education process, we travelled through those years and into the nineties and the recovery story was making a name for itself, there was huge resistance from within large numbers of all professionals, we were accused of being irresponsible and out of touch with reality (sound familiar?) and in denial of the truth and science.

Recovery was not possible for people with chronic mental illness, was their belief.

how proponents of the medical model claim “recovery” as their own

We soldiered on trying to get the knowledge out there and in the forefront of discussion and in many ways we have achieved the goal. The problem I have now with recovery as it has come to be understood is that psychiatry and the proponents of the medical model, they have captured the word and have started to make it fit their understanding and have claimed it as their own. This ultimately means that it has become a buzz word in their model. We now find most professionals using the word and talking about doing recovery and practicing recovery principles. Most western governments have adopted recovery and many have included recovery within their policy documents. The problem for me is that they have confused our understanding either innocently or not, to make recovery a part of their rehabilitation process: in Ireland most psychiatric rehabilitation psychiatrists renamed their teams as rehabilitation and recovery teams. We know that this really means doing the same as before, and calling it “recovery”.

more medications, more money for buildings

Their practices are still the same, compliance, continuing care, chronic disease management and the list goes on. So I ask: what has really changed?. To me nothing, other than to tell the wide world that psychiatry has evolved and has listened to the cry of the survivor. It pains me greatly that we have allowed or were fooled into thinking that recovery could be mainstreamed into modern mental health service development and delivery, I have yet to come across anywhere I have been a statutory service that provides a recovery ethos or practice. We still see the rise of psychiatric medications, still have large numbers of ECT prescribed, rise in beds and more money being invested in buildings.

and now,  our children

We have now also seen the very sharp spike in children coming into contact with psychiatry- this to me is very worrying. It also questions whether, if, recovery is in use: given that demand for more  child and adolescent in-patient beds; and the massive increase of the use of psychotropic medication prescribed across the world. Something like a 250% increase in the USA over the last ten years in children. Is psychiatry growing the new population or catching them earlier?

finding other ways of being – creating alternatives

I think it is time we move on from the notion of recovery as it is now presently understood and think about redefining and explaining being recovered. This is in the main saying that we have found other ways of being and about really creating alternatives – which separates us as survivors from psychiatry and it’s bedfellows in the pharmaceutical industry. I think we need to blow the myths that are still in existence and become stronger in our determination to accept our human experiences as valid and not for negotiation or discussion by psychiatry. The primacy of our experiences should not be seen by anyone as a weakness or part of any genetic understanding. Those who speak with double tongues are eagerly awaiting the launch of DSM5* and no doubt will have found mysteriously more diagnoses to peddle to an unsuspecting public.

we are the only people who can achieve our own freedom

The time has come for us to reclaim what rightly belongs to us our identity. We need to seriously challenge the whole idea of psychiatric diagnosis, to not allow ourselves to become victims all over again. We need to be radical in our views. we can no longer allow a hierarchy within the survivor movement. We have tried the middle ground of persuasion and collaboration and we have achieved very little: in many ways it could be said we have been assimilated into the service provider world. It could also be claimed that we endorse the present model of understanding recovery. We know what it is we need and want. We are the only people who can achieve our own freedom. We can no longer accept recovery as cover for the maintenance model.

*  DSM = Dangerous Sick Medicine.

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2 Responses to Paddy McGowan: Recovery – time for a change

  1. Bruce MacDonald says:

    “Is psychiatry growing the new population or catching them earlier?” I think this is a very good question. I’m also concerned about trying to work within a system that does this kind of thing, using words like “assertive” and “early prevention” in such dubious contexts.


  2. I’d sure love to see Bentall and Whitaker collaborate on a best-seller in support of your feeling!


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