Friday, 1 June 2007

My responses to Peter the Buddhist's Question

After sending my latest article on Socialisation and the Spirit of Internet Mental Health Chat Rooms to a Buddhist acquaintance of mine, he wrote back saying that he was left wondering what my impression might be of group therapy, face to face.  I wrote back saying that this was a very good question, but also a subtle and complex one.

To answer his question in very simple terms, yes I am in favour of group therapy face-to-face.  I did say in my article that Internet chat wasn't as good as face-to-face social interaction, but I just thought that Internet mental health chat rooms have a uniqueness and spirituality to them, and which is what I was trying to say about it.  I'm in favour of mutual aid, and my impression of free and equal group therapy face-to-face, is that it is a very good thing, and conducive to spirituality and well-being.

It also all depends on what he meant by group therapy, because there are two types of group therapy - psychiatric and non-psychiatric.  As Thomas Szasz points out, there are also two different types of psychiatry - coercion, and psychiatry between consenting adults.  I'm all in favour of non-psychiatric group therapy and psychiatric group therapy between consenting adults, but not coercion.  I found the group socialisation interesting and therapeutic in the Shoshu Buddhist group meetings, because people actually talk about and learn from their own and other people's experiences, but this is not the nature of most psychiatric group therapy.

On the more complex matters, I believe that a person can have a unique perception and awareness of things from being within a group, and because I'm a socialist, I believe in some collectivism and solidarity.  On the other hand, I'm also a libertarian, and I believe that a person can have a unique perception and awareness as being an outsider of a group, and sometimes outsiders can have a better and much more imaginative and clearer vision and understanding of things.  Nichiren Daishonin was such an outsider in his time and society as I understand it, as was Jesus Christ, and as are most very creative people.

I don't believe that all so-called delusions are merely individual, because there can also be mass delusion and mass deception, and which are even more dangerous than the occasional dictator who comes along (R. D. Laing in The Self and Others, and Noam Chomsky, talk about this).

The trouble is with outright capitalist society, is that it tends to use and exploit people as non-participants in the system, but I believe that it's beneficial to have a society that doesn't create marginalisation, and which tries to socially integrate everyone, and with respect to the persons privacy and solitude as well.

I've always been very interested in Buddhism, chanting, and meditation.  I used to meditate a lot, and I found it necessary to completely empty my mind in order to be mentally and emotionally free of all forced information and indoctrination, and I could then think and feel for myself.  Maybe if I was in a Buddhist monastery then I could meditate successfully, but a lot of ignorant people in society don't want an individual to have a free heart and mind.  It's the education system which makes people ignorant, and it forces an overload of information upon the mind, without acknowledging the need for a much more calmer or higher and creative awareness.

As Shoshu Buddhism says, I also found the world of Tranquility in traditional Buddhist meditation to be a very fragile state of mind, and one which was very vulnerable to stress and could easily turn into chaos and Hell, although it also gave me a lot of inner strength, even though I couldn't maintain it in the face of the threat of violence, state terrorism, and oppression.  This is why I think that chanting is better, and because it is a form of what some traditional Buddhists call "mindfulness" (meditating on thoughts, sounds, and actual activity).  Music is also a form of mindfulness for me.

Shoshu Buddhism is also less monastic and more socially integrative.  Group therapy is the main therapy used in psychiatric hospitals to treat patients, but from both knowledge and experience, I know that it can often be used to reinforce the prevalent ideas and ideology of society and those in power, and used for oppression, repression, and social control, whilst at the same time any protest about the type of neglect or bad treatment that exists within the psychiatric and mental health system, is suppressed and dismissed by those in psychiatric authority and power.  The film One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest shows some good examples of this.

Group therapy should be there for democracy, and to enable diagnosed patients and people to assert their rights for better and more humane treatment.  I also think that therapy should be interpersonal, as well as a purely individual or group thing, and that one-to-one counselling and therapy are very important.  Just ask yourself why there are no counsellors or psychotherapists in psychiatric hospitals, and why the staff hardly ever actually talk to the patients.  Psychiatric hospitals are not places of therapy, but places of medicalisation and control.

I have been in a situation in psychiatric hospital where I knew exactly what another patient was experiencing, and knew exactly how to help her, yet I was prevented from doing so by psychiatric nurses, just because the woman was very desperate for help and was holding my arm.  I had spoken to her previously, and knew that she was suffering from the agony of severe depersonalisation (something which most psychiatrists still don't acknowledge or understand), and all she really wanted to do was talk to me. She also needed a sense of physical contact to hold onto the idea of the physical and material world, and which was why she was clinging onto my arm.


Socialisation and the Spirit of Internet Mental Health Chat Rooms

I find that living in my local area I am somewhat socially isolated, and I sometimes think that I would have been better off living in London where I was born, where I lived the first five years of my life, and where there are more people, and the people are much more sociable and friendly.  Still, not everyone in Thanet are cold and unfriendly, and I have met and befriended some very nice, progressive, friendly, and sociable people here. 

Up until a year ago, I also made some friends with some other people with mental health problems in another town thrity miles away, most of whom were intellectuals such as myself, but due to my agoraphobia playing up again, and because I have concentrated on my local friends more, I have not been to this other town for over a year. 

Amongst my friends in this other town, were Bob, Jerry, and Jon, all of whom are very friendly and sociable people with a mutual interest in books, films, and writing.  I met Bob, Jerry, and Jon through thier local mental health service users forumForum, and after receiving psychotherapy twice from their local day-centre, organised by a female Forum worker, I used the cafe where Bob and the crew all meet up and socialise.  The cafe was a great place to meet up, have a good meal, socialise, and chat.  We met in the cafe once a week, and I must at some stage get back into meeting up in Canterbury with these friends, because I like this other town as a place, and I like the people there. 

When I was in my early teens I had a CB (Citizens Band) Radio, and through chatting on CB Radio I made some friends with some older boys at my secondary school, who I would not usually have befriended and socialised with.  One person that I met and befriended on CB Radio was Paul, who was a