Articulating the Narrative of a Unified Alternatives Movement in Mental Health

Shannon Hughes, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, School of Social Work Colorado State University

One of the primary obstacles to supplanting the biomedical narrative (and subsequent interventions) for human distress is the absence of a strong, unified alternative narrative. Alternative approaches, such as Hearing Voices Groups, Soteria-style Houses, and Open Dialogue, each contribute meaningful pieces to working with extreme human experiences in different ways using non-medicalized approaches. The Social Work profession also has roots in psychosocial forms of helping that value self-determination, dignity and worth of persons, and environmental context at multiple systems levels. Articulating an alternative narrative might be made possible by synthesizing the fundamental assumptions of all of these approaches and models to re-formulate a framework of human distress and appropriate ways of helping. This workshop will begin by outlining fundamental assumptions of the biomedical narrative of human distress compared to alternative assumptions pulled from innovative psychosocial interventions and the Social Work theory base. The concept of right relationship will be introduced as a key aspect of re-framing mental and emotional distress and re-orienting how we use psychoactive drugs as medicine. Finally, in the construction of an alternative narrative, many voices should be included. This workshop will ask attendees to actively participate in building a narrative that has the support and strength of a community of voices behind it. The biomedical narrative applied to mental distress has proved to be an oppressive means to control and monitor individuals, limit human expression, and maintain corporate and professional power dynamics. A well-articulated narrative that reflects a unified alternatives movement is an important gap in what is otherwise a powerful emerging counter-movement to mainstream mental health care.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify and evaluate the assumptions of medical and non-medical approaches for working with persons experiencing distress or extreme states
  2. Develop a personal construction of right relationship with self, others, and the objects and concepts we commonly interact with
  3. Synthesize the assumptions, values, and concepts most likely to represent and empower a unified alternatives movement in mental health

    Articulating the Narrative of a Unified Alternatives Movement in Mental Health, Shannon Hughes, Ph.D. (Powerpoint)