Psy-Cope 'Coping with Psychosis'

Psychosis n, pl -ses severe mental disorder in which the sufferer's contact with reality becomes distorted psychotic adj

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Feature of the Month

Interviews with recovery stories, campaigns, projects and organisations involved in mental health, more specifically psychosis & schizophrenia.

May 2014

Greg Ralls

Unravel, To Unwell and Back

Thank you for taking the time to answer the feature questions below.
Please tell us about yourself. (Where were you born and raised? What was life like growing up in childhood? -your family?)
First, thank you for featuring me on the PsyCope website this month! I'm an Aussie; I was born in the 1970s and raised in regional Victoria. I was fortunate to have a great childhood. My family lived in a beautiful rural area, in a little town about 130km east of Melbourne. In 1979 we moved out of town to live on a small farm. Mum and Dad worked hard to build a house and everything on the farm from nothing. They both had jobs, Dad in the power industry and Mum as a nurse. Farming was a hobby. Dad was constantly doing something. Occasionally, Mum would relax, enjoy a cup of tea and read a book, although she never stopped being busy for too long. I have a brother; he’s slightly older than me. For the most part as kids we got along very well. In some ways I was a solitary soul during my formative years, I spent a lot of time alone playing and exploring after school and on weekends, often taking long walks in the bush and using my active imagination to entertain myself. I feel at peace when reflecting upon this. It was a privilege to live in an environment that I see now was quite idyllic.
What is the earliest childhood memory you can remember? (Just curious, if these questions bring up any negative reflection, just skip to writing a short introduction.)
The earliest memory I have is of being fed while sitting in a high chair, in the kitchen of the green-painted weatherboard house my family rented in those first years. Strangely, I feel as though I'm watching myself as I recall it, seeing with the mind's eye me as a small child sitting in a high chair! It’s probably better to think of it as the memory of an impression formed in my mind at an early stage in life, augmented by perceptions now, rather than an accurate memory of the experience itself.
What educational course did you follow and where did life take you after this?
I had a competitive nature in my youth and was driven to succeed. This translated to academic excellence throughout my primary and secondary school years, which led to my pursuit of tertiary studies through The University of Melbourne. I enrolled in the 1990s to undertake a double degree course in engineering and science. Upon graduation, I left Melbourne, traversed the continent and joined the workforce in Perth, Western Australia. I worked in the geotechnical and dams section of a large consulting engineering firm, which afforded me the opportunity to travel. I spent about half of my time in the office, the rest in the field. I did jobs in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and worked for a month on the island of Borneo. I loved it.
Would you like to share how you got involved in mental health?
Purely by accident. I experienced what for me was a deeply distressing episode of psychological trauma while working, as a graduate engineer, in the tropics. I thought at one point, perhaps with perfect justification, that my life was in danger. Everything I knew told me this was the case - thoughts, feelings, emotions, instincts served as a guide. I don't want to say too much here, or nobody will read the book I’ve written about it! Suffice to say, the trauma wasn't dealt with. Over a two year period, my mental health declined. I was vulnerable and struggled alone as a young man to come to grips with what I'd experienced. Eventually I was straightjacketed and locked in a psychiatric facility. There's more to it than that of course, but the initial element was trauma. Ultimately, I came out of it with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Please tell us about your book, ‘Unravel: To Unwell and Back’, and the journey in writing it?
I wrote the book on a smartphone, while walking around the local park in the mornings before work. The purpose of writing was to unravel what had happened to me, to find a meaning for my experiences - particularly those around the time I was involuntarily locked in a hospital. A diagnosis of schizophrenia and psychiatric treatment were both never really very satisfying to me. I wanted to demonstrate that such experiences, whilst being very powerful, form only a very small part of who I am, especially when viewed in context with the entirety of what I've lived. Looking back over the past few years, the journey has largely been about self-empowerment. I'm fortunate that God has equipped me with the skills to be a storyteller. I’ve managed with the book to not just make sense of my experiences, but also gain a certain amount of understanding and control over a situation in life that I mightn’t otherwise have a great degree of control over.
What have been some of the personal highlights of your time, either writing the book or in life?
With regard to the book, I started with a limited edition 200-copy print run without ISBN and barcode. Several of these now ‘rare’ first copies were sent to various important individuals around the world - a little madness goes a long way! I sent books to some of the most influential, high profile people on the planet. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was one person who kindly acknowledged receipt of the book. He was pleased that I thought of him. I hope he’s not inundated with books by mad independent authors as a result of my saying this! Another reward has been connecting with my former geology teacher, Professor Ian Plimer. When I was a student, Ian made an impression upon me. He continues to impress and is a man whom I respect. He’s in the book and has read and endorsed it. Ian’s quote from the Vivid Publishing webpage for 'Unravel' is: “I taught Greg Ralls in the 1990s. His journey, this book, shows that mental illness can strike anywhere, anytime – and can be cured.” Ian’s been generous in replying to my emails, he's very supportive. I’m grateful for that.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’ve been engaging in public and corporate speaking with my business, Mental Health WA Pty Ltd. I presented at the 2013 World Hearing Voices Congress, in Melbourne. I also did talks for companies and organisations including oil and gas giant, Chevron, Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and the Richmond Fellowship of Western Australia. I did a presentation this year for the world's largest mining company, BHP Billiton. My aim is to continue with it. I'm therefore actively seeking new opportunities. I submitted an abstract for a conference that will be held in Australia later this year; if the abstract is accepted then I'll spend some time soon working on my first paper targeting mental health. I'm also writing two new books, in parallel.
Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use?
I’m reluctant to reveal too much as this will be covered in my second book, which I’m investing time and effort in. Right from the very beginning in October 2013, I’ve included in my public and corporate presentations ‘5 Keys to Recovery and Mental Wellbeing’. The five keys are simple, common sense factors which in combination have enabled me to cope and recover. Perhaps when the second book is published the five keys will enable others in need to recover. The second book is hopeful, optimistic. There’s nothing astoundingly new about the five keys themselves; it’s not rocket science. What is unique is my approach. To be fair and open, and in answer your question, I can give away two things: first, I read widely; and second, I listen to the people around me. That said, my wife might laugh at the latter half of that last statement. I’m fairly certain, in fact, she’d say I’d best qualify it with ‘sometimes’!
What does the future hold for you?
Well… I guess each of us likes to think we have a big future ahead of us. In reality, though, who knows? In a public sense, I've come from nowhere. I’m only just beginning in mental health. Along with unique and brilliant people like, say, Ron Coleman, Jacqui Dillon, Rufus May and Eleanor Longden, I've survived certain things in life that not everybody does. Each of the people whom I’ve just mentioned has been active in sending a message to the world and has gained recognition for it. I’ve recently become vocal about my experiences and am powerfully motivated to help others. I want to reach out to those whom I can to create change and positive mental health outcomes, so that’s what I’ll do. I'll also continue with what I enjoy outside mental health – my work as a consultant in the mining industry, being a dedicated family man and, hopefully with the little left of my time, find space to relax and enjoy life!
Favourite quote?
'I'm the lightning bolt in-between!'
- Singer, Bon Scott, when asked whether he's the AC or DC in 'AC/DC'.
(This response occurred to me a few days ago, while driving to work and listening to music. It’s not that it's a particularly brilliant quote; rather, it expresses street-smart defiance in the face of pointed questioning by an interviewer who clearly failed to respect the legendary singer's talent and tenacity. I identify a little with Scott’s attitude of defiance; also the strong work ethic that led to his great success in what I imagine is commonly a fickle world, in the field of rock ‘n’ roll stardom.)
Web link:
Those who have a professional interest in mental health are welcome to connect with Greg via LinkedIn.
April 2014

Karen Taylor & Ron Coleman,

Working to Recovery

Thank you for taking the time to complete the feature questions below.

(Karen Taylor)

Please, tell us about Working to Recovery and the work that you do? (How did it come about? Whose idea was it? When was it established? What different aspects are there to the company?)

We started Working to Recovery in 2002; we had just lost our previous business Keepwell. Previously we had written a workbook called working to recovery and we realised that this was exactly what we were both doing; financially, physically, emotionally & spiritually.

We have a publishing house called P&P press (P&P stands for psychotic and proud).

We also undertake consultancy, workshops, in house training, mentoring, and public speaking.

What has been some of the personal highlights of your time with Working to Recovery and the work that you do?

For me personally travelling to many parts of the world and having the honour to follow many people on their journey to recovery.

A bit about you; where were you born and raised? What education course did you follow & where did life take you after this?

I was born in Gloucester and spent most of my first 40 years living in Gloucestershire apart from 2 years spent in Stratford on Avon on a theatre studies course. Early on I wanted to be an actress but eventually went to nursing school and became a registered mental Nurse working for 16 years in the NHS as a nurse then manager. For the last 14 years I have worked with Ron, we have 7 children between us, pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, ducks, turkeys, geese and dogs and continue working to pay the food bills.

Would you like to share how you got involved in Mental Health?

I saw an advert in a job centre for student psychiatric nurses and applied, I didn’t really have a clue what it entailed, but loved working with people right from the beginning.

What projects are you currently working on?

We are working on opening a Recovery House in Australia, a narrative conference in York in July and many other pieces of training, writing and an e-learning initiative called ICRA. We have also set up Working to recovery Australasia.

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use?

Walking the dogs, swimming, cooking, singing and shouting when necessary.

What does the future hold for you, personally?

I want to do more singing and learn to write better and be able to take more time out.

And for Working to Recovery?

I would like to see our work spread further around the globe to places like China, more countries in Africa and South America. Many places have still not heard about the concepts of recovery or about the working with voices approaches. Also wish to develop the narrative approaches to understanding distress.

Favourite Quote?

“When the Grandmothers speak, the Earth will be healed

When the Grandmothers pray, Wisdom will be revealed

When the Grandmothers sing, the Earth will be made whole.”

- Circle of Grandmothers Newsletter

(Ron Coleman)

Please, tell us about Working to Recovery and the work that you do? (How did it come about? Whose idea was it? When was it established? What different aspects are there to the company?) 

Working to recovery was set up in after Karen and I decide to begin again when our old company Keepwell had to go into receivership after growing to quickly and over extending. We set up in 2002 and the name reflects two things one our belief in the process of recovery and secondly the need for us to recover.

Working to recovery provides training in recovery practice in mental health, we also publish books and make DVDs and we run a small recovery house on the Isle of Lewis. 

What has been some of the personal highlights of your time with Working to Recovery and the work that you do? 

I have had many highlights over the years but perhaps the main one recently was the three-month project in Italy where we ran a recovery house for ten people over a three-month period. Alongside this every time I meet someone who has reclaimed there life back is a highlight for me.  

A bit about you; where were you born and raised? What education course did you follow & where did life take you after this? 

Born in Dundee Scotland educated in Scotland studied business admin and accountancy. I Played Rugby enjoyed that but hated School love reading and writing and debating.  I asked my wife to tell me something about myself and she said Fat and Scottish but lovely really. 

Would you like to share how you got involved in Mental Health? 

I always say that I did not get involved with mental health but that it got involved with me and when I left mental health services I decided to stay working in mental health because I saw a system that was broken and I wanted to be part of the solution.

What projects are you currently working on? 

The main things I am working on at the moment are developing recovery houses, new training packages around implementing recovery practice and working with “BPD”.  I am also writing two new books one is called “We all flew out of the cuckoo’s nest” and the second is a fantasy book about Trolls on the Isle of Lewis.  

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use?  

I still make time for my voices and talk with them when things are stressful.

What does the future hold for you, personally?

I still feel passionate about developing recovery services and tools that work for people and personally I intend to do my PHD. 

And for Working to Recovery? 

I hope we will continue to provide high quality training and much more materials including on-line courses that are fully focussed on two areas these are recovery practice for workers and self-help.  

Favourite Quote?

“They said I was mad I said they were mad dam them they outnumbered me”

- Nathanial Lee

Web link:

Social Media links

Facebook: Working to Mental Health Recovery

March 2014

Gunter Goergen

Thank you for taking the time to answer the feature questions below.

Please, tell us about yourself?

I was born in Namibia, South West Africa. Without writing a book, my mother found a true gentleman after breaking free from a horrendous entrapment with a madman, that despite he being a madman, I’d never have been born, both my mother and I share the split view on that subject, though he was short lived after meeting my mother's new gentleman. Thanks to  the wonders of knowledge her gentleman, my step dad, had in the engineering realm of life, he landed a job with one of the first computer companies globally, my mother, he and I ended up living in Ireland for some months, Indonesia for a year, then Sydney Australia for a year, then Brisbane Australia for six years. The education I had amounted at the age of 13, being back in England, had covered schooling in Africa, England, Ireland, Indonesia, and Australia. Language was easy, though simple differences of sounds. Objects held more fascination with me than communication. I wasn't really a talkative child for many years, also due to being a single child with no brothers or sisters. My parents seemed through most of my life till 13, to create an environment around me of peace and freedom at every turn. My step dad was a workaholic, unfortunately I never had as much time with him as I me wanted, though years later I’ve realised that he cared for my mother and I so much that the business he established with my mother, that was worth after 4 years a total if sold, of 1 million Australian dollars, in 1990. It all went wrong somehow, and after a year of private high schooling, we had to move back to England and Portsmouth was where they choose due to warmer weather. Here, I were placed into a public school, were due to the level of education being oddly beneath me, my focus was simply on getting enough grades to please my parents. Then college came... studying part time course of photography, full time... politics, German, and economics. I were 17 at that point of after one year of college and not only had I become so bored of new people and education that I cared none for, led me into an inspiring colourful joyfully world of psychedelic drugs that helped me break free from the tormenting memories of a unwanted serial advance from a male when I were five years old, who was the same age as me. It became that regular to me that it was every weekend non-stop for about 3 months. I dealt drugs, used drugs, and loved the imagination that it opened up in me that I had once as a child. A meeting was called with me, the principal, the politics teacher, the economics teacher and the home room teacher. They asked me to leave college which I did considering I had a part time job as a waiter which turned into a full time job of 56 hours a week. My parents soon after, wanted to move to Spain, so I was left to decide to go with them or stay. I could not afford to stay so I left with them, though I only stayed for about six months due to my step father asking me to leave when I turned 18. I returned to Portsmouth, found a room in a house and claimed benefit, while engrossed in protesting and drugs, both of which helped keep my mind focused and off all the sadness of losing friends in the other countries and the torment in my life. Soon after, when I was 19, I began to break down. I left the relationship I were in, and walked off out of Portsmouth with only my clothes, and months later, unable to carry on, I found myself in Airedale general hospital being told that they were putting me on watch for six weeks as a detox. The six weeks over, they escorted me to the train station and sent me back to Portsmouth, when I arrived; I walked all the way back. They put me in a hospital near Airedale which was full of heroin addicts. I asked someone if they could help me find somewhere else to stay, though that person took me to their home, spiked me with herein in a roll up, then took advantage of me securely, then left me on the floor naked till the morning. He gave me some clothes, some money, a bag to put the clothes into and after I got dressed in my clothes again, I walked off from his being nice so that I did not attack him otherwise I would have killed him and probably have ended up in jail for murder even though he were the one that attacked me. So I left with a smile, got back to the hostel, phoned telephone enquiries to find my grandmothers number, not knowing where my parents were. I found my grandmothers number, phoned her, she gave me my mother's number and I called my mother explaining everything. She called her brother, and next I was told to get a bus to Worthing. I stayed with my uncle for about a month, and left to come back to Portsmouth, due to difficulties in a job in Worthing. I went to a hostel, we're given a room, and after about a month, I tried to throw myself off a large building, I shocked myself not knowing why I were trying to commit suicide, so I walked to the psychiatric hospital in Portsmouth and broke down in front of them and even cried. They kept me in the hospital for a few weeks then I phoned my mother again. I told her what was happening and she told me they were in France. I went to London, got another passport, and vanished from the hospital one morning close after, got on a ferry to France and spat at England off the ferry. My parents were selling and buying from a mobile home across France Germany and Spain. I found a job in Spain after the medication had worn off a few months later from the hospital that my parents saw me dribbling tired and a wreak from that they understood why I wanted to get away from everything on England. I stayed in Spain as a waiter for 2 and a half years, then started breaking down again due to being accused of a rape which left me getting up packing and moving in anger back to Portsmouth, the vibes at work were angering me so much due to being accused of something I never did nor ever would do due to knowing how I were conceived… I were very upset and wanted to hurt the person that accused me that to keep myself calm, I felt I had no choice than to move back to England so I spoke to my mother who spoke to another one of her brothers in Liverpool which I stayed with for a few months. My mum warned me about her brother, and he even did turn his back on me after some months, stole some of my money and threw me out of his house. So yet again, I came back to Portsmouth, found a place in a hostel that just have talked to doctors about me or they found my name pop-up on machines, I were taken to the psychiatric hospital again, and after six months, I were given a large flat. I then began my drawings and designs that I created when I worked in Spain. It took a long time to open up to the doctors as I conditioned myself to not trust anyone and to gain from the doctors more benefit and comfort to deal with everything from the past, I was now 22 years old.

