My Approach to Mental Health
Roy T. Bennett
I believe there is always more to the story—something that has yet to be discovered, or uncovered, that bears great influence on the beliefs and symptoms that become attached to a person’s identity and perspectives on possibilities for what is available in life.
It was the Hanbleceya Therapeutic Community that introduced me to the notions that symptoms are not always what they seem, that diagnoses do not define a person or their future, and that the avenue for healing exists within a sense of belonging, belief in, and hope. Through the legacy of the woman who founded the program, I became acquainted with various Native American values, specifically the Lakota values of fortitude, wisdom, and community, which helped me expand my understanding of both suffering and what was needed for healing.
Soon after, I learned of a small farming town that practiced a revolutionary system of care anchored in humanity, inclusion, and equality. In the 13th century, Geel, Belgium, experienced an influx of people seeking cure from mental affliction and suffering. Unwilling to turn people away, the local church appealed to the townsfolk to take the pilgrims into their homes. They were instructed to welcome the individual with warmth, avoid the use of labels, and treat them the same as any other family member. It wasn’t long before it was noticed that the “ill” people who were included and fully integrated into family and community life got remarkably better than those who stayed in the “sick house” for “treatment.” For 700 years, multiple generations of families have elected to carry on this culture seeped in a welcoming and tolerant ethos.
Belonging, community, acceptance, personal empowerment, and belief in one’s ability to heal and live a purposeful life were the elements that, to me, seemed to contribute to healing and health, rather than diagnoses and predefined treatments based on those labels. There is also a lack of stigma and prejudice in these principles that creates space for individuals to be themselves while navigating the ever-subjective landscape of healing and recovery.
I believe the story behind the story has the space and safety to emerge when diagnoses and symptoms are not simply accepted at face value, but instead challenged and redefined through bringing to light “the rest of the story.” Through the lens of a more fully rounded-out perspective, we are better equipped to envision a life of possibilities heretofore unimagined and begin to heal and transform in beautiful and inspiring ways.
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