With Crisis Comes Opportunity
With all the political turmoil the question of reform seems odd. It merely seems to be chaos and we have no idea where it will lead. And I’m not hearing a lot of wisdom from the talking heads.
Some things strike me as almost inevitable. Change, consolidation and finding a direction. This kind of turmoil can’t continue forever. All we can hope is that a direction will appear before we end up in an unimaginable crisis.
The point is that world events are hardly linear and neither are their components. Opportunities appear, reform eras come and go and from each of these things we may grasp them and make improvements. Sometimes the time is simply not ripe.
The Reform Era of the 1960s
We built a new country after World War II and then came a major reform era. We began to talk about stewardship of our world in more defined ways, the advent of effective birth control opened a new era for women and our thinking broadened in many ways.
As a psychologist one movement which caught my interest was community mental health. It was time to move away from in depth psychotherapy and psychoanalysis to a broad movement which would bring “mental health” services to the population at large. To do that they we were to apply a public health model.
Seizing an Opportunity
Just as I was finishing my Ph.D. at Duke the movement opened and I was interested. I have to admit I never liked school all that much. I just stuck with it. Too much of it was not particularly engaging for an intuitive personality type. I needed novelty, possibilities and community mental health offered those things. So I came to Baltimore to become engaged in inner city poverty. I did not really know what I was getting into but I loved it. We learned how to give services in diverse poverty communities. And we learned to do battle with the conservative forces in the mental health hierarchy who were not at all interested in groundbreaking and simply wanted the grant money.
What a Learning Experience!
We had to lay aside old ways of thinking. Had to delve deeply in the communities as they were and even keep ourselves safe. We dealt with junkies wanting to con us out of meds, riots when Dr. King was murdered, and sort out our own diversity. It was challenging, dangerous and exciting. Because we came with a new framework we could perceive origins, outcomes and vulnerabilities. In fact, we saw the savage policies which flooded our prisons and the roots of division between the people and the police seeding riots decades later.
For the Record
All such things must come to an end and in time the rambunctious, groundbreaking twenty somethings moved. But I could not resist putting down the experience for the records. The story in all its fascinating details is told in may book Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health.
From Past to Present
And then something happened recently. I came to awareness which had eluded me. The movement had come too soon. Certainly there were problems which would have worked against progress anyway, but in many ways wed lacked the tools to really document and develop what we found and what we did.
When we had gone out onto the streets we were all naive. We had to learn a new approach whether we liked it or not. Insight therapy and medications were not fundamentally useful. The community was in crisis with each community having a different crisis of sorts. And so we had to learn community and life management. But there were no tools to document what we found and ways to construct broadly useful models.
Now Comes Information Technology
The needed tools now exist. With parallel resources putting down what we found and what worked, we could have moved toward a comprehensive, flexible system which would have evolved into a whole new movement. I can only imagine what utility it would have today.
The long and short of it is that it is now time for a community mental health movement. All the prerequisites exist in Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health. We will see if these kinds of potentials will grow out of our present crisis. There are so many flowering buds out there in this age.
What do you see coming?