Do you have any coping strategies that you use?

I have learnt that keeping the part of my brain responsible for allowing the imagination to work, has been the most persistent and continuous method enabling my recovery over 16 years, whether using drugs to counter effect wrong medications, or alcohol to elevate stress, or drawing and creating pieces of art, all of which helped me greatly to focus with joy and keeping me in a happy mood. The persistent evasive and invasive methods the mental health team use and have used, only opens old scars which created in me, emotional upsets and fits of anger both constantly leading to being held as a captive, in the psychiatric hospital. It was only a few years ago now, that they finally contacted my mother, who was able to verify that yes I were conceived from a gang rape, which only opened old scars for her, though the doctors finally knowing that everything I had said over 15 or so years was true, that they started to treat me with dignity and respect and started giving me a different course of medications and now I finally have medications that work and I’m happy to take. I’ve always been artistic since my grandad gave me a camera at the age of three, and I have constantly battled the stigma that art is not a male or straight thing to do. Drawing a heart to give to a girl... is simply natural to me.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently creating multi levelled board games that are educational and hopefully will be playable for young people. I am also creating sketch works that are letters in a word, shown as pictures that fit what the word is. I also from time to time create illustrations of female clothing that do not provoke the states of mind of males that lead to being followed or harassed or such, that are still seductive, though not, sleazy. While also talking to doctors about how to restructure the mental health service, to help other patients, though not solely with art, though with aromatherapy, acupuncture, sounds, such like to re spark a patients imagination and happiness so they don't fall into a downward spiral from constantly being reminded of the past and help them focus of a future that would include prosperity.

The future…

I am uncertain about the future, though I am getting close to a full recovery, therefore I am looking to possibly moving to Amsterdam to pursue work as an artist or fashion illustrator, or game created. It would be easier there than here, though I am still trying to find suitable work here as well in the UK.

Favourite quote?

“…As the world grows smaller, our dreams get closer…”

- my own quote

February 2014

Nick Putman, Open Dialogue

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

Please, tell us about Open Dialogue?

Sure. Open Dialogue is both a philosophical/theoretical approach to people experiencing a mental health crisis and their families/networks, and a system of care, developed in Western Lapland in Finland over the last 25-30 years. In the 1980s psychiatric services in Western Lapland were in a poor state, in fact they had one of the worst incidences of ‘schizophrenia’. Now they have the best documented outcomes in the Western World. For example, around 75% of those experiencing psychosis have returned to work or study within 2 years and only around 20% are still taking antipsychotic medication at 2 year follow-up.

Remarkably, Open Dialogue is not an alternative to standard psychiatric services; it is the psychiatric service in Western Lapland. This has afforded a unique opportunity to develop a comprehensive approach with well-integrated inpatient and outpatient services. Working with families and social networks, as much as possible in their own homes, Open Dialogue teams help those involved in a crisis situation to be together and to engage in dialogue. It has been their experience that if the family/team can bear the extreme emotion in a crisis situation, and tolerate the uncertainty, in time shared meaning usually emerges and healing is possible.

There are a number of principles in the approach, including the provision of immediate help, involving as many significant others as possible in the network meetings, keeping the same team working with the family throughout the ‘treatment’ process, and only using medication if really necessary. Collectively these principles, used as part of a dialogical approach, have made a dramatic difference to the effectiveness of their work.

And about your journey of bringing it to the UK?

I think my journey to Open Dialogue started over 20 years ago, but I can see that your next question is about my background, so I’ll skip most of those 20 years, to my first visit to Lapland, a couple of years ago. I’d read a good deal about the approach over the previous years and, as well as being struck by the impressive outcomes they were reporting, I was also intrigued by the dialogical nature of their work, their openness to hearing the voices of all those involved in a crisis situation, including the person(s) at the centre of concern, however unusual their manner of communication. They were also clearly stating that there is meaning in psychosis, that it is rooted in lived experience, experience which the family as a whole (in most cases) have lived through together.

On that first visit I was fortunate to spend an extended period of time with the Open Dialogue teams, travelling with them to meet families in their own homes and in outpatient services. I was struck by the quality of their presence in meetings, in the ordinariness of their style (ordinariness being one of my favourite words), and the good feeling amongst those working in the teams. Clearly here were people enjoying their work together. Having said this, one of the psychologists said to me one day “You know Nick, it’s not heaven here”, and of course the work can be tough, and their service is under pressure like any other. Nevertheless there was a spirit and quality to the work that I have rarely seen in other settings. I have since been back a couple more times, and each time I feel more at home. In a way most of my fairly long-standing interests come together in the Open Dialogue approach, i.e. working in a dialogical/philosophical way, with people experiencing psychosis, with less reliance on medication, and more emphasis on community.

In addition to this I have been undertaking the 2 year training in Open Dialogue and Dialogical Practices in the US, run by Mary Olson, Jaakko Seikkula and others. I have also started to run day-long seminars around the UK on the approach, and have been delighted, but perhaps not surprised, by the enthusiastic reception to the approach. There seems to be an increasing frustration in many people working in psychiatric services, and in a good number of those using services and their carers, a feeling that the current system isn’t working, or at least, could be significantly improved, and the outcomes from Open Dialogue research only confirms this viewpoint.

And about yourself? What is your background? What education route did you follow?

I took a fairly traditional route, studying psychology at University, but found much of the content of 'Abnormal' Psychology classes rather uninspiring, dopamine theories of 'schizophrenia' and the like. Fortunately a friend introduced me to the works of R.D. Laing, and on reading books such as 'The Divided Self' and 'Sanity, Madness and the Family’; the seeds were sown for much of what was to come. But it took a while for me to get there. In the meantime I had embarked on Clinical Psychology training, a training that I was unable to complete, because of a fundamental divergence in views. Essentially I was being taught that I could only speak if what I was saying was grounded in theory based on scientific research. I thought that the profession was making all sorts of claims for itself that I couldn't subscribe to, and there was a distinct lack of creativity in the work.

I had to cast off for a while, to take stock, and it was at this time that I remembered about my studies of Laing, and the work of the Philadelphia Association in London, the organisation that Laing set up in 1965 with others. The Philadelphia Association continue to run a psychotherapy training programme, which distinguishes itself from others due to its emphasis on philosophy and community, as well as psychotherapy. Essentially, the aim is to not exclude any teaching or experience that pertains to the human condition and to human suffering, whatever tradition this teaching/experience comes from. Trainees are invited to find their own way in a 'training' (more like an apprenticeship) that takes as long as it takes. For me the process took around six years, four of which were spent living in therapeutic communities. My aim was to immerse myself as much as possible in the experience of being with people in states of distress, including my own distress, for us to find our way together. For me, this was in the spirit of Laing's original project at Kingsley Hall, a community in the east end of London, taken over by Laing and others in 1965 so that psychiatrists and so-called ‘schizophrenics’ could live together, free from labels, and take their chances with each other. Kingsley Hall was far from perfect, but it was an important beginning.

How did you get involved in Mental Health?

There are a number of ways I could answer this question. Perhaps the simplest answer is to say that I was born! In other words, there's no escaping the question of mental health - it's something we all have to work at. Other than this, I would say that, not dissimilar to many people I've met along the way; there were complicated motives in my choosing to study Psychology, and to pursue a career in the mental health field. I had my own issues to work through, and it became clear to me that my interest in psychological theory and practice had as much to do with this, as it did to do with a more general interest in the human mind and spirit, or to wanting to pursue a career.

Gradually I have pursued those theories and practices that resonate most strongly with my lived experience and with the experience of those who I have come to meet. I spent some time a while back exploring the biographies of people who had developed significant theories on mental health, Laing included, and almost without exception their theories seemed to me to reflect their own personal experiences in childhood and beyond to a significant degree. Perhaps this is no surprise. Particular experience leads to particular insight. What we need to be careful of is that we use these insights as windows onto the world, as ways of seeing, rather than as the ‘truth’, for to speak of general truths is to my mind to do violence to the other.

What has been some of your biggest accomplishments or personal highlights of your journey?

I think/hope that the biggest accomplishments are yet to come. Up to now, it’s hard to say, as I think all of my experience has contributed in some way to who I am now, and comparing experience doesn’t make much sense to me. The six years I spent on the Philadelphia Association psychotherapy training, including the 4 years living in therapeutic communities, was certainly an intense period in my life, as well as a rich learning experience. More generally I would say that my biggest accomplishment has been to stay true to what I believe in (which evolves over time of course). Forging one’s own path, whether that be through individual or collaborative ventures, can be (very) hard work – I certainly haven’t chosen the easy option, and most of the time I can take pleasure in the effort I have put into this.

What has been some of the hardest parts of your journey and how did you overcome this?

You certainly pick challenging questions! As I’ve already mentioned, the period of my psychotherapy training and my experiences living in therapeutic communities were particularly challenging, both because of the demands of the work, but also because of my growing pains! I must have had a sense that I would get through, and I think it was this that helped me at the toughest times. I think I am a hopeful creature on the whole. Remembering to breathe, and to be mindful of my breathing, is always important.

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use in life or on a daily basis?

It doesn't quite feel like a coping strategy, but I have a fairly long-standing meditation practice, which has no doubt made a big difference to the way I perceive my ‘self’ and the world around me. Other than this I generally look to find meaning in life, which seems to me to have a lot to do with what we mean to each other.

What does the future hold for Open Dialogue UK?

In the immediate future we are running three weekend seminars in London, starting on March 15th-16th. We are very fortunate to have Jaakko Seikkula, Markku Sutela and Mia Kurtti visiting from Finland. Jaakko is probably the person most closely associated with Open Dialogue around the world, because he was one of the founders of the approach, but also because he has published a good deal of research which demonstrates its effectiveness. Markku Sutela has also been around since the early days of Open Dialogue. He is the Chief Psychologist in the service in Lapland, having worked there for around 30 years. Finally Mia Kurtti is a Family Therapist, who has already visited the UK to run a couple of seminars with me, and her natural style and good sense was very well received.

I have been encouraged by the number of teams who have booked onto these weekend seminars from the NHS, as the long-term aim is for this approach to become more established in statutory services. There has also been a good deal of interest from service users and carers, as I think they see something in the approach that makes a lot of sense to them. The approach also seems to appeal to psychotherapists, counsellors, and of course family therapists, and so there will be a good mix of people at the seminars. Places are still available and can be booked via our website: There are very significant reductions for people in receipt of benefits and full-time students, so we hope that everyone who wants to come will be able to. We hope that these seminars will generate a lot of good dialogue, and be a further stepping stone towards the introduction of Open Dialogue in the UK.

Beyond this there a bigger plans in the works, full details of which will be available on our website once they are clearer.

And what does the future hold for you, personally?

It looks like it holds a lot of work! I will continue to do what I can to introduce the Open Dialogue approach to the UK, as well as promoting other progressive approaches to ‘psychosis’ and mental distress, such as the Soteria model and the work of the Hearing Voices Network. In addition to this I will continue to develop my work as a psychotherapist. Perhaps there will even be time for things that aren’t related to ‘mental health’ (he says hopefully).

Favourite Quote?

Mmmh, I have picked up a few quotes along the way. Not sure that I have a favourite one, but given his recent passing, I will chose the following quote from Nelson Mandela, which has meant a good deal to me. I am not a religious man, so the word ‘God’ does not resonate – I substitute the word ‘love’ instead:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Web links

Open Dialogue website:

Social Media Links

Open Dialogue UK Facebook page: @opendialogueuk (

January 2014

Clare Shaw

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here! 

Please, tell us about yourself, where were you born and raised? What was life like growing up in childhood?

I was born in Burnley, the youngest of six in a single parent Catholic family. Like most people, my childhood was a mixture of good and bad. Some parts – roaming around the park, playing on the back street, visiting my grandparents, reading, reading, and reading – were lovely. Other bits – chaos, poverty, always being short of money and more importantly, attention - they were not so good. Some dreadful stuff – abuse, violence - happened in my childhood which still has a lasting impact on me. My childhood was kind of confusing.

What is the earliest childhood memory you can remember?

I was riding my trike in the backyard; my mother was hanging out washing. I decided my bike needed petrol. I told my mother I was going to the garage and she agreed. Off I went in my pyjamas – onto the dual carriageway that ran near our house. I think I was around 2. I was rescued by a rush hour driver.

What education course did you follow or where did life take you after this?

I did exceedingly well in my studies. I was always a keen learner and reader and as life got harder, I focussed more and more on my academic work as a way of filling my mind. I got great A-level results and went to Liverpool to study politics. As my mental health began to deteriorate in earnest; I worked harder and harder. By my third year, I was expecting a first. Instead, I was admitted onto a psychiatric ward.

Would you like to share how you got involved in Mental Health?

After years of struggling on my own with depression, anxiety, self-harm and an eating disorder, I spoke to a friend. He got me to speak to his friend … and so on. I ended up with an appointment to see the university psychiatrist who proclaimed that I had “Third Year Nerves”. Shortly after that I took a big overdose and was admitted on to the psychiatric ward. It was the first in a long string of admissions extending over the following six years. After passing through several diagnoses I was eventually informed that I had “Borderline Personality Disorder”; a diagnosis which I can honestly say has never done the slightest bit of good for me.

What is your consultancy all about?

I spent six years in and out of hospitals; and several more years in contact with other services. I encountered some great practice – staff who worked with compassion, openness and humanity.

But more commonly I came up against hostility, coldness and a complete failure to understand or engage meaningfully with self-harm – which sometimes led to appalling abuses of human rights. I realised that my experiences weren’t unusual. What could I do? I could either accept the appalling treatment on offer. Or I could something about it. I did something about it. I got heavily involved in the survivor movement; and I set up a support group for women who self-harm. I developed a deep interest in mental health, and a profound commitment to challenging the sort of treatment that I experienced, and which many people still experience today. I went back to education and completed a Master’s. Through that route I moved into lecturing and teaching; and eventually set up my own company. These days I work on a freelance basis as a trainer and consultant, supporting services that support people who self-harm. I’m still fuelled by the same mixture of anger, enthusiasm and hope.

What has been some of the personal highlights of your time as a consultant?

Evidence of change. Often it’s about the immediate feedback that I get from staff. Few people work in this area in order to do harm. Mostly I hear about staff who has been dropped into areas of work that scare and confuse them, without adequate information or support. No wonder they struggle. I can offer that information; and see how attitudes are transformed immediately. It’s like watching a light come on. That’s wonderful. Other highlights - moments of deep connection with other people who share my values. Meeting David Webb and reading his wonderful work on suicide and spirituality. Working with a group of amazing survivors in Liverpool; using creative writing to tell their stories to each other and to a public audience. Reading poetry to the staff and patients of Rampton. Increasingly believing in myself and my ability to make a difference.

What projects are you currently working on?

Projects for 2014 include: working with Together on a research project focussing on Peer Support in Medium Secure Units. Until 2015 I’ll be working with Sam Warner to deliver advanced self-harm training to NHS staff throughout Lancashire; and from February I’ll be delivering a series of workshops to staff and students in the University of Central Lancashire, focussing on the overlap between creative expression and mental health.

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use?

Having spent many years hurting myself in order to get by, I no longer need to self-harm in the same ways. I still struggle – who doesn’t? If I really, really want to self-harm, I allow myself to consider it as an option; and to think realistically through the outcomes and consequences. On the whole, other coping strategies work better for me. Sometimes I turn to work as a way of distracting myself; or more usefully, as a means of recreating a sense of order and control in my life. When times are hard I’m much more likely to speak to friends and to call out for help and comfort. I see a therapist. I write poetry. I go to the gym and I climb; both ways of experiencing my body as something positive, elevating my mood and filling my mind. I watch crap telly and read thrillers. I do whatever works.

What does the future hold for you?

I imagine it’ll be a mixture of good stuff and challenges. Many amazing things have happened in my life – my daughter, living somewhere I love, doing work I love, surrounded by the friendship and love of good people. I know that plenty more good stuff lies ahead. More exciting, creative, challenging work. More rock climbing and walking in beautiful places. I know that difficult stuff will continue to happen; and I know from past experience that somehow, I’ll get through it.

Favourite Quotes?

From two poems:

“look to the living, love them

And hold on”

- Douglas Dunn

Instructions for living a life.

“Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.”

- Mary Oliver

Website -

Facebook - @clareshawconsultancy (

December 2013

Declan McGill, Mental Fight Club & Dragon Cafe

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

Please, tell us about yourself?

I’m a Londoner born and bred and proudly so. An amazing and stimulating city that is always full of surprises. I love exploring the South Bank of the Thames and the many lovely parks but often also can be found indoors, in a darkened room, savouring cinema!

What education course did you follow or where did life take you after this?

