Are We 'Anti'?

Originally published in the RLC Newsletter, March, 2013

Questions about who is ‘anti’ come up fairly frequently in our community. That is, who is anti-psychiatry, anti-medication, anti-medical model and so on. Which group, which person, which community is just flatly against another perspective or approach? The questions get no questionsasked, and often the accusations fly.

 Given the nature of its work, the Western Mass RLC is one of the communities that now and then finds itself accused of being ‘anti’ one or all of these things and so we wanted to tackle this question head on and try to articulate what we’re ‘for’ and ‘against’ as best we can.

 Overall, we see ourselves as less ‘anti’ and more ‘pro.’ As in pro-information, pro-sharing of resources, pro-informed choice, pro-control over your own story and path, pro-change, pro-empowerment, pro-community, pro-human rights, pro-questioning everything.  

 In turn, we are not anti-medication or anti-pscyhiatry or anti-medical model if for no other reason then because being ‘anti-medication’ would mean that we don’t believe in your right to make an informed choice about what you put into your body and what does or might help you. Similarly, we are not ‘anti-medical model’ because that would mean we are disregarding a way that some of us choose to define our own stories. And we are not ‘anti-psychiatry’ in that we believe in everyone’s right to choose who will be a part of their circles of support, including psychiatrists, therapists and other clinical supporters!

 It is critical to note, however, that the answers to these questions do depend on the definition being used for each term. For example, many people see ‘anti-psychiatry’ as a term referring not so much to being specifically against a psychiatrist as it is being against an industry that has regularly used force. They see it as referring to the way our human experiences have sometimes been pathologized and we’ve been told that we’re going to be ‘sick’ forever 

and need to be dependent upon a mental health system to make decisions on our behalf. They see it as representing our being given the medical model of mental illness as the only option and the whole truth when, in reality, so much of its science has been drawn into question and it remains just one theory among the many. And, if that is the definition, perhaps we do want to own that label as a community?

 In a recent conversation on this very topic, a powerful statement was made with excerpts as follows:

So, if we are ‘anti’ anything, we are anti-force, anti-oppression and anti-lack of choice. The reality is that the medical model is often the only perspective that most people have ever heard of, and they are so often told that it is their only option. For that reason, we have felt a particular responsibility to focus on the other options that people don’t hear much about. Similarly, we have felt it critical to not use medical language like ‘mental illness.’ Our reasoning is NOT to exclude people who do identify as mentally ill, but to not automatically exclude others, or perpetuate the view that that’s the only way. Instead we do our best to use open language that leaves space for each person’s story. More than anything, we try to recognize in all that we do that many people have been left with the impression that they aren’t able to question what they’re told, even when it’s about their own lives. People have been asked to accept what others tell them about who they are and what they should do without ever even knowing any other options! Some have been told not to trust their own feelings or perceptions or to ignore them, and to not have high hopes for their future. And so we encourage each other to challenge the status quo on a regular basis.

 When people have called us ‘anti’ anything, it has often felt like a way to try and discredit us, or to give themselves permission to stop listening. Our intent has never been to alienate or leave anyone out, but rather to create openings and begin to erase the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We are all human beings living together in our communities (regardless of what role we are playing in the moment – provider, peer supporter, person reaching out for help, family, friend, etc.) and healing and learning are best as group processes, not solitary ones. Ultimately, this community is owned by all of us and so if you are someone who identifies with a medical perspective or not, you are a part of who we are and you play an important role in our journey and exploration. Regardless of the framework by which you define your own experiences and what supports you choose in your own process, we hope you will let your questions, your ideas, and your voice be heard.