Way back in the 1960s there was a flowering of alternatives to the norms of life at that time. In general, the whole of that decade saw a number of revolutionary shifts in society. It seemed to be de rigueur to challenge and turn upside down pretty well anything that had been standard social practice. There were experiments with different lifestyles, religious practices, work patterns and pretty much anything else.
One of the revolutions that was of particular interest to me, was the mental health revolution. Much of the standard treatment within the health service was being challenged. There was a proliferation of different therapeutic models that were presented as being more workable than the treatments offered at that time. Treatments like medication and electro convulsive therapy were considered to be brutal, outdated and ultimately unworkable.
Instead, people began setting up therapeutic communities, encounter groups, primal scream workshops and meditation classes. Some of these ideas and practices came over from America while others came from the Far East. As an impressionable and rather introverted teenager who had been diagnosed as suffering from depression and anxiety and had also become rather disillusioned with my treatment, I began to research some of these alternatives.
I eventually settled on one particular model. I think I was attracted to it at the time because it appeared to be very egalitarian. It didn’t appear to rely on an expert or trained professional. Pretty well anyone could pick up what seemed to be fairly basic skills and put them into practice. The core relationship was a peer one. That is, there was no patient and professional sitting opposite each other. Just two people who had mutually agreed to share time with each other. Put simply, the time was divided equally with one person giving attention, while the other talked and explored their thoughts and feelings for half that time. Then they swapped roles for the other half.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but there was a fair amount of disagreement between the leadership in America and the leadership in the UK. At my grass roots level, I was simply keen to get the theory and skills firmly integrated into my life. So I went along to workshops and met the other beginners in the area. I duly did as I was instructed and set up sessions with the other people in the group and gradually built up the hours of experience required by everyone in order to become fully integrated into the network.
I only became aware of the schism that had come out of the initial disagreements between the American and UK leaders some years down the line. It seems that for some time I had been attending groups from both factions, and very likely had been working with individuals who had been taught in these different groups. At that time in my life I was very quiet and introverted and, I’m guessing here, people didn’t notice that I was moving between the two networks. Now I’m also guessing that quite a few people in those early days were doing the same thing, because the look and feel of the groups was very similar.
The schism, it seems, was more to do with the organisational and structural differences between the UK and the US. The American network was seen as having very much a top down autocratic structure. Whereas, in the UK, a more Laissez faire and democratic structure seemed to be the preferred model.
Sadly, and to me somewhat counter productively, this schism deepened overtime. To the degree that there are now two distinct networks each using a similar methodology. It has gotten to the point that the two networks no longer communicate or have anything to do with each other. Within my own geographical area I have learned that there are people from both factions. That there are individuals, probably not too far away from me, that I’m not permitted to work with because they’re part of the “other” network. I find this exasperating. It seems to mirror the political, religious and cultural divisions that exist throughout humanity.
The other thing that happens within these two factions, and again this is something that is mirrored by all sorts of other groups throughout the world, is that a fair amount of misinformation is put out by each group about the other. Which to me just seems to perpetuate the idea that somehow the “other” is heretical. All of this behaviour is also a complete contradiction of the core fundamental belief of each faction, that all humans are completely good, cooperative, caring, loving individuals who are striving to be the best person they possibly can be. Also, that all that is required of each individual to achieve their full potential is to use the basic skills of the counselling; that is, getting together to share time and give each other full, respectful and non judgemental attention. Go figure, people.