I went to university in another great city – Manchester – to study History, and as a tutor told us “you only chose this subject because you like hearing stories!” I’m sure he was half right as I believe we can learn much from the experiences of those who lived before us, and as has been said truth is very often stranger than fiction. I’ve done a fair bit of travelling including six months in South America, which I loved - so vibrant, varied and welcoming.

Would you like to share how you got involved in Mental Health?

I had been working in events, with a particular interest in films, when my good friend from school (and now also my colleague at Mental Fight Club) invited me along to an evening that he promised would be well worth the trip. Seth was reading some poetry as part of an impressively slick and fascinatingly varied programme that was an exploration of the mind and experiences of mental illness, recovery and wellbeing. It was through my good friend’s experiences of being Bipolar, and supporting him with this, that I was introduced to the world of ‘Mental Health’, but in reality I feel we all have some experience of it either personally or via friends or family.

Following on from this event in 2003, I offered to volunteer for Mental Fight Club (MFC) and have been involved ever since.

What is Mental Fight Club & the Dragon Café all about?

Mental Fight Club seeks to explore the creativity that can be found in the experience of mental illness and recovery in an effort to connect more with one self and others. We have been an events based organisation since inception in 2003, popping up in various venues in the London borough of Southwark, and so The Dragon Café is the first time that MFC has manifested in a regular form and location.

The Dragon Café is a safe yet stimulating space with art on the walls, freshly prepared food from the kitchen and a wide range of creative groups (all FREE and open to all) happening throughout the day. Daytime groups have included writing, art, Tai Chi, boxing, Mindfulness, gardening, dancing, singing, drama, film making, drumming, and we are very open to collaborations. The evenings can take many shapes including performance, presentation, and discussion or dancing!

Check out a short film on The Dragon Café:

A brilliant way to get a feel for the huge variety we have held in the Café over the last year is through our weekly podcast, Dragon Radio. On the website you can listen to the entire archive and also listen to our discussion series We Need to Talk About…

What has been some of the personal highlights of your time with Mental Fight Club & Dragon Café?

In 2007 I coordinated a two week series of workshops MFC held with Tate Britain and I really enjoyed our connection with a major Art Institution. I am Communications Manager for MFC but the Management Team is also encouraged to contribute creatively to the programme. In March this year I curated a Film Month at the Café. I was in my element during this month as I believe film is a fantastically powerful medium to explore the many varied and complicated experiences of life. Really this whole last year has been a highlight as we were starting something new and fresh and the response has been incredibly positive. We have had around 200 people visiting the Café each week and with an open door rather than a focus on diagnosis or referral for access, it has been a brilliantly fresh experience for all.

What projects are you currently working on?

We recently received confirmation of further funding from The Maudsley Charity and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. Hurrah! So currently we are in a development period to take everything that we have learnt from our initial one year project, and strengthen the model for Dragon Café 2 - which will open in February 2014. This is keeping us very busy but we are also welcoming approaches for collaboration in 2014.

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use?

I often feel that fresh air can be incredibly healing and so I gain great comfort from walking in the lovely parks of London, or if I’m lucky getting out of the city and heading to the coast. Sea breeze is revitalising, I find.

What does the future hold for you?

We have an exciting time ahead with Dragon Café 2 and so I am very much looking forward to this and hope to see you there too! You can find us at The Crypt of St George the Martyr Church, Borough High St, SE1 1JA.

Favourite Quote?

The great visionary artist and poet William Blake is a creative muse for Mental Fight Club (mental fight being a phrase from ‘Jerusalem’) and so I think one of his would be appropriate.

‘…To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour...’

Check our website for exact details of opening date in February 2013.

TheDragonCafe on Facebook (

@thedragoncafe on Twitter (

November 2013


Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

Please, tell us about yourself, where were you born and raised? What was life like growing up in childhood? Your family?

I was born in Laois, in the Irish midlands, and stayed there until I was 18, when I moved to Dublin to go to university. I have a younger brother who is now a musician. I remember a lot of time outside when we were younger, being active, and we always had books and music in the house. We had a very happy childhood and we remain a very close family – we’re very lucky.

What is the earliest childhood memory you can remember?

I remember being in hospital after being diagnosed with type 1diabetes, aged three and a half. My parents took turns sleeping on a mattress beside my bed for the weeks I had to stay there, and bought me my first bike, which was blue with stabilisers. I learned to cycle in the grounds of Portlaoise Hospital. At the time I had no idea how hard it was for my parents, and how brave they had to be.

What education course did you follow or where did life take you after this?

I studied pharmacology at University College Dublin, and after that I went to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland to do a PhD in cancer research, which is where I am now. I absolutely love science, but I’ve always had a more creative “right-brain” side to me too, and I’m never really happy unless I can use both. I write a lot, and I directed my first play, Scabs, last summer. One of my proudest achievements is getting involved in HeadSpace and helping to bring it to life.

What is HeadSpace all about?

HeadSpace is a writing and art magazine based on mental health. Mental Health is something many of us still find very hard to discuss, and one of the chief motivations behind HeadSpace was that through creative writing and art we can often express thoughts and experiences we can’t communicate directly.

In the last decade, awareness of mental health issues has greatly improved in Ireland, but this has not been matched by improvements in understanding what it is that people who suffer mental health issues go through. There was also no platform for people who had suffered mental health problems to communicate their experience. We set up HeadSpace to address these issues.

Finally, as any patient (of physical or mental health care services) knows, hospitals and waiting rooms can be extremely stressful environments. Reading material could help people to mentally escape from that stress and also, reading stories and seeing art made by people who have gone through what they are now experiencing could help them to realise that they are not alone, and we hope people can draw some feeling of support and comfort from that.

Would you like to share how you got involved with HeadSpace?

Unlikely as it seems, through Facebook. In early 2013 I had decided to try and publish some of my writing and I had a short story, Insomnia, about schizophrenia, which I thought would suit a new magazine I’d read about on Facebook. The magazine was HeadSpace, a creative magazine based around mental health which was going to be distributed for free in psychiatric wards. I thought that getting published in HeadSpace would be exciting as it gave people the chance to use their creative talents for a very important cause. After I’d submitted the story I found the project had really caught my imagination and followed it on Facebook to keep up to date. The people involved at that stage were hoping to use the all-or-nothing crowdsourcing website FundIt to pay for the first issue of the magazine. Unfortunately the FundIt campaign failed, and all I could think was that this project was too important not to go ahead. I didn’t know what I could do for it, but I was determined not to let it fail. I sent a Facebook message saying as much to the founders and a few weeks later found myself accepting a role as Deputy Editor. When Orla Price, HeadSpace’s founder and first editor, moved to London I became Editor.

What has been some of the personal highlights of your time with HeadSpace?

I’ll never forget opening the box from the printers a few minutes before the launch of our first issue was due to kick off and holding a physical copy of the magazine in my hand. It was in that moment that it really hit me that we really had done it. HeadSpace wasn’t an idea anymore; it was a real thing that we had given life to. I felt like I was floating for weeks after that.

We still get feedback and thank you messages to our Facebook and e-mail accounts which, clichéd as it sounds; truly do make it all worthwhile. Last month someone left on our Facebook page “You are making this magazine with a voice that will yet save many a life.”

What projects are you currently working on with HeadSpace?

We’re currently working on Issue 2, which will be launched in mid-January 2014. We’ve had hundreds of submissions in already but are keen to get as many as we can so we’re busy getting the call for submissions out to as many places as we can. Submissions close on the 30th November and submissions should be sent to We’re also promoting the magazine and organising places to distribute it to, and organising the launch. With the help of Rehab Ireland’s Visual Arts Fund grant, we plan to get HeadSpace into hospitals and mental health support services across Ireland. We’re also helping out with a very exciting high school art project which will educate teenagers on mental health – keep an eye on our website for more details on that soon. We have also made an e-version of issue 1 available for free on our website

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use?

Music really speaks to me and gets me through a lot of difficult times. With illness and depression, I find that fatigue is the hardest thing to deal with so I try to get as much rest as I can, and swim to make sure I’m exhausted enough to get to sleep.

What does the future hold for you?

Time will tell…

Favourite Quote?

“…I often wonder how those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to cope with the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation…”

– Graham Greene

September 2013

Berni and Gavin Bushe, Tallaght Trialogue

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

Interview with Berni Bushe

Please, tell us about yourself, where were you born and raised? What did your family do for a living? Did you have any siblings? What was life like growing up in childhood?

Dublin is my home; I was born and raised here and couldn't imagine living anywhere else. My dad worked on the docks and my mum stayed home looking after us. I’m second youngest in the family, with two older brothers and three sisters. Life was simple: we played outdoors! Skipping, running, hopscotch and swinging on the lamp post were all much-loved pastimes. We were seldom indoors! No traffic problems in my day, as few neighbours had cars – we either walked or travelled by bus. Saturdays were usually spent in the library; I liked reading and spent many happy hours there.

What is the earliest childhood memory you can remember? (Optional to answer)

My earliest childhood memory is of my mother taking away my soother, telling me I was a “big girl,” and didn’t need it anymore.

What education course did you follow? Where did life take you after this?

I reached Junior Certificate level (the equivalent of O-Levels) and left school at sixteen. My first job was as a care assistant in St James’ Hospital, working with the elderly. After that I worked in Jacobs biscuit factory in the assorted packing department. I married my husband Graham aged eighteen, and stayed home when our four children were small. I returned to part-time work when the children started school. I took on a wide variety of jobs, such as a cleaning role in Bewley’s Cafe Grafton Street, and a care assistant post in a convent for the Little Sister of the Poor in Kilmainham. My last job was in a CD manufacturing plant.

Would you like to share how you got involved in Mental Health?

I was asked by our local mental health services to participate in Dublin City University’s Co-Operative Leadership Course in Mental Health.

We took part as a team: service user, carer, and service provider. The aim of the course is to improve our existing mental health services. I remember my first day wondering what I had let myself in for, as it had been over 30 years since I was last inside a classroom! The course was interesting and educational – I met some wonderful people there, and have stayed in contact with a few. This course ignited my interest in mental health, and by the end of the year I realised that psychiatry is not the caring and compassionate profession it claims to be. I was shocked and amazed to hear service users speak openly, honestly and constructively about our mental health system, and realised I had isolated myself in a bubble of fear by believing the fabrications fed to me by psychiatry! It was a wonderfully liberating moment when I realised I had been fearful of the wrong people for all these years.

Tell us about Tallaght Trialogue?

Trialogue was founded in Ireland in 2010 by Dr Liam MacGabhann, Paddy McGowan, Jim Walsh, Orla O’Reilly and Lorna Nicheirin from Dublin City University, with funding from Genio.

Six places in Ireland were chosen: Mayo, Galway, West Cork, Midlands, Dublin South Central and Dublin South West (Tallaght)! Dr MacGabhann, Mr McGowan and Ms Nicheirin initially attended our monthly meetings, but after six months we were on our own! Thankfully, we have survived and flourished since. While it is hard to get service providers to attend, we endeavour to continue trying!

Trialogue is a productive exchange of ideas between three groups with different origins, philosophies, and principles. We talk about topical and relevant issues in the field of mental health e.g. recovery; the importance of hope, stigma and community responsibility; and the role of medication. Trialogue participants include people who have mental health difficulties, their family, their friends, their neighbours, people who work or volunteer in the mental health field, and everyone who cares about positive mental health in their community.

What has been some of the personal highlights of your time with Tallaght Trialogue?

First and foremost, repairing my relationship with my son <3

Hosting a safe and neutral space for frank, thoughtful, multi-faceted discussions on mental health.

What projects are you currently working on with Tallaght Trialogue?

The establishment of a social media strategy. We have set up Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest pages to raise awareness of the issues, and encourage more people to attend.

We are involved in the process of setting up the first community-based hearing voices group in Dublin at Hill Street family Resource Centre.

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use?

Keep an open mind and try look for the positives in every situation.

What does the future hold for you?

I hope to remain involved with Tallaght Trialogue and Hearing Voices Dublin.

Favourite Quote?

“Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.”

- Alice Paul

"If meds were all it took to recover from mental illness, everyone would be recovered by now."

- Corinna West

Interview with Gavin Bushe

Please, tell us about yourself, where were you born and raised? What did your family do for a living? Did you have any siblings? What was life like growing up in childhood?

My name is Gavin Bushe. I was born in the Rotunda Hospital in North Dublin in 1979, and I was raised in an inner-suburb of South Dublin called Inchicore. My father is a lorry driver and my mother worked as a charge-hand in a cd-manufacturing plant when I was in my teenage years. I have three sisters, all of whom are younger than me. Life growing up in Inchicore was wonderful. I had many friends and I spent my youth wandering through the lanes, fields and factory sites looking for adventure, and often finding it. My favourite pastime was playing football in the streets with my friends and on many occasions with my sister Colleen (who later played for the Irish ladies soccer team!). Life in Inchicore involved long Summer times playing with the other kids on the street, climbing trees in the park, making tents and hideouts, and generally exploring the district along the canal. It was the very best of times. I moved to a suburb called Firhouse when I was twelve and began a new life in a new area. I found better times in solitude pursuing intellectual development in light of my newfound situation of isolation and I delighted in reading fantasy books and getting to know a rich inner life through role-playing games with some very geeky new friends. All of them were beyond beautiful in their diversity and genius. However I was bullied a lot at school.

What is the earliest childhood memory you can remember? (Optional to answer)

My earliest childhood memory involves looking at a swirling washing machine while my mother hung out clothes on the backyard line. I remember coming into consciousness and wondering who I was, why I was looking at the washing machine swirling, and why had my mother gone out to the washing line. I concluded that she was a silly woman but that she would be back soon and so I laughed. My mum came in after dropping the washing basket at the doorstep. I was very happy.

What education course did you follow? Where did life take you after this?

I attended three secondary schools, each one a great blessing and benefit to me in getting a broad education. The first was St. James’ Christian Brothers School in Basin Lane, a rough working class school. I excelled at computing and all of my subjects and achieved three major awards. I passed my Junior Certificate with 8 honours and a compromising A pass in woodwork. I thought the Christian Brothers were very noble people who taught with outstanding determination and patience. Later I moved to a secular community school with a startling realisation of a huge female student contingent. This was my introduction to the late 20th century “gender quake”. I somehow managed two awards in my first year of school at Firhouse Community College but my success dipped in the important fifth year, which is the start of the Leaving Certificate. This was due to bullying. I decided to leave the school and attend a famous private school, a Jesuit College in North Dublin the following year. I remember looking in awe at what was available to people in this school, Belvedere College. I very quickly realised that I had made a mistake in trying to complete effectively two year’s study in one year and I resigned from the school without the proper grade.

After a brief spell in psychiatric hospital, I attended FÁS the Irish Labour Schooling Authority to learn computer applications programming. I learned COBOL, BASIC, C, and Visual Basic and passed my exams with some very interesting and very capable classmates. Later I worked in industry since the medication I was given did not allow me to stay awake long enough to do my computing work. My favourite job was in a warehouse in Dublin were I combined expertise in warehousing with reading books such as “Leviathan” by Thomas Hobbes, and “Capital” by Karl Marx.

I saved my money and returned to full-time education in 2003 to take a National Foundation Course at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. I studied under some wonderful teachers, especially a communications teacher who is an artist herself and she introduced me to the art of the Dadaists. I am very indebted to her for her brilliant insight into human behaviour. Without the help of my teachers I could not have passed my exams as well as I did. They deserve the credit for inspiring me to move onto my next educational episode at Trinity College Dublin where I had the pleasure of studying Economic and Social Studies. My insight into life was continuously developing.

After a brief year of voluntary work with a charitable body I followed a path which led me to attend University College Dublin as a student librarian. I also attended a course in mental health leadership at Dublin City University. Upon graduation I moved to the United Kingdom where I reside with my wife.

Would you like to share how you got involved in Mental Health?

I became involved in mental health when, as a teenager, I was bullied in school and referred to psychiatric services. I was given several diagnoses and a book called, “Life and How to Survive it” by John Cleese and John Skinner. The book was notable for its advocacy of Tony Blair as a role model for balanced mental health, a fact which did not encourage me to take it seriously. The last experience I had with psychiatry was in January 2013.

I became involved in mental health in an activist way due to the help of my mother, Bernadette, who provided me with the opportunity to attend the Dublin City University “Cooperative Leadership: Service Improvement Leadership Course for Mental Health Service Users, Carers & Service Providers” class. I applied and was accepted onto the programme. My co-learners on the course were all very inspiring people with amazing abilities and the bravery to explore issues of great depth and sometimes great personal difficulty. All of the contributors worked in unison along the lines of equality and diversity. The classes lasted for nine months and the teams gave of their cooperative learning and experience to produce an array of projects for the improvement of the mental health services in Ireland. As a unique course it brought together the best of service providers’ professional ability, carers’ untapped and often unrecognised expertise, and of course the service users’ knowledge of problems and their solutions. I was very blessed to be able to benefit from the course. My team produced a system of using mobile phone technology to empower and inform service users, those on the periphery of the service in particular, about the service options available to them. It was hoped that this would form a part of the health services outreach and recovery programme. The course also taught valuable lessons in business dealings, time-management and team collaboration.

