Thursday, September 25, 2014

HOW DECISIONS ARE MADE MATTERS TO COMMUNITY INCLUSION

Simone Weil  3 February 1909 – 24 August 1943) 


How decisions are made have made me angry all my life.  Growing up I lived in a paternal household.  My father would either get his belt or threaten to get his belt when I asked why I had to do something.  Our home was really his home because he made all the decisions. He decided where we would live and how we would live.  He decided what school and church we would attend.  When he decided to become a missionary to Africa, he decided which of his three children would go and which would stay in the states.  When my behavior became a problem to him on the mission station, he sent me home to one of my sisters who was in her final year of college to take care of.  I did not then nor do I now think I was part of a family.  I think I was a part of a paternal unit that people call a family.

When I got involved with the mental health system in 1965, there was nothing person-centered about the treatment I received.  There certainly wasn’t any during my military years in the late 1960’s. Carl Rogers had already been working on person-centered approaches, but they had not penetrated the system. Person-centered therapy (PCT) is also known as person-centered psychotherapy, person-centered counseling, client-centered therapy and Rogerian psychotherapy. PCT is a form of talk-psychotherapy developed by psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1940s and 1950s.

When I started getting involved with advocacy in 1988, I still did not find any true person-centered services.  In fact, over 25 years later I have never in my own treatment or in my advocacy work ever seen a person including myself receive services where the decision making was in the person’s hands or even equal.  Not on any Assertive Community Treatment Team or any peer delivered services or any other delivery system have I seen the person be the primary decision maker.   This is not to say it does not happen somewhere, but I have not seen it or experienced it.

Paul J. Carling wrote a book published in 1995 titled Return to Community.  The same problems he discusses in his book are alive and well today.  How do people with psychiatric labels or for that matter any person who is labeled different get to be part of the community?  It all boils down to how the decisions are made.  In a dictatorship or paternal society the chances are slim.  Even in a representative democracy married to capitalism labeled people who can’t produce will not become full members in the community.  What is the answer?

Something I call participatory communal democracy.  What does that mean?  The mystic and philosopher Simone Weil, who had helped the Spanish anarchists as a combat soldier, would later promote participatory democracy in her political manifesto The Need for Roots.  Participatory communal democracy strives to create opportunities for all members of a population to make meaningful contributions to the decision-making process, and seeks to broaden the range of people who have access to such opportunities. Only if you get to directly help make the important decisions about your life can you truly be a part of the community and rooted in it.  Sending people off to Washington, DC or a state capitol to make decisions for us is not a democracy.  I will never forget the first time I went to speak to the county commissioners in Broward County, FL.  You would have thought I was approaching the Pope at the Vatican in Rome.  These folks certainly did not consider themselves to be ordinary people and they did not consider me their equal.  Until we have a system where the decisions are made in the community in a way that folks are equal and have equal say some of us will always be uprooted.

© Ed Cooper, September 25, 2014, Stoney Creek, Tennessee

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