Tell us about Tallaght Trialogue?

Tallaght Trialogue is an initiative that sprang from the Dublin City University Leadership Course organisers, Jim Walsh, Orla O’Reilly, Liam MacGabhann, Paddy McGowan, Lorna Ni Cheirin, and others. It was officially set up in March 2011 and emerged as part of the Trialogue Network in Ireland. Trialogue is a technique, which is often very therapeutic, that seeks to share insights about recovery and mental illness between three constituencies that make up a voluntary and egalitarian space. These constituencies are the service providers, carers, and service users. Together they discuss in a shared circle the meaning of stigma, medication, diagnosis, relationships to psychiatric services, theories of mental health, art, philosophy, social problems, indeed any problems or circumstances that people face in care and life in society as a mental health service user. Service professionals report believing the experience to be eye-opening and a learning experience. Often the Trialogue represents the first time that service users feel meaningfully listened to by service professionals – and carers often feel empowered that their input is valued for the reality that it is, i.e. a very essential and highly important one. While some of the stories are distressing at first, they reveal a great triumph of unity and cooperative spirit over the distress and conflict. People stand to gain much more than they could lose by sharing their thoughts and experiences in a non-compulsive, non-obligatory setting. Trialogue is a brilliant way to get to know yourself and others, and to develop, share and blend personal realities in a forum that is successful due to the leaving behind of “hats” at the door where people can be as they are.

What has been some of the personal highlights of your time with Tallaght Trialogue?

I personally love to argue and debate. Tallaght Trialogue has offered me the great opportunity to discuss the issues of the vast subject respectfully and with dignity to others. I remember a lot of funny moments when members of the service user constituency were able to contradict through their own learning the standard arguments about the “safe” nature of medication by simply reading the label and reciting the truth about lactating men’s breasts, foetal abnormalities, brain damage, weight gain, etc. My personal favourite “harmless” side effect of Olanzapine was “sudden unexplained death” as stated on the medication’s inlay leaflet. The service professionals were good about the ribbing we gave them over that one! In a court of law we might extract a settlement for lack of informed consent to these drugs, but I digress... In any case concerns over capacity, ability to understand, emergency medication, suicide prevention, hyperactivity, risk to themselves and others, form part of a long queue of considerations which a group of guardians must give in relation to the desperation of a human being in terrible emotional distress. These are the considerations of psychiatrists and their teams. Only once has a psychiatrist been present at the Tallaght Trialogue so unfortunately we could not acquire a broad understanding of the position of those at the head of psychiatric services to these very important moral, health, and safety questions. On a more simple level there is always room for fun and reconciliation at the biscuits and beverage table during the tea break. I find that there is so much to learn and discover about life at the Trialogue.

What projects are you currently working on with Tallaght Trialogue?

Now that I live in London I am only an infrequent “service user” at the Tallaght Trialogue. I visit when I can and see it as an opportunity to facilitate inclusion and the giving of a platform to others.

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use?

Meditation and spirituality give me great support in times of stress. I also reflect on my condition and the condition of others. I like to help others through voluntary work such as mental health advocacy for a patient friend of mine, and using my information skills for a charity that seeks to improve the health of Irish immigrants to the UK.

What does the future hold for you?

I hope to continue my charity work involvement. I hope to bring to others my insights from my library studies, and the access I have to resource catalogues that may provide some benefit. Often I find that books are the greatest liberating force at the disposal of any man, woman or child.

Favourite Quote?

“…Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains...”

– Jean Jacques Rousseau, the Social Contract.

You can catch all this and more of Tallaght Trialogue: (website address)

(Facebook page)


August 2013

Kevin Healey, Recovery Network Toronto

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

Please, tell us about yourself – where were you born and raised? What did you parents do for a living? Do you have any siblings? What was life like growing up in childhood?

Toronto is my home

I live in Toronto and like the majority of people living here, I came from somewhere else.

This is my home, has been for ten years. Some say the word Toronto means “meeting place”; others say it means “where trees stand in water”. Take your pick, what I notice is that Toronto is a place that many people come to in hope of a better life – many do find it but many also have a difficult time: I did for a while.

I started my working life in engineering: as an apprentice, technician; then a manager- when I realised I was more interested in people than things. I spent many years working in the field of organisational change and development, performance management, teamwork and leadership. I worked on hundreds of projects and collected a lot of really useful skills and experiences along the way. Now I’m using those same skills, and some new ones, in a different field, and in a different country on a different continent.

I graduated from a local programme called PREFER which is a programme designed to give people a basic grounding in what it takes to work in peer support in mental health- I was one of the first graduates.

Unfortunately, I find, most agencies in Toronto have very limited and limiting ideas of what peer support is and especially about what it could be. In many other places around the world, peers are taking on a much broader range of roles including in leadership than I find is happening here. I do think, though, that this is just a symptom of how our mental health services generally are themselves both sick and stuck - and as much in need of recovery as many of the individuals they are funded to support. There are many good things happening and many great individuals but the whole system seems to be frozen and unable to move beyond providing services that they need people to depend on. I see and hear a lot of frustration everywhere, especially amongst workers.

A focus on learning

My own focus is learning and helping others learn – and I mean learning in its broadest, most active sense. I’ve always regarded the active part as “learning” not “teaching” and for me learning is much more complex than sitting in a class having my head filled with information by an expert. If I want to learn I need to try something new, reflect and makes sense of what happens, then do it over again and again.

I’ve come to frame at least my own mental health as being rooted in learning – I became ill because I’d stopped learning and I started to get well again when I rediscovered learning and when I was able to put a curiosity for learning back into the core of my life. For me a curious, learning outlook has no end and it makes for stimulating life – a good life.

I do a lot of WRAP groups and for me WRAP® [Wellness Recovery Action Plan®] is one way to find a simple structure that we can use to remind us of what we can do to help ourselves but also to keep learning.

What have I learned works for me?

For me it’s simply about continually asking myself the question, “What works for me?”

..Then, from asking that,

..Doing more of what works

..And doing less of what doesn’t.

This way, slowly, bit-by-bit, and day-by-day I get stronger, more well, more resilient.

I recently noticed that I’d ended the each of last five years better than the year before.

In contrast, for the previous five years [and likely ten] my health had been going in the other direction.

That’s it: no magic, no solution, no fix and no should-ing. Just simple curiosity about my own experience: learning; reflecting; persistence; choosing - and forgiving myself for whatever I did or didn’t do yesterday - because today I get to choose again.

What I’ve learned is that the more I can focus on simply being well, doing the things I need to do to stay well, then the more energy I have for dealing with whatever happens. The simplest kinds of mindful practice enable me to just witness what’s happening without getting sucked into whatever my mind is playing with and throwing around. Sometimes it’s like sitting back watching it on a giant screen...whatever you got - bring it on, I can deal with it.

I sometimes get strange experiences but now I know what it’s all about and I can handle whatever comes up and even enjoy and look forward to them. Usually I figure out what it was all about in a day or two: I don’t do anything in particular, just let the insight reveal itself.

Since I’m no longer hiding what I experience, I don’t waste all the energy that hiding it consumes. And, you know, if you can’t handle that I’m different from you then that’s your problem, not mine.

Would you like to share about your mental health history?

I’ve experienced a few episodes in my life where I became ill – seriously chronically ill, and many ways. I’ve had a whole bunch of investigations, tests and diagnoses bandied around and none ever made more than partial sense – but that’s how diagnosis works.

I diagnosis can be a good place to start, can help us make some sense but its unlikely any diagnosis will tell the whole story. Yet it’s easy for a diagnosis to take over a life. We are encouraged to learn about our diagnosis, become expert in the expert language used by illness experts. It’s easy to let ourselves believe we ourselves need to become expert in our illness, to talk using the illness jargon of the illness experts who label us. Without even noticing, we can come to inhabit the persona of an illness, a diagnosis – “I am XXX” rather than “I have a diagnosis of XXX”.

Why is it that “mental health” is the only field of medicine in which this happens?

As my friend Chris Emmanuel says in his book “A Mind That Matters”:

“We do not say: ‘I am a broken arm’

 We say: ‘I have a broken arm’.”

People struggling with mental illness are no more “the mentally ill” than people with cancer are “the cancerous”.

That seems a really tragic way of treating people who are already suffering enough - let’s stop doing that.

Recovery Network: Toronto

You are founder and coordinator of the blog website ‘recovery network: Toronto’ – please share how this came about? What is the website all about? What has been some of the biggest highlights the website has featured?

The blog recoverynetwork:Toronto started with two ideas coming together – I needed a way to organise and retrieve all the interesting and useful information I’d been finding on the internet as part of my own recovery; and I had a bunch of friends who were themselves recovering and we were looking at ideas about what we could create that might be helpful.

The basic idea is that it’s as easy to share what we find with a few friends as it is to share it with the world; in doing so we could create something of a hub - maybe a place that others could find things that were useful to them, and in turn share what they find.

We’re not in any way about telling people what to do.

We are about sharing ideas and information that others might find informative, useful or inspiring – even it’s just where to look next. And you know what? lots of people tell me they appreciate the blog but when I ask what they like best about it I usually get the same response – “the variety of ideas” and “the music, definitely the music”.

We also have no fixed ideas what it takes to recover – except that each person is different and needs to find it for themselves, their own mix of stuff that works for them.

We can’t recover for you; we can’ tell you what you need to do; we can simply share some ideas that we found useful. It’s your recovery, be curious and persist: try stuff and learn and you will find what works for you.

We’re more than just a blog, we’re a collective, and we run groups and operate as an informal network. Neither are we just in Toronto – people from around the world read the blog and send in info to be shared with the world. We have one group secondwednesday that is totally “peer run: for peers, by peers”. It’s been running for four and a half years and has been attended by over two hundred people.

In 2013 we are moving into a new phase, we’ll be making some modifications to the blog [including a shorter URL – - and working towards creating an operating framework that will enable us to do more things like offer training, talks and events, book spaces and contract with agencies. We want to create a simple operating framework for creating spaces so other peer led groups can start their own projects.

And key, we want to enable and draw on the vast range of skills and expertise that people have before they discover they have a mental illness. Many who come to work in peer support find that their life before diagnosis is dismissed. I know people who were top executives, accountants, salesmen, trainers, – yet in peer support their role becomes limited to using their “lived experience of mental illness”. Well, I don’t know about you but I think that sucks. We hope to create a space people can use the skills and abilities they do have – if they want to.

Voices Toronto

One of our projects, and the one that I’m most involved in, is Voices Toronto – we have now hosted a self-help group for people who hear voices for almost two years. We also do talks and media work. In that our aim is to start a conversation in the fourth largest city in North America so that people can hear there is more than one way of thinking about voices. We want people to have the opportunity to hear that the experience is so much more common than is generally portrayed and that if someone hears voices it does not necessarily mean they are ill. We also want people to have chance to hear that there are ways of learning to live with voices, some of which can be remarkable simple.

Toronto likes to think of itself as the world’s most diverse city – “diversity is our strength” is the city’s motto. I regard hearing voices as a story of diversity – I think it’s a good fit and when I talk to people, offer them opportunity to see it as such, they get it.

I believe even the biggest change happens one person at a time – when we recruit ourselves to the cause we believe in and want to do our part.

Worker training

Another key part of the project is training – we offer worker training for workers in mental health and social services, we started in January and it’s getting a great reception, we’re just about to advertise the next dates. We now get more and more inquiries from agencies – and this our first hospital- to do follow up work exploring what might work and for the people they support and in their environment. We are interested in helping workers integrate practical ideas and approaches into their work that can better help individuals find the lives they want.

We’re also about to start a WRAP group for people who hear voices and we’re designing a program for families and carers who have a loved one who hears voices.

Much of our approach is inspired by Ron Coleman’s idea shown in this slide that we use in talks.…

Mental health services seem to me to be largely stuck. More and more people can see that the meds-only approach does not work as well as we might have wanted, and people are looking for what else they can offer. Yet there is no real clarity of ideas and no money: budgets are tight and getting squeezed ever tighter yet we are spending millions and billions on services that are clearly inadequate for many. The result is that mental health services are just as stuck as an individual with mental illness might find themselves stuck. That’s really not very helpful.

At recoverynetwork:Toronto we are not about creating new edifices or new institutions – we see that as a sure way to get as bogged down. Our approach is to find the people who are interested now – individuals, teams, agencies - and to work with them on finding practical small changes they can make in the ways they work every day. If we do what’s possible today then we have already begun to create a better tomorrow.

For me it’s the same as working with an individual in distress or with a diagnosis – there is no one big thing that will miraculously fix everything but lots of small changes can change a life.

If individuals are in recovery then so too are mental health services them in need of recovery.

Hearing Voices Network – Toronto: You manage the Toronto Hearing Voices Group – please tell us how this came about setting it up? How is the group doing? What has been some of the major success’s for the group?

Leadership project

I’m also, for two years now, part of a small group- the Leadership Project- that has for over a decade been setting up international conferences that bring some of the world’s best thinkers, researchers and practitioners in mental health and recovery to the city. Our last big conference was in Nov 2012, and was organised around on the topic: Challenging our Understanding of Psychosis and Exploring Alternatives for Recovery

It was amazing; I met so many people whose work has been important in helping me make sense of my own experiences and also in sparking the ideas and belief that have been key to my own recovery. I even got to work alongside two: Sandra Esher and Rufus May.

We are working on our next conference right now.

It was with the Leadership Project that we put together Toronto’s first World hearing Voices Day event 14 Sep 2012. It is because of the work done by this group over the last decade that there is now a receptive audience for the work I’m engaged in and have taken on a lead role in.

Favourite Quote?

I don’t have one favourite – there are simply too many good ones out there.

Here’s one I like this week…

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic block of the universe.”

– Frank Zappa

You can catch all this and more of Kevin Healey and RecoveryNetwork: Toronto at:


Facebook: @RecoveryNetwork.Toronto

July 2013

Elaine Weir, Time & Space

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

Please, tell us about yourself, where were you born and raised? What did your family do for a living? Did you have any siblings? What was life like growing up in childhood?

I had a great childhood. Born and raised in Glasgow, I grew up on the 15th floor of a multi storey in the days before growing up in a multi storey meant you were deprived. There were loads of kids my age and we played hide and seek in the graveyard and had huge games of two man hunt.

I had two big brothers who were super protective, great when I was young but not so great when I wanted a boyfriend, and a wee brother who was born when I was 12.

My dad was a builder, a real man’s man, and my mum cleaned schools.

What is the earliest childhood memory you can remember?

My first clear memory is when I was about 4. I had a new bike and we were visiting family, course I insisted on taking the bike. On the way home there was a steep hill to go down and off I went on the new bike. I quickly realised I was going too fast and had no idea how to stop, dragging the toes of my shoes wasn’t helping this time and at no point had anyone mentioned ‘brakes’ to me. The only way I could think of to stop was to grab onto a passing lamppost in a bear hug. I thought it was pretty inventive and wasn’t that perturbed by the incident. My mum on the other hand was freaking out; she had me at the bottom of the hill under a car. Never a very calm woman - my mum.

What education course did you follow? Where did life take you after this?

School was a strange time for me. I was pretty clever but not at all interested and I was also a smoker from about 14. So I could pass exams and get high marks in my class work without really trying but didn’t fit in with the brainy ones because I smoked then I was too much of a teacher’s pet to fit in with the smokers.

I left school as soon as I could with 3 pretty crap O levels and went to work in a factory (hated it!).

I was married with a wee girl by 19 but it wasn’t a great relationship and it finished by the time I was 24. After that I did a few different things like working in pubs and snack vans until I got my taxi badge then I drove a taxi for 16 years which was ideal because I was now a single parent and it gave me the freedom I needed to be a mum (plenty of times I’d decide it was too sunny to work-we’re going to the beach!) along with the income to keep the house going.

In 2006 Lindsey (my daughter) started at University and I decided that it was time to get up of my ass and went to college to do an Intro to Counselling course part time. I was hooked and the following year I did the COCA Counselling Skills Course at college then my Post Grad in Person Centred Counselling at Uni from 2008-2010.

I’m just right now in the process of applying for my master’s so fingers crossed!!

Would you like to share how you got involved in Mental Health?

I’ve had a long time interest in mental health issues. My wee brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was pretty young and I had seen how the system dealt with it. I couldn’t understand it, if it’s an illness why does he seem to be being punished for it? And why is nobody telling us anything? I thought there must be a better way but I couldn’t find anyone who agreed.

So when I was training for my counselling Post Grad I was lucky enough to come across HVN in Dundee and I approached them to offer my services as a counsellor there over the summer holidays. Thankfully they agreed and I was there for 12 weeks, by the end of it I knew what I wanted to do. It had only taken me till I was 40!

Unfortunately my mum, who had been ill for some time, passed away just at the end of my PG course in 2010. Things understandably came to a standstill for a while. I was working in home care but really struggling with their interpretation of ‘person centred’. It took me ages to realise the reason I was lost (and often in conflict with them) when I was talking to them about care packages etc was because we were talking about completely different approaches and it was THEM who were getting it wrong. I actually understand the person centred approach as it was meant to be used.

At the same time as I was at uni my daughter was completing her Honours in Sociology and Social Policy, she had started in nursing but didn’t like it so left and tried something different. She was interested in mental health too and had did some research as part of her degree and we found that our ideas and approaches, mine person centred and hers sociological, had many similarities. I was fed up at my work and wanted to do something that I wanted to do but there was little opportunity for a person centred counsellor to work with ‘complex and enduring mental health issues’ and there was no provision at all for voice hearers. I spent a lot of time moaning about how unfair it was and one night in May 2011 Lindsey said ‘Why don’t we just apply for some money and start a group of our own?’ That’s what we did and here we are.

Please tell us about Time & Space?

Time and Space is a person centred service for voice hearers in Glasgow.

We offer peer support groups, open ended person centred counselling and one to one work where we can help with practical things to help keep the stress levels down or we can do some voice work or pretty much whatever the person needs. We have 5 volunteer counsellors who are all trainees and we give them some extra training about voice hearing, self harm and that type of thing. Our members can choose whatever support they feel would be most helpful and can dip in and out as much as they need.

We feel that the range of support is important, not everyone likes groups but they might benefit from the one to one work. For some people the counselling is the most important, everyone has different needs.

We open all day on a Wednesday for one to one work and groups and a Monday evening for counselling.

Lindsey and I work together on a Wednesday along with a volunteer, Debbie, who is also a counsellor.

We have very little money but it’s amazing just how far you can go when you’re doing something you love (that sounds really cheesy but it’s true).

There isn’t any mystery about what we do, we treat people like adults and work with them to find ways they can manage their voices and pick their lives up again.

Simply, we offer them our ‘time’ and enough ‘space’ to work on their own recovery.

What has been some of the personal highlights of your career of running Time & Space?

My most favourite thing about work is working alongside my daughter. We get on really well and work well together. We’ve dragged each other through the hard times at the start when it seemed like nothing would happen and there is probably nobody else in the world who would have stuck with it alongside me.

All of my personal highlights are probably seeing our members coming out of their shells and doing things they haven’t done for years because their voices wouldn’t let them. One member has started using the train, first time he’s used public transport on his own for nearly 10 years.

I’m constantly amazed and pretty humbled by what people can achieve if they are given the chance.

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use?

Oh, coping strategies?? I smoke, does that count? I also embrace my road rage, shouting at the car in front who is taking too long at the lights is great for getting out the frustration, just remember to keep your window up you don’t want them to actually hear what you’re saying about them.

But no I don’t really have coping strategies, I just push my way through obstacles and jump straight into things without thinking about consequences. It’s not the best way to live......

What projects are you currently working on with Time & Space?

In response to our members, we started a swimming group for women with experience of self harm. We have secured exclusive use of a pool and changing areas etc every Tuesday. We had £1,000 and it was meant to run for 6 weeks but we managed to find 2 absolutely brilliant lifeguards who are working for free which allowed us to extend to 20 weeks. It was meant to finish on 4th June as we were running out of funding then we got a mystery donation of £300 meaning that we can run till the end of July and we will hopefully be able to find more money to continue it in the meantime.

We are also looking to start a young person’s group in the next month or two because we now have a couple of younger members and they need a bit of space of their own.

Through our experience at Time and Space we have developed an ‘Intro to Voices’ workshop that we can offer to other services.

We are also hoping to start a voices group in one of the prisons. We are talking to two prisons at the moment but it is s long process.

What does the future hold for you?

Hopefully, my Master’s degree by 2015 and I would love to write loads of really influential books about mental health and voice hearing but, as you can see, when I write it just turns into a big chat so maybe not...

We want to get a place of our own so we can expend on the work we are doing and also do more work with self-harm.

We would also like to do something around the issues facing male survivors of sexual abuse but groups don’t seem to be the thing, maybe men aren’t comfortable sitting in groups talking? We are looking at it though.

Favourite Quote?

“…We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time…”

- From Little Gidding by T S Elliot

You can catch all this and more of Time & Space at:

June 2013

Jacqui Dillon

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

Please, tell us about yourself?

I was born and raised in East London. I grew up with my parents, who had both moved here from Ireland, and my younger brother.

What education course did you follow? Where did life take you after this?

I usually tell people that I have been to the school of hard knocks and the University of Life. Because my early experiences were so difficult, my education suffered a lot, and I left school at 16 with few formal qualifications. Much of my knowledge and experience comes from my own experiences of surviving extreme adversity combined with all that I have learned from other survivors. Despite my lack of formal education I have taught at many universities around the world and hold honorary positions at a number of universities. I am glad that there is increasing recognition about the different ways that people can gain knowledge and expertise beyond traditional methods.

Would you like to share about how you got involved in mental health?

I got involved in mental health after my own, very unhelpful experiences in mental health services, following the birth of my first daughter. I had struggled for a long time with the consequences of my early experiences and my daughter’s birth, finally liberated me to start talking about what had happened to me as a child. Unfortunately, the services that I entered saw my experiences as a symptom of an illness and not a natural and understandable response to the awful experiences which I had endured as a child. I felt deeply unhappy that mental health services were unable to respond to my distress in a more helpful way, but in actuality, made matters much worse for me. This felt like an insult to injury and yet another indignity and injustice, to endure. I felt determined that when I was able, I would work with others to improve mental health services. I first became involved with the Hearing Voices Network more than 12 years ago and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Being part of a worldwide movement which is demanding more humane responses to experiences that traditionally have been treated as symptoms of mental illness, has been incredibly liberating, affirming and empowering for me.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a number of projects including a 2nd edition of the book Demedicalising Misery, several papers and articles, a joint project with a number of critical colleagues looking at creating an alternative to the DSM and later this year I will also start work on a book about complex trauma. Sure there is some other stuff too!

You have an interesting list of publications, please could tell us more about this?

I have published a number of papers, articles and co-edited books on the subjects of hearing voices, psychosis, trauma, abuse, and critiquing traditional approaches to madness and distress.

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use?

I have a number of coping strategies that I use to take good care of myself. Having open, compassionate communication with all of my voices and attending to my emotions, is the primary way I take good care of myself and maintain a sense of internal equilibrium. Mindfulness mediation has been a real life saver for me, helping me to feel less frazzled and more grounded in my life. I try to swim regularly, practice Pilates and have regular massage. I work very hard and have a lot of responsibility in my life as a working mother, Chair of a national charity and freelance mental health writer and consultant, so it’s really important that I keep a good balance in my life with plenty of time for rest and play alongside all of the work that I do – I have found that all work and no play makes Jac a dull girl!. I have a rule that I don’t work at weekends, I take a long holiday in the summer and winter and I have lots of interests outside of mental health and activism. Although I take life seriously – there is so much that needs to change! – I also love laughing and being silly and try to have as much fun as possible. I have some wonderful friends and enjoy spending time with people that I love, especially my children.

What has been the personal highlight(s) of your career in mental health?

I have been fortunate to travel all over the world and meet some wonderful people in the course of my work and have many happy memories. One of the absolute highlights was in 2010 when I went on a mini tour of New Zealand and Australia and took my youngest daughter with me. I spoke at a number of conferences, appeared on national radio and we stayed in some really swanky places. It was a important time for us as we were able to talk about some really important issues about my life and work and she got to see me in action and we also had a lot of fun together. I gave a keynote talk at a huge event in Wellington attended by over 400 people from across Australasia and people were so moved by my presentation that immediately after I finished speaking someone stood up and spontaneously began singing a Waiata – a traditional Maori song - to express his strong emotions about my talk, and then the whole auditorium stood up and sang with him. To have 400 people rise and sing such a beautiful and moving song in response to my testimony was such a powerful experience. I just stood on the stage and let their voices wash over me with tears streaming down my face and a huge smile on my face. Magical.

What do you have lined up for 2013?

To continue to work with others to change the world and to have as much fun as possible whilst doing so.

And after that, what does the future hold for you?

I hope to write a book about my life and work when I find a spare moment.

Favourite Quote?

“…Living well is the best revenge...”

You can catch all this and more of Jacqui Dillon at:

Hearing Voices Movement: Jacqui Dillon

What is it like to hear voices? How do people learn to live with their voices, and are voices sometimes positive and helpful? What is the connection between voices and trauma?

Jacqui Dillon, voice hearer and director of the UK Hearing Voices Network, discusses how the movement of people who hear voices is creating self-help alternatives to traditional and often abusive mental health care.

Madness Radio - voices and visions from outside mental health

May 2013

Stephen Higham, Two Saints Patrick House -Southampton

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

Please, tell us about the work that Two Saints does?

Two Saints offer supported housing services in various places in the south of England that look to house homeless people and secure move on accommodation for them. We also work with individuals to build up their lives and integrate them into the community.

I work at Patrick House in Southampton; here we run two services under one roof. A 4 week assessment centre where we establish an individuals support needs, and a 6 month service to support individuals making changes in their lives.

What support is offered by Two Saints/Patrick House?

Here at Patrick House we offer a comprehensive range of support to vulnerable individuals over and above immediate housing needs. We have a dedicated assessment team who work with clients to complete a person centred support plan. We have a community inclusion worker who supports people who want to get into training, education or employment. We have a resettlement worker who supports residents with moving on. We also have a team of support workers who offer day to day support. This includes signposting to and liaising with specialist agencies, offering emotional support for clients in crisis and a friendly ear when needed.

What is your role in Two Saints/Patrick House?

My role at Patrick House is the flexi-support worker. My main responsibility is to book new clients into the hostel and explain to them the process involved in moving them through the system. Many of our clients are nervous about coming into the hostel so I always attempt to put their mind at ease and reassure them that this is a safe environment.

I also help residents establish themselves in the hostel, making sure they have a benefit claim, supporting them to collect their belongings from previous accommodation and providing extra key work support for the early part of their stay.

What are some of the other roles in Two Saints/Patrick House?

Two Saints operate a day centre in Southampton which is the first point of contact for a lot of homeless people. At the day centre we have a triage worker who carries out a preliminary assessment on clients to establish which part of the homeless pathway they need to access. We also have a private accommodation worker who liaises with local landlords to find private rented tenancies for clients with low support needs. Two Saints also have a floating support service based at the day centre. These workers provide support for clients in their own homes in an effort to prevent homelessness.

What has been the personal highlight(s) of your career to date?

I have been successful in referring a lot of clients to appropriate move on services, I have also been able to link clients with specialist support services and help them start their journey towards independence. However, I feel that the best work I do is talking clients down from a crisis point. When a resident asks for a chat because they are feeling low and suicidal, or they are tempted by drink or drugs they need someone to talk to while they process the urges. When I sit with a client and talk for a while and they leave feeling better I feel I have achieved a great result.

What projects are you currently working on? What is lined up for 2013?

I am currently running music workshops in the hostel’s music room. At the moment we are working on a song about Patrick House that was written by two residents. We are planning to go into a studio in May to record the song professionally. I am also in the early stages of putting together a mini-festival of music which I am planning to put on this summer.

Our Community Inclusion Worker has recently unveiled a bike loan scheme for residents, which has been very well received. There are also plans to expand the learning service to include more courses with qualifications at the end of them.

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use with clients?

In the last year or so we have been introducing the concept of PIE (psychologically informed environment). This is focussed on the psychological and emotional well-being of our residents. Using techniques like the ABC chart or the Chain Link Analysis we can work with clients to improve their own insight into events and behaviours that act as barriers to change.

We also work with outside services to tailor coping strategies to the individual. We work closely with mental health and substance misuse agencies to find new and innovative ways in which to support out clients in their time of need.

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use, personally?

I have taken to performing Reiki on myself every morning followed by some meditation. This allows me to start my day in a calm manner with a clear head. I also use reflective practice in the aftermath of any incidents or disappointing results. This allows me to look at what happened and see how to avoid repeating situations that ended badly.

What does the future hold for Two Saints?

Two Saints are committed to providing increasingly tailored and effective services for its service users. We recognise the cycle of change as central to our work and seek to support people at all stages pre-contemplative to maintenance. We are proud that our independently commissioned stakeholder service reflected that ‘we accept clients no one else will’, ‘no cherry picking at Two Saints’ and we want to keep this ‘open door’ at the heart our work. In an increasingly demanding commissioning regime with constricting budgets and public sympathy it is important we provide high quality evidence of the life changes we support and the value for money of our services. By attending to inclusivity, quality, outcomes, value for money and increasingly personalised service responses we can grow and offer a service to more vulnerable people.

Favourite Quote?

“…Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field, I will meet you there...”

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi - 13th century

You can catch all this and more Two Saints at:

April 2013

Tracey Butler, RAISE

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

Please, tell us about yourself – where were you born and raised? What did you parents do for a living? Do you have any siblings? What was life like growing up in childhood?

I was born and raised in Basingstoke, but all of my family were from and lived in London, so I spent more time growing up there than I did in Hampshire. I still now consider myself to be a ‘Londoner’ and am very proud of my heritage and roots. My mum was a stay at home mum and my dad worked as a finance manager for a local company. They were part of the late 1960’s London overflow and so moved here when dad was offered a job. I have one younger sister who I wasn’t particularly close too when we were growing up, but we have a much better relationship now.

What education course did you follow? Where did life take you after this?

I attended a mainstream school and although I got 9 GCSE’s I absolutely hated school. I didn’t fit in; I was different to my peers and couldn’t wait to leave. I then attended 6th Form College where I passed two A levels. To be honest though I always knew that I wanted to be a nurse, so 6th form was just a stop gap until I started my diploma in psychiatric nursing shortly after my 18th birthday. I worked from the age of 13years; started off doing a paper round, then moved onto cleaning jobs etc. as my independence was and still is very important to me and I wanted my own money :) I am currently studying for an open university degree in criminology/psychology which I will hopefully complete in the next 2 years.

What is the earliest childhood memory you can remember?

I have very few memories from my childhood and those I do have are quite dark, but I do have incredibly fond memories of my Nan and Grandad and just feeling very loved and safe. They used to take us on holiday every year to Hayling Island and those holidays were simply the best!. They both died in their 60’s and that was a big loss in my life.

Would you like to share about your mental health history?

I experienced a major psychotic episode shortly after I qualified in my nursing (about 6 weeks after I lost my grandfather). I was detained under the mental health act for approx. 9 months and was heavily medicated and labelled with paranoid schizophrenia. Over the past 14 years I have been under the care of my community mental health team and now live with the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and schizoaffective disorder. In hindsight, before I become unwell, I had always been very different to my peers; self-harming since the age of 3, although growing up I didn’t actually realise that was what I was doing. BPD for me is certainly the Cinderella shoe that fits although I still feel embarrassed to admit that to a lot of people as the diagnosis carries a huge stigma.

Please tell us about your journey into recovery?

When I first became unwell, I lost absolutely everything; my family and friends, my home, my career, my purpose in life. I couldn’t bear the thought of always being like this and quite frankly, I made several large attempts on my own life as I just wanted to die. I think for me the turning point of my recovery was when I finally realised I was never going to be the same person before the diagnosis. All the while I kept wanting to be the ‘person that was’ I was just setting myself up to fail. Mentally reaching the point where I felt I could embrace who I was now and live a meaningful life within the limitations of my mental health problems was huge.

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use?

Short and sweet but…..Acceptance, mindfulness and hope would be my three key words. Taking one day at a time, giving myself permission to have a bad day but also not just working within the limitations of mental distress. Believing that I can and will succeed at all the things I have wanted to do. I do not want to live my life having regrets.

You are founder and coordinator of RAISE Ltd – please share how this came about? What is the Company all about?

Raise Mental Health Ltd is a nationally unique, 100% Mental Health Service User Consultancy and Training Company. Everyone at Raise has personally experienced mental illness – our Board of Directors, our consultants, our researchers, our trainers, our administration team. Therefore we can provide a distinctive insight into Service Users’ experiences and aspirations.

Raise is a 100% Service User Managed Social Enterprise that has been operational for over 7 years and employs a core staff of 12 at our Basingstoke office and an ever growing number of Service User Consultants and Trainers across the UK. We jointly have over 200 years’ experience of mental health problems and subsequent journeys of recovery.

Raise is also a Social Enterprise, our very make up as a 100% Service User company means that social aims are at the heart of our business. One of Raise’s key enterprising aims is to demonstrate the Service Users can wholly operate a successful commercial business.

Further, Raise is a signatory to the MINDFUL Employer along with many government agencies.

What has been the personal highlight(s) of your career in mental health?

I am fortunate to have had many highlights in my career; speaking at Westminster, meeting the lead of the National Personality Disorder program, working alongside some brilliant organisations, doing some brilliant work. But if I were to break it down, the highlights for me are always someone coming on one of our training sessions, feeling very demoralised and on the verge of giving up and then as a result of what we share, feeling very much more empowered to make a difference to someone who they are caring for…. That makes all my personal darkness seem more tolerable because it feels like I have been blessed with the opportunity to turn a negative into something positive.

“You met and exceeded all hopes, you've (yet again, no doubt) touched and changed a lot of lives, and the effect will resonate for many, many years to come.” – M.M, Head Teacher, Prospect School

What do you have lined up for 2013?

Plough on with my OU studies as I am on a mission to get my degree and continue to focus on Raise. We have started to develop eLearning materials and resources which is very exciting and I am hoping that this year we will start to launch these products outside of Hampshire.

And after that, what does the future hold for you?

I have always wanted to train as a counsellor so I would like to pursue this ambition but personally I am a very family orientated person. I love spending time with my son and partner……I am turning 40 years old next year and you know what they say, life begins at 40, so who knows what the future will bring.

Favourite Quote?

Can I be cheeky and add two?

“…God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference…”

- Reinhold Niebuhr

“…Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes…”

- Mahatma Gandhi

Indian political and spiritual leader (1869 - 1948)

March 2013

Ivan Barry

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

What is your background? Tell us about yourself? Where were you born and raised?

Born in the English midlands and sent from Coventry to wander the world a little... and to wonder about the world a little also. I love music and literature, have travelled quite a bit these past decades. I am a blue collar nomad with a passion for sharing and assisting in raising awareness. Left home pretty early to follow the invisible path and see where it may lead and to date it has taken me to some remarkable places and amazing people!

What is the earliest childhood memory you can remember?

Probably my little multi-coloured plastic steam train on an elastic hanger strung across the roof of my pram - it had little plastic beads within that shook when you moved it… great fun, at least for a while! Until I got propped up and could see a bit more of my world. Then, the smell of food cooking and afternoon radio shows for children before the TV became a staple medication for a young mind.

What education course did you follow? And what happened after?

The usual school exams, a stint in different types of job, teenage perturbations and the usual issues of growing and outgrowing your origins and expectations as you try all the things it turns out you were never really going to do for very long: office roles, sales, periods with and without work, most folk were fairly keen to leave school and try and get on with life, earn a pay packet, pay bills, pretty simple aspirations at that point in a life journey.

Becoming a parent encouraged me to re-examine through study, my own inner life and early experiences that required some healing over time… Social Sciences Studies, Mental Health Awareness, Recovery practices, Laing, Groz, Foucault, Alice Miller, Gloria Steinem, Carl Jung, Terence McKenna, Thomas Szas... and too many more to mention by way of illuminating and inspiring discoveries.

How did you end up in mental health, specifically ‘hearing voices’?

I met a good friend from the 1980s who persuaded me to try volunteering at a drop in centre for folk dealing with mental health issues and despite my initial reservations and anxieties I really found it an enjoyable experience. Even providing time and space for people, a cup of tea, a listening ear, non-judgemental and helpful responses, you could see it had a real value and made a difference.

I got more involved in helping set up activities and relaxation sessions and after a while I was offered a role as a support worker, visiting folk at home and supporting and encouraging more self-involvement and empowerment for clients that quite often felt dismissed and un-listened to by the system...particularly those hearing voices that were challenging to cope with; advocating for, and with, people to get their voices heard, liaising with health professionals on their behalf and working towards self-defined concepts of personal recovery. I was pretty good at spotting possibilities for healing and connecting folk up with appropriate support systems and therapies and I actually enjoyed the personal responsibilities that came with the role. Thank you Coventry Mind!

5 years on I met the rather amazing and inspiring Ron Coleman and was inspired to explore all aspects of voice hearing, possible theories and potential coping strategies. My real passion was discovered and ignited by realising that so much of what Ron shared of his own lived experience of being treated within the system for a “schizophrenic” condition held true for many others also....we needed more enlightening and positive responses to these experiences and so began my odyssey of learning.

The Hearing Voices Network was beginning to take off via Professor Marius Rommes’ pioneering realisations and work in Holland and Ron, Paul Baker, and many more activists and contributors began to develop and lay out the foundations of a different approach to understanding voices. Began a small group in Coventry that met weekly and looked at many diverse examples of historical figures who have had Visions and Voices as well as exploring theories of causation that made sense to the individual personally...from there you can develop and try out coping skills already proven to work for some voice hearers.

From there an invitation to become more involved, conferences on recovery, I gave up paid regular work and hit the road, working with Ron occasionally and providing awareness raising lectures to medical students and others at various university campuses in the UK on the prevalence of hearing voices as a common human experience, regardless of any illness diagnosis...They were fun and insightful presentations and I began to read more, explore different cultural frameworks and look more deeply at research within and without the medical Frank Zappa sings: “The Music Never Stops” and I have never stopped learning to date.

Trips then followed to the American Midwest and I was honoured to be involved in helping set up and co facilitate a support group for individuals hearing voices in Madison, Wisconsin where I was blessed to make many fine friends whom I still visit almost yearly... I also got to speak on the lecture circuit at Mind Body and Spirit events and present facts and astounding information to diverse audiences. Of course many spiritual practitioners accommodate voice hearing as a part and parcel of their experience as a healer/ shaman/ meditator on a regular basis but they still were pleased to learn even more.

I gave away many workbooks on managing challenging voices and personal recovery whenever it was requested and I got to canoe the mighty Wisconsin river with good friends, got to meet war veterans who had voices in the Vets hospital in Milwaukee, found a lovely girlfriend and even trod on the Dali Lamas’ toe at the airport on the moving escalator, not knowing he was standing right behind me when I took a step back!

Would you like to tell us about your ‘mental health’ history?

I had a couple of "interactions" with psych systems in the 1980s, both involuntary and both necessary and both triggered by crisis and self-destructive actions and subconscious urges…   I started to hear the voices of my friends who died in a car crash that also killed a couple coming the other way. I had climbed out of the car an hour earlier. We had drunk a lot. We were high. They wanted to go to a party. I met an old girlfriend. She invited me to a beer. They drove away in the rain. My phone began to ring early the next day. Voices said "Thank God… You're alive. We thought you were dead." And so I learned of the fate of my friends. 

4 days later… A community funeral.  Lots of tears. 

Everyone told me how lucky I was but I just I felt empty and guilty .And really confused.  I told no one as I couldn't articulate my experience.   I drank more. I got into bar room and football related fights.  I wore silver Dr Martens and a blue boiler suit that I liberated off the back of  a British Gas meter readers' bicycle as he stepped, whistling, through a garden gate and rang a doorbell. 

I loved punk rock and reggae and my razor blade ear ring.  I laughed a lot. I suppressed a lot. I didn't really know how I felt at all.   Popular but lonely. I was angry but happy at the same time. Relief and guilt strove with each other for dominion and power.  

I began to dream I was buried alive. I would wake up with a jolt, gasping for breath.

And voices sometimes called me to join my friends.  That I shouldn't be here.

A year or so later, in a quiet Irish town, a small platoon of local policeman will come rescue me from my attempt to follow the same path to oblivion. .  Although they will have riot shields.

And I will throw bar room furnishings at them. And they will retreat. For a while. But then they return in greater numbers.  They have to try and grab the crazed looking Englishman in silver boots and caked in his own blood - who awoke, much to his annoyance at having failed to kill himself and has staggered through the streets and fallen through a dark bar room doorway. The nervous barman pours the worst Guinness ever and quietly calls the police from the other room. I recall his gentle Irish voice, the quiet discourse going on. I cannot make it out. The wallpaper begins to peel off the wall and float above me. A red poppy expands in front of me. A bottle of my grandmother’s heart pills means when I speak a strange slurring sound comes out. I start to cry. Big hot tears… who am I? 

And there will be a man in a suit and a red tie. And a big smile.  And he will forgive me for the slowly healing black eye.  Though I failed to spot the needle he was hiding as he spoke.  Sorry Dr B....!

Little did I know back then it was the beginning of my learning.  A three month trip into the psychiatric system. I saw failings and some successes, institutional abuses of power and the limits of citizens to exercise autonomy within a disempowering system.   Over time I stabilized. I left to return to England, bandaged and sorry for the fuss and worry I had caused.   

That 30 years later I would have already worked within the system and outside of it over 15 years and more… well…  

That eventually I realised I had both Survivor Guilt of a kind, issues relating to bereavement and loss, voices that spoke of this conflicting condition but no one to tell me of this.

I had no one to talk to or with and get support or advice. Eventually my crisis point arrived.

And to think that simply getting in and/or out of a car on a rainy Midlands Tuesday night would have such ramifications for my own life.  

I had nothing to be guilty about. Just sorrow for my pals. And the elder couple who were also killed. The voices were wrong and here I am, alive.

Tell us about Voices & Visions and the journey this has taken you on?

I wanted to get good information out there and pretty much built the website with that in mind.

I tried to pool my influences, learning much from my time with folk who attended a voices group in Edinburgh, Scotland for 4 years before taking a year or so out to travel to Egypt and present to various groups there in 2010 so the site was pretty much built on the road and developed further on my return.

The noisy and crowded mega city that is Cairo, on to Alexandria and then through the desert to the beautiful oasis of Siwa, complete with a ruined hill top Temple once visited by Alexander the Great in 331BC in order to hear the Oracle speak to him and confirm him as the son of Zeus and ruler of Egypt.

Oracles were highly esteemed in ancient Greek times where belief in divine communication with the Gods was an everyday acceptance for all… How times have changed!

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

Not so much a career as a peripatetic ambling through the landscape...although enjoyable!

There has never really been any plan in mind to be fair. I just keep chugging along, making occasional contributions, trying to be positive. If one can be making a little difference here and there it is very satisfying.

I really enjoy sharing opportunities wherever the invitation takes me. I would say meeting so many inspiring and beautiful people within the Hearing Voices Movement who work tirelessly to achieve change, raise awareness and challenge commonly held misconceptions and myths around voice hearing.

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you use on a daily basis?

Yes...simple meditations, music and the “occasional” German beer.

Immersion in great literature.

Luckily I have enjoyed reasonably robust mental health for the most part these past years.

What do you have lined up for 2013?

A return 3 month visit to the USA in the Autumn, maybe back to Egypt at some point if the political situation settles, develop more awareness raising opportunities, perhaps even pick a town to live in for a while and better organise myself with this in mind. I have been on the road for nearly 3 years now and I do love travel so we will see what this year brings. Backpack and books are always near to hand.

Get a Visions and Voices Open Day organised for Edinburgh and present it and do more media sharing events too.

Favourite Quote?

“…Nothing is existing.

Everything is in a state of becoming…”


You can catch all this and more of Ivan Barry at:

January 2013

Bruce White, Mental Health Befriending Service - Winchester

The Mental Health Befriending Service has been running in the Winchester District since August 2010.  The MHBS recruits, trains and supports volunteer ‘befrienders’ to befriend those with enduring mental health issues. They seek to provide companionship, thus reducing social isolation and enabling integration back into the community. 

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

What is your background?

I have a background in administration and as a primary teacher. I first became aware of having mental health issues form about 17 years old.

 Where were you born and raised?

I originally came from the Winchester area.

 Went to college/school?

I went to primary school in the village of Hursley and then went to Peter Symonds when it was a Grammar School then sixth form college.

What profession did you follow after?

I went to Birmingham to train as a teacher and began my career teaching in the Black Country near Dudley.

And how did this lead you to the MHBS?

When I left teaching I became Facilities Manager with WACA then became Co-ordinator of MHBS in February 2011.

What is your earliest childhood memory you can remember?

That’s tricky, probably having to wear my coat in class at school because I got my school shorts all wet!

What motivated you, personally, to work for the MHBS?

Having suffered with depression for many years I was keen to discover more about mental health, assist others with similar issues and help to challenge the misunderstanding, discrimination and stigma which surrounds MH.

What has been the highlight of your time so far with the MHBS? 

There have been many, but I always get a buzz out of seeing befriending relationships work, working with so many amazingly brave and interesting people and I particularly enjoyed putting on the WOW! conference last November.

In what ways as the MHBS been successful?

It is achieving all its BIG Lottery targets (outcomes) by connecting with so many people who need befriending and it has already exceeded the number of befrienders it requires. It has helped many to find a bit of a purpose and some hope.

The MHBS has put on various events in the past (are there any main one’s that you would like listed here that I do not know about – before I came to MHBS??)

Throughout 2012 events headlined were ‘Recovery Approaches to Mental Health Issues’ by Tracey Butler from RAISE,’ Healthy Lifestyle and Mental Health’ by Jaco Bruwer and most recently the ‘WOW! Wellness over Winchester’ mini-conference when presentations were given, a Q & A session held, local artist’s work was exhibited and linked organisations displayed stalls and information. That will do!

What events are lined up for 2013?

We hope to have a big Get Together soon to look at the future of MHBS and put on a second conference in May/June which will be service user focused and based on workshops to provide ideas to aid recovery ( hopefully in collaboration with other linked organisations).

What does the future hold for the MHBS? The BIG Lottery funding ends in August 2013 so we are working hard to find alternative funding sources. We are willing to talk with anyone who has ideas or suggestions about funding, (lots of money!) and inspiration! We are hopeful that the MHBS will continue in some form or another.

What is your favourite quote?

There are loads ... among them is:

“Don’t judge anyone until you have walked a thousand miles in their shoes”.

January 2013

Ron Unger

Recovery from “schizophrenia” and other “psychotic disorders” – New understandings of the mind and of madness can open new doors to full recovery – Ron Unger

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

(Background:) Where were you born and raised? What did your parents do for a living? Do you have any siblings? What was life like growing up for you?

I was born and raised in Michigan, USA, mostly in the little town of Big Rapids. I was the third out of 11, nine brothers, one sister! My dad worked as a car mechanic, and my mom not surprisingly stayed home with the children. While I had some good experiences as a youngster, my family life was often traumatic. This led to me becoming socially awkward, and my trauma was compounded when my awkwardness and low self esteem made me a target for bullies.

What is the earliest childhood memory you can remember?

My earliest recollection is of when I discovered how to climb out of a crib in which I had been placed for a nap, alone in an upstairs room. I then wandered away from the crib and the room, and when my mom came up to check on me, she found me missing and panicked. I imagine I had climbed out partly to go looking for her and the others, but my efforts led to everyone getting upset. Looking back, I can see this as an early example of me discovering that my acting in an autonomous way, even if I was seeking connection, could be perceived by others as dangerous and wrong!

Which University/College did you go to? What course of studies did you follow? What happened next?

My college experience was very much complicated by the fact that I was undergoing a sort of mystical and creative exploration into the nature of self and reality, at the same time I was pursuing “formal education!” This exploration was triggered by my need to challenge the defective sense of self that I had formed as a result of childhood trauma, but it became much more than just that. My experiences and perspectives commonly teetered on the edge of what the mental health system calls psychosis, and not infrequently crossed completely over that edge! But I was lucky enough to get all the help I needed from books, peers, and other sources, and to avoid any coercive “help” from the mental health system. As a result, overall my journey became very positive for me, even though it was often chaotic and at times disrupted my college trajectory.

My first year of higher education was in my home town, at Ferris State. I was studying psychology. My favourite teacher and I had long and interesting conversations, though he did inform me that he had been asked to watch for students who might be having a psychotic break, that he currently was watching two, and that I was one of them! This didn’t offend me however, as at the time I often self identified as a person going through schizophrenia, which I saw as a good thing, as suggested for example by R.D. Laing whose work I was reading at the time.

I focused on psychology for one more year at Wayne State University in Detroit, then dropped due to my dissatisfaction with the narrowness of what I was being taught, and due to the fact that my own quest for a completely different way of living and being in the world was intensifying.

The next school I “attended,” though it wasn’t accredited, played a key role in my education. That school was Communiversity, and I was especially influenced by its most infamous “class,” the San Francisco Suicide Club! This group taught me the power of people coming together to support each other in the “pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society” as the Cacophony Society (a follow-up group to the Suicide Club) described it. Finding companions who were also creative misfits really helped me reconnect with society after periods of profound alienation: I believe that if I hadn’t discovered peers and groups like this, my alienation could have intensified and I might eventually have ended up as a patient, and quite likely a victim, of our mostly dysfunctional mental health system.

A few years after dropping out of Wayne State I attended UC Berkeley for a year, where I was allowed to make up my own major, which I designed to follow my interests which at the time I conceptualized as “pataphysical.” I then dropped out again, became a father, did forestry work, and helped manage a construction company. It wasn’t till 15 years later that I returned to college with a mental health focus, completing my undergraduate education through correspondence courses and then obtaining a masters degree in social work at Portland State University, graduating in 2000.

Where did it all start for you - to become a therapist and help others diagnosed with schizophrenia/psychosis?

My interest began with my own experiences, which I found to be really positive overall, though also dangerous. Later I saw many of my younger siblings go through their own extreme states, which often didn’t go as well, and many of them were caught up in the mental health system with often unfortunate results. Why, I wondered, couldn’t we have a system that knew how to help young people safely handle and even benefit from the unusual perspectives and experiences they often encounter or create, rather than define these as nothing but illness and try to drug them into oblivion?

In the 1980’s, I met David Oaks who was just starting to organize the group now called MindFreedom, and I became involved in protesting the mental health system’s misinformation and its lack of humane, non-coercive alternative forms of assistance for people seen as “psychotic” or “mad.” I went to social work school hoping to learn how to provide such alternatives, but didn’t learn anything that could be directly applied, as the social work establishment seemed to have entirely swallowed the bio-psychiatric belief system when it came to “psychosis.” So I was really happy when a couple years after my graduation I heard about work Paul Chadwick was doing in the UK with groups of voice hearers, using cognitive therapy for psychosis. Paul was kind enough to send me a detailed description of how to lead such a group, so I started a group myself and began specializing in cognitive therapy for psychosis. Then in 2005 or so, I began teaching others how to use this approach.

What does cognitive therapy for psychosis entail?

The key idea of cognitive therapy is that people can learn to think about and respond differently to “psychotic” experiences and that when they do, their problems can be resolved. This perspective is very similar to that of the hearing voices movement, which notices that voices are a problem only when people have not yet discovered a good way of relating to the voices.

Cognitive therapy for psychosis emphasizes normalizing, or understanding even very “psychotic” experiences as just variations on understandable human reactions to circumstances, even if they are more extreme and look different as a result. Cognitive therapists are interested in the whole complex individual story of how a person’s problems developed and then were maintained, and typically see so called “symptoms” as having resulted from very understandable attempts to cope with distressing situations, which then had unintended consequences that compounded problems. Cognitive therapists don’t insist they know exactly what is going on and what should be done, but they collaborate with people in exploring what is happening and helping people develop options for themselves that might work better.

Not everyone practices cognitive therapy for psychosis in the same way, and there are some who fail to follow its principles in a sufficiently radical way and who still perpetuate the destructive misinformation and dogma of the bio-psychiatric paradigm. But I think at its core cognitive therapy is a really decent approach. And while I believe that a really complete approach to helping people seen as psychotic requires a team of mental health workers and interaction with the person’s whole social network as does Open Dialogue, I think cognitive therapy for psychosis is very compatible with broader approaches and has the advantage that it can begin with just one mental health worker who wants to provide services in a new way.

My latest interest is “compassion focused therapy” which seems to build on cognitive therapy, teaching people how to shift their consciousness from an over-emphasis on threat to a focus on self acceptance and compassion, drawing from both Buddhism and modern research. (Incidentally, our whole mental health system could benefit by shifting from a focus on threat to a focus on real compassion!)

I write a lot more about my ideas on the nature of psychotic experience, help with recovery including therapy, and how to get help relying less on medications, etc., on my blog,

Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you engage in, in your daily life?

In my view, everything we do is some form of coping, or at least attempting to cope, with situations in which we find ourselves! But one recent strategy of mine worth mentioning involves deliberately being friendly with all of my experience, including parts of myself that seem to generate bad feelings and/or nasty automatic thoughts, and also the parts of myself that seem to suffer from those feelings and thoughts. This really helps me come together as one whole person despite the daily stresses that otherwise would be tending to pull me apart. This strategy is my own variation on the approach described at

What does the future hold for you? Where can people see you next?

In the coming months, I plan to be doing webinars on psychological approaches to “psychosis.” These will offer continuing education credits for professionals and will be free to non-professionals. You can sign up to be notified about when these will occur at

I will also be teaching a seminar on trauma and psychosis in Seattle on 2/22/13, and then on cognitive therapy for psychosis and on trauma and psychosis in San Francisco on 4/5-6/13. I have a webpage which has details on my upcoming presentations.

Ron Unger Favourite Quote:

“…All statements are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense…”

- from THE PRINCIPIA DISCORDIA by Greg Hill and Kerry Wendell Thornley.

That quote helps me remember that there are always other ways of looking at things, and that all ways of looking at things have some truth in them, as well as error, depending on your perspective or on how you relate to them!

You can catch all this and more of Ron Unger at: 

December 2012

Joseph Loughborough

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

Joseph Loughborough has an extensive set of art work from a series called ‘Psychosis’.

Where were you born? What did your family do for a living?

I was born in Portsmouth on the south coast of the UK where I grew up. My mother was a school teacher and my father worked in boatyards.

What is the earliest childhood memory you can remember? 

Eating a whole dandelion. It wasn’t too tasty. This and a prized pile of crushed toy cars. (At this young age my dream job was to work in a junkyard scrapping old cars).

What got you into Art? How old were you? Did you take Art at school/college? 

I don’t think there really was a starting point. It’s just something I always really enjoyed doing and just always continued with it. For my A-levels I studied sciences but took art with it. I ended up graduating with an illustration degree.

How did you start on such magnificent series, called ‘Psychosis’? 

I remember reading a book in my school library called 'Beyond reason' about art and psychosis. It was a fascinating book collecting artworks made from patients at many of the turn of the century institutions. It also discussed the horrific conditions of many of these places. I was particularly drawn to the mark making of some of the more expressive paintings. 

I made this series several years after reading the book but wanted to produce a series capturing the suffering of the patients whilst trying to emulate the expressive style I had previously seen. This mixed with my own personal issues and artistic temperament resulted in the 'psychosis' works. I still consider these works as studies.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Wherever I can find that jolt of motivation. People, art, books, sunny days, grey days.

What ‘coping strategies’ do you indulge in as an artist? 

I really find art an important emotional outlet for me. I often take refuge in my sketchbooks and the studio.

I can see from your group shows that you sort of launched in 2009? Is this all for this one series of ‘psychosis’?

Ha-ha, I guess the recession helped me make the jump from part-time to full-time artist.

What were you doing before 2009? 

I was always making art, but working odd jobs here and there, mainly bar work. When the recession hit, I lost my job which inadvertently helped me focus on art.

What will you be doing after 2012? What does the future hold for you?

I hope to be able to continue with what I’m doing. I have a few interesting shows lined up! Watch this space!

Famous Quote:

 “..Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working…”

- Picasso


Gallery representation

UK -

Other links

Face book Page -

November 2012

Simon Gunton CEO

SHINE ON Campaign

Squeaky Gate is an extraordinary and creative charity, empowering people through music and the arts. We deliver a wide programme of live performance, creative training and accredited learning, focusing on producing and performing strong and original work.

Squeaky Gate works collaboratively to improve people’s mental health and wellbeing and facilitate their social and economic inclusion through music. We proactively target our services at people at risk of social exclusion and work closely with partners from education, health, community and business sectors. 

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

How long has Squeaky Gate been running – how long has it been offering this great positive outreach to people with mental health problems through music?

Although Squeaky Gate in its current form has only been around since 2009, I have been working on projects for vulnerable adults for over a decade. Many of our tutors and colleagues were involved in these projects too, so it was a case of formalising us all into a single organisation!

How did it all get started?

After having a very eclectic career as a trombonist, I was given both the opportunity and the money to plan an 18th month project working with people with mental health issues in Cambridge. Using the city of Cambridge as our inspiration, we developed an original piece that we performed in a sold out Kings College Chapel. It was a life changing moment for me and many of the other people involved, as I saw the power of creativity and music unfold in front of my eyes. From that moment on I knew that I wanted to give as many people as possible that opportunity.

How big is the team at Squeaky Gate?

Across our two offices, in Cambridge and London we have a team of seven, plus twenty highly skilled tutors who deliver our sessions. We are also supported by many volunteers who help out at the workshops.

There is an extensive list on their portfolio of various past productions raising awareness on mental health since 2005 through the empowerment of live music performances.  

However, I see the list runs out towards the end of 2011, what happened for 2012?

2012 has been so busy for us that we have barely had time to update our website! This year, our students have performed as part of Brit Floyd’s European tour at the Hammersmith Apollo, Birmingham NIA and Cambridge Corn Exchange, and we are now putting together the third phase of our project, Inside An Unquiet Mind, which will involve flash mob-style performances at all kinds of venues from community centres to supermarkets and even the Barbican. We have also established new partnerships including Birmingham Symphony Hall, an inspiring venue where we provide our Music Production courses, and moved our London base from Deptford to Spitalfields. Phew!

What will the future hold for Squeaky Gate?

We are excited about the brand new partnerships we are currently working towards, particularly linking with local colleges and also organisations such as the Single Homeless Project. We’re hoping to support Brit Floyd once again next year. Most of all, we want to give more students the opportunity to take part in Squeaky Gate courses!

 Squeaky Gate Workshops: London, Cambridge, Huntingdon and Birmingham.

 “Additionally we offer regular music workshops in Bethlem Royal Hospital as well as music courses in prisons - most recently we've been in Littlehay Prison.”

Squeaky Gate runs both regular and one-off workshops offering students the chance to find their feet, learn skills, get qualifications and spread their wings. For many, our workshops provide a vital step towards employment. Most of our regular workshops are OCN accredited Music Performance and Technology. They gain a Level 2 qualification (equivalent to 5 GCSE’s grade A-C) whilst creating material and having fun.

Squeaky Gate recently opened their first community recording studio in Cambridge with a range of multi-purpose facilities for hire (performance space, community recording studio and mac-suite/teaching room).

Must be amazing with fresh vibrant talent walking in ‘straight off the streets’, coming in to record in the studio. Have any of the people attending the workshops/recording studio been successful in a new music career?

We definitely encourage our students to pursue professional opportunities where appropriate, and it’s always great to hear when one of our students finds employment, in any sector. There’s so much new, untapped talent out there and our courses give people the opportunity to find their hidden talents, so watch this space!

Why music? How does music help mental health patients to cope?

Our students have a keen interest in music, whether that’s playing an instrument or music production. Giving people a chance to express themselves creatively in a supportive, inclusive environment increases their wellbeing through building their confidence, improving their sense of self-worth and increasing their sense of purpose, as well as their practical music skills. For many students, it is a second chance at education that they might have missed out on before. It’s also an opportunity for students to socialise with people who have a similar interest, which is especially important when many vulnerable adults feel marginalised by society. Any art form can do this, but we choose to specialise in music.

What instruments are most popular at the workshops?

Many students have experience of guitar, drums or singing, but we give them the opportunity to try out different instruments as well. In our Music Production and Urban Music courses, the students use software like Garageband and Logic to create their own sounds.

What kind of music do you do? Classic/rock/folk/jazz/pop?

We’re very open to what our students want to explore, but the Live Music sessions usually consist of working on classic rock or pop covers, alongside original compositions and songs that the students have written. In Music Production, the students can work on whatever genre they wish, and Urban Music focuses on that particular genre from writing lyrics to producing tracks.

Who teaches at the workshops?

We have a team of experienced and skilled tutors who deliver our workshops. Some are recording artists in their own right, such as rapper Tor Cesay, others are from a teaching background and they are all passionate about music!

What age are the people that join the workshops? Any kids?

Our workshops attract people of all ages and backgrounds, from 16 to 70! We do run some projects in schools, but our main focus is adults at the moment.

Are the workshops free to attend?

For many of our learners, the courses fees are free. There is a £25 enrolment fee, which gives the learner access to their courses for a whole year. Our focus is on giving everyone a chance to take part regardless of their background. If the student is not eligible for free tuition, we ask for a reasonable contribution or look for alternative funding.

Can you bring your own instrument?

Students are very welcome to bring their own instruments to our sessions if they wish to, but we do provide instruments for those who don’t own them.

Are the workshops at night/weekends open?

Our sessions take place between Monday and Friday and the majority are open to anyone, as long as there are spaces available.

Are they held all over the UK?

We currently provide workshops in East London, South East London, Cambridge and Birmingham.

SHINE ON – Campaign

‘Empowering people through music’

 “My brother, Syd Barrett, was one of the founding members of Pink Floyd. He was an imaginative, gifted person whose music and paintings inspired and continue to inspire many people. I have been closely involved with Squeaky Gate as a Trustee for several years. We work with a range of people who have mental health problems, are homeless or who for many different reasons are at risk of social exclusion. Squeaky Gate provide opportunities for people to express themselves creatively, improve their musical skills, gain qualifications and improve their self esteem. The harsh reality is that one in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some time. This is a direct appeal for you to help this unique and wide reaching charity. I know that Syd would have loved to be involved with Squeaky Gate and this is why I am 100% behind it ask you to support us.

Thank you, Rosemary Breen”

October 2012

Dr Simon McCarthy Jones

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

1. Have you always been with Macquarie University in Sydney? If not, from which University did you graduate? What led to your ending up in Macquarie?

I spent most of my time as a student studying at Durham University in the UK. Durham is a small, beautiful University town with a stunning cathedral dating back to 1093. I’d highly recommend a visit. In addition to psychology, I also studied maths and physics there. I can still remember seeing Saturn’s rings through a telescope on the roof of the physics building. But I digress. I’d already been to Macquarie University during my PhD for a month’s visit to work on a study looking at inner speech in people who hear voices. The Department of Cognitive Science is an excellent research centre, and in 2011 they awarded me a research fellowship, so I headed ‘down under’.

He has successfully been publishing various journal papers on psychosis with research collaborations from the likes of Yale University in New York since 2007.

2. Are there any ‘coping strategies’ that you engage in as a writer, e.g. when you wrote the book or the papers?

Just as peer-support is important in voice-hearing, it is the same when writing or researching. In relation to writing, you might think something is finished, but talking to someone else will inevitably show you problems with what you thought and suggest ways to make it better.

3. Do you have any ‘coping strategies’ that you engage in in daily life? Despite not being a voice hearer?

I sometimes find that what I think are coping strategies turning out to be forms of avoidance. They may be a short-term help but, in the end, one has to get to the root of the problem, acknowledge it and address it if possible - often easier said than done, of course. As an aside, I don’t know if you would call Test Match Special’s cricket coverage and Bob Dylan’s music ‘coping strategies’, but they certainly help things along.

2012 sees the publication of his first book, ‘The Histories, Causes and Meanings of Auditory Hallucinations’ available in hardback cover.

4. Interesting book, please, could you say a bit more about it? When was it published, the journey it took you to write it? What got you interested in ‘hearing voices’/auditory hallucinations specifically?

I was originally interested in the topic of free will. Do ‘I’ choose to do things, or has my brain already made its mind up what to do before ‘I’ find out? Dan Wegner and Benjamin Libet have done some very interesting work in this area. Anyway, I then became interested in voice-hearing as the brain is producing the voice, but the person does not experience the voice as being produced by themselves. This started me down the route of trying to understand the brain-basis of voice-hearing. However, I then met Peter Bullimore, who really opened up my eyes to the role of life-events in helping us to understand the cause and meaning of many instances of voice-hearing. I then became involved in volunteering with the English Hearing Voices Network, and people like Jacqui Dillon continued to inspire me to work in this area.

My book was the result of me trying to combine a range of perspectives on voice-hearing. I’ve always been intrigued by history so it was fascinating doing the research for the first part of the book which is on the history of voice-hearing. This involved looking at what factors have shaped our understanding of voices, and looking at examples of voice-hearing throughout history. The second part of the book is on the

Phenomenology of voice-hearing and I hope it gives a good account of what voices and voice-hearing is like and how it is understood by a range of cultures. Having only heard voices myself just before falling asleep (so-called hypnagogic hallucinations), I only have limited personal experience of what it is like to hear a voice, and no lived experience of the very hostile and critical voices which many people are tormented by. I then went on to look at what we know about the brain-basis of hearing-voices, what psychological theories can tell us, and what we know about the relation between voices and life events. The final part of the book then looks at the meanings we give to voices, and the intense debate in this area.

5. On this journey, was any part harder than another part? Was there an easy part?

Research is generally a pleasure for me, and I think myself very lucky to have this job. However, yes, some parts are harder than others. Emotionally, it’s hard listening to people’s stories of trauma preceding their voices, but obviously no comparison to what people have experienced themselves and it’s important that these stories are heard, no matter how hard it may be to hear them. It’s also hard trying to find a balance between biological approaches to voice-hearing, and the meaning-based approach, but in my opinion they can be combined.

6. What has been the highlight of your career to date?

I was very honoured that my book received special recognition from the INTERVOICE board at this year’s annual conference. That meant a lot to me.

I was also really pleased with the hearing voices conference I organised at Macquarie University in July of this year. It was free of charge for people to attend, and we had nearly 400 people come to it. There was wonderful range of speakers including experts by experience, carers, researchers and mental health professionals. I’d like to thank them all again for coming to speak at the conference. It was great to see everyone come together, recognising that each of us had expertise in a certain aspect of the experience of hearing voices, and to see that it was only by working together could we best help people who are distressed by their voices.

It is also a privilege every time someone lets you into their life and shares their life-story and the origin of their voices.

Durham University: Hearing the Voice – Congratulations on the funding award and being able to go ahead and conduct more research, launching this October 2012. Exciting times…

7. What can we anticipate to come from ‘Hearing the Voice’? (link to website)

The Hearing the Voice project is really exciting. The project has a number of clear goals, but what will be most exciting is what it produces that we can’t predict. Scholars from philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, theology, English studies (old and new), and the medical humanities will be working together with experts by experience and clinicians, and this should help improve our understanding of voice-hearing (its causes and meanings) and develop ways to better support people who are distressed by voices.

With a comprehensive list of ‘further suggested reading’, the man is well informed and certainly, indeed, has done his research! The website creates an informative easily accessible approach to knowledge, alluring with the curious call to dig in deeper to the intelligent mind of Dr McCarthy-Jones and read the pages of his book.

8. Upcoming events or what does the future entail for you? Where people can see you next?

Marius Romme and Sandra Escher are coming out to Sydney at the start of December, and it will be great to see them again. We will be hosting them at Macquarie University for an event on Children Hearing Voices (organised in conjunction with Hearing Voices Network New South Wales and Insideout Associates) which should be really helpful to young people, families, and mental health professionals. I’ve been doing a lot of travelling and talks this year, so am having a break from talks until 2013, to focus on writing, research and other things. I am constantly awed by the energy and commitment of people like Ron Coleman, Eleanor Longden and Jacqui Dillon who are so often travelling around the world offering training on voice-hearing. Every month I do a blog on the voice-hearing research that has been published, and I will keep that going ( I am also seeking funding from research bodies for trials of new ways to help people who are distressed by their voices.

Favourite Quote:

I like what St Paul wrote in 1Corinthians 14:11, which seems somewhat apt.

“…if I know not the meaning of the voice,

I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian,

and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me…”

You can catch all this and more of Dr Simon McCarthy-Jones at:

September 2012

Rachel Waddingham

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

Rachel Waddingham grew up in Leicestershire …

1. What did your mother and father do for a living?

My mum looks after my niece and nephew and my father is the manager of a voluntary sector organisation.

2. Do you have any siblings?

I have two older sisters

3. What is the earliest memory you can remember?

My parents coming back home with what seemed like a giant monster (a relatively small dog that to a 4 year old seemed huge and scary). I was expecting a puppy, but when this giant thing bounded through the door and ran around the house I screamed and jumped up on to the sofa. This dog, Dylan, became my best friend whilst I was growing up.

At age 20 Rachel ended up in hospital after a mental breakdown, it was due to trauma she had experienced in her life leading up to this point, but most importantly, it was due to the inhibited ‘silence’ of dealing with the trauma. “By that point I was trapped inside a confusing world of alien conspiracies, paranoia, voices and traumatic flashbacks…”

4. What was your most effective ‘coping strategy’ for when the voices were at their worst?

Early on in my journey I struggled to cope and relied solely on medication and hospital to contain things. When I started to attend a Hearing Voices Group, and learn from the wisdom and courage of other members, I learnt the importance of not taking what they say at face value (speaking with others to try and make sense of what they were saying and why).

Currently, my most useful coping strategies are grounding - finding ways of staying connected to the world. This includes ‘5 things’ (saying 5 things I can see, 5 things I can hear and 5 things I can touch … then saying 4 things … 3 things … 2 things … 1 thing), tai chi and having things around me that stimulate a different sense (e.g. my sense of touch, smell or taste) and focusing on that sense instead of the voices to give myself some space.

As I still hear some angry and/or distressed voices, I now speak with them and try to help them find ways of expressing their anger or pain safely. I have a punch bag, art equipment and plenty of writing paper. I hear these voices for a reason – they reflect the bad things that have happened to me. It’s my job to try to make sense of this and help the whole of me find ways to feel safe.

5. And for dealing with your unusual experiences?

I have all kinds of experiences – tactile experiences, smells, visions and paranoia. I’ve had to develop different ways of dealing with each of them. When I feel things crawl on my skin, or feel as if my skin is burning, I often use body lotion and self massage to help me focus on another sensation. When I smell gas on the tube, I do a quick check to see if others are reacting to the smell (to see if it’s a shared experience that I need to worry about). If it’s just me, I try to calm myself and repeat a mantra to help myself feel safer or do a grounding exercise. No matter what the experience is, once I feel calm, my best strategy is to try and make sense of it. For me, it’s a sign that something in my internal or external world is affecting me – triggering memories of feeling unsafe. Recognising this has helped me to deal with the real cause of my experiences, rather than follow my beliefs ‘down the rabbit hole’ into a world of alien conspiracies and experiments.

6. What was your most effective coping mechanism for dealing with ‘self-harm’?

I started self harming from the age of about 14, but by the time I was at university it got of control. Whilst it was, for a time, an effective coping strategy – it had serious limitations. I felt guilty, powerless and like I was a freak. Whilst I wanted to stop self-harming on many levels, I struggled with is because it was the only way I knew of dealing with my feelings. My recovery, paradoxically, came when I started to value self harm as a coping strategy. This allowed me to explore what it helped with, and what it made worse. I read Tracy Alderman’s book (‘The Scarred Soul’), which helped gain a greater understanding of myself. The more I understood about my reasons for self-harming, the more I was able to start to find other ways of managing my feelings. Tailoring the strategy to the issue was key. I had to learn ways of expressing anger, comforting myself, bringing myself back into my body, dealing with guilt and bearing intense overwhelm and anxiety.

I haven’t self-harmed for years now and am finally comfortable with my scars. I see them as part of my history and signs of my survival.

7. How did you ultimately ‘break the silence’?

Whilst at university, a friend of mine realised that things weren’t great for me. She had experience of self-harm, herself, and recognised the signs. She encouraged me to see my GP (and helped me go back and see another one when the first merely gave me a leaflet on depression and asked me to read it). I was referred to a psychiatrist eventually, but even then I never told them about the voices, the aliens and the conspiracy. Things spiralled out of control and I stopped taking care of myself – it became obvious to the people around me that something was badly wrong. My parents moved me back home and took me to see a psychiatrist there. This doctor finally asked whether I had any unusual experiences and I was so desperate I poured it all out. I was glad someone had finally asked the right question.

For the next 10 years she ensued on a road to recovery, dealing with ‘the system’, medication and ultimately the ‘label’ of being diagnosed with ‘Schizo-affective Disorder’. 

 8. What has been the most important to you on the road to recovery?

Inspiration and hope. This was in short supply in the early days (when I was diagnosed with schizophrenia I initially gave up on life and my future – everyone did). Going to a Hearing Voices Group was my turning point – it helped me form a social network and hear about others who had recovered. People like Ron Coleman, Peter Bullimore and Jacqui Dillon helped me get my spark back. Voluntary sector organisations (like Network for Change) backed that up with the practical support I needed to regain my independence.

9. What has been the hardest part on the road to recovery for you?

Giving up the label of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or mental illness. I had spent over a decade in a system that understood my difficulties as the result of a chemical imbalance, so I’d learnt to see myself as ill. Whilst people were aware of some of my childhood trauma, it was seen as a tragic coincidence rather than an explanation. Schizophrenia/Schizoaffective disorder acted as a ‘trump card’, making everything else seem irrelevant.

Learning to see myself as a survivor – a human being that has had an understandable reaction to extraordinary circumstances – meant revaluating who I am and how I got here. Confronting this reality is probably the hardest thing I have ever done.

10. Was there any easy part?

Recovery is a journey, and every journey needs pit stops. I’ve had some wonderful times that have allowed me to catch my breath before moving forwards. These often involved connections with others – a conversation, a gig or a beautiful gesture. Learning to see the wonderfulness of other people, and how generous they can be, has been really awesome. As part of the Hearing Voices Network, I know I’m not alone – I’m part of a worldwide community of fantastic people.

Three years ago you decided to come off your medication, you say that you “now hear voices more than ever…”

11. What was the driving force behind your decision to come off your medication?

Once I came to see myself as a survivor, rather than a victim of a biological illness, I started to question the role of medication. It helped me cope by dulling my experiences, but it didn’t fix anything deeper than that. To me, medication is simply a tool – a tool that had some quite debilitating negative effects. I had developed lots of other tools in my journey, so wanted to test whether these were enough to keep me balanced. It was a difficult road, but one I took with my eyes wide open. I thought it through, did it gradually and learnt from others who had travelled similar paths.

12. What has been your most effective ‘coping strategy’ for now dealing with this increased intensity of your psychosis?

I don’t really equate hearing voices or having more unusual experiences as psychosis – it’s just part of who I am. The medication suppressed a lot of my emotions and traumatic memories, so coming off medication has allowed them to resurface. The increased voices come from this. At first, this was incredibly difficult – but it’s also empowering. I’m finally in a position to deal with my past and resolve things that have been bubbling away under the surface for a long, long time. As with all my other experiences, grounding is my first port of call. Then, for me, it has been about trying to change my mindset from one that avoids and fears the voices to one that is interested about where they come from. This is a work in progress, but I’m lucky to have support to help keep me on track.

With a wide range of articles and ideas on her website blog, in one Rachel explores the coping strategy of boxing, after realising through her psychosis that she was dealing with pent up anger, and seeking advice from her therapist, who recommended this coping mechanism for her as a means of self-expression. ‘Boxing – Trauma, Anger & Self Expression’

13. Can you now throw a pretty good left hook? :)

It’s getting better ;-)

14. Did the boxing help? In what way?

Yes, massively. The things that happened to me in my childhood were wrong – I can say that in a rational way, but actually ‘feeling’ it is another matter. Connecting with my anger from all this has been a challenge, which is why some of my voices carry that anger for me. Reclaiming my anger and finding ways of expressing it safely is definitely a good thing. Boxing is also helping me to change my ‘freeze’ reflex. When people are traumatised and can’t escape, they sometimes escape inside and ‘freeze’ on the outside. When I’m stressed now, I still sometimes freeze. Back in hospital it was seen as catatonia, but I see it as a survival strategy left over from my youth. Boxing helps me connect with my body and realise that I am strong. I am not a child and now, as an adult, I can defend myself if I have to. This means I’m starting to spend less time ‘frozen’.

15. What has been the most effective approach to recovery for you? Physically, mentally (psychologically) and spiritually?

For me, recovery is not about managing or recovering from an illness as such. It’s a journey that involves reclaiming my sense of self, my healing, my life, my future and my potential to contribute to the world. Childhood trauma, labelling, stigma and being stuck in the mental health system robbed me of these things – I’m now starting to take them back, one step at a time. This is a hard journey, though, so I find it very important to travel it with a curious and appreciative mind (both towards my inner experiences and the world around me). I feel really lucky to be alive, to be working in a job that I love and to be married to a man that I love. These were the things I was told I would never have, so I wake up in the morning with a little smile feeling like I’ve got a fresh chance at this thing we call life.

Favourite Quote:

“…I choose to be me. A survivor. A musician. A wife. A supporter. An artist. A trainer. A daughter. A geek. Psychotic. Creative. Introspective. Caring. Flawed. Strong. My identity remains fluid. I am not limited because I am a survivor – I am spurred on by it. Life is opening up for me…”

You can catch all this and more of Rachel Waddingham at 

More info:

I manage the London Hearing Voices Project at Mind in Camden - that includes Voice Collective, the Hearing Voices Groups in Prisons Project and the London Paranoia Groups Project. We also co-ordinate the London Hearing Voices Network - running training so that people can set up and/or facilitate hearing voices groups for adults.

When did you start your work with Voice Collective? (

I was lucky enough to get the job of London Hearing Voices Project Manager at Mind in Camden in 2007. At that time, the role was focused on helping people set up and sustain Hearing Voices Groups for adults. Inspired by the work of Sandra Escher, and my own childhood experiences, we developed Voice Collective in 2009. The London Hearing Voices Project also includes a project developing Hearing Voices Groups in prisons, and establishing a network of peer support groups for people who struggle with Paranoia or overwhelming beliefs.

In your own words what exactly is voice collective?

Voice Collective is a London-wide project to support children and young people who hear, see or sense things that other people don’t. We have three main strands – direct work (where we support young people and their families through face to face meetings, email, peer support groups and creative workshops); capacity building (where we train and coach other youth workers so that they can support young people in this way); awareness-raising (where we produce information, outreach to mainstream organisations and go into schools). Our ultimate aim is that young people won’t need a specialist service like ours in the years to come, but that they will be able to get the support they need from mainstream youth services. Until then, we are doing what we can to make that happen.

What does the future hold?

Some of the young people who come to Voice Collective have created a fantastic animation about their experiences. Our next task is to work with them to get it in to schools so we can get young people thinking about voice-hearing as a human experience. We have also developed a special training course for teachers and people who work in education on voice-hearing (‘Removing the Barriers’). We’re also working with SLAM (a mental health trust in London) to launch two new Voice Collective Groups. Things are pretty busy on the project, but this is a good thing. There’s lots of do :)

August 2012

Rufus May

Thank you for taking the time to answer the following interview questions. Download the DPF version here!

Rufus May was born in Hitchin and raised in London. His father was a graphic designer and he has one younger brother.

What was family life like for you in your early childhood years?

Very good generally until my mother had a brain haemorrhage when I was eleven - this caused a lot of strain on the family although my mother made a strong recovery. Her recovery story was later an inspiration for me to have hoped when psychiatric doctors told me I would not recover from my problems.

What is your earliest memory you can remember?

Bonfire night in the early 70's eating hot potatoes from the fire - at age 18, Rufus was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and when mistreated and forced to take a medication he was against for its sedative qualities, he ensued in a battle with the public health system and diagnostics.

What is it that got you into psychology within mental health?

I thought that psychology would enable me to help develop a more compassionate approach to extreme states of mind (e.g. confusion and distress). My own experience of biological psychiatry made me aware of the need for change in society's approach to these problems.

He wanted a "range of approaches on offer that see people’s manifestations of distress as meaningful and aim for recovering a valued lifestyle" (A Mad Summer's Day by Rufus May, Asylum).

He got his degree at the Royal Holloway and Bedford New College in 1998 and has been working for 14 years as a clinical psychologist with extreme states that get called 'psychosis'.

Highlight of your career to date?

"There are many. I love being part of self-help movements and emancipatory training. I loved making the film The Doctor who hears voices and working with the 'real Ruth' (the documentary was about) the junior Doctor who asked me to help her learn to cope with her voices without medication. I love my independent work teaching around the world. I love Bradford and the communities there. I love Evolving Minds the monthly public meeting about different approaches to emotional wellbeing, I help organise in Hebden Bridge. I love the drama groups and retreats that have come from this."


He talks openly with his patients, "I prefer making sense with a person about their experience", for after all it is the "clients who have an expertise about their own life" (Guardian).

He is very involved in the recovery process.

Channel 4 documentary: 'The doctor who hears voices' (21 April 2008)

You are a bit famous for your unique engagement in un-medicated therapy, quoted that "psychiatric medication is over-used as a substitute for really listening to people's experiences" (29 July 2011 - live webchat with Rethink). During the film you take a radical approach in listening and speaking through her (Ruth) to her 'voice'...

What was Ruth's most effective 'coping strategy' when she was experiencing the voices at their worst?

It varied including creating a contract of mutual respect with her main voice where she offered to listen at agreed times if he respected her and gave her space in the day. Spinning classes; Running; self-help groups; painting; writing letters to people she had unexpressed strong feelings about; walking in nature.

And when she was dealing with her false beliefs?

Checking them out herself or with me; keeping a record of predictions the voices made and seeing if they came true, and of course support groups.

What was the hardest part about filming this documentary?

To keep documenting Ruth's work with me without making her feel unsafe, so making it completely collaborative.

For you, personally?

There was a back lash from some more medically minded colleagues who found the film very challenging. Having the support of friends and family and the hearing voices community helped me considerably.

You, as her mentor, what was your most effective 'coping strategy' at times when you found it hard?

I used Zen meditation practice and mindfulness which helps me cope with stress and rejuvenate. Good friends and very importantly the support of my partner Rebecca also helped.


Rufus on psychosis: "I find it helpful to use terms such as voices and disturbing or alternative beliefs, rather than the terms hallucinations and delusions." Some of his online articles exploring auditory hallucinations further include:

* 'New paper I have written on unusual beliefs' (2010)

* 'Changing the power relationship with your voices'

* 'Talking with voices' (2012)

Rufus May Famous Quote:

"...another victory for ordinary people with extraordinary lives..."

You can catch all this and more of Rufus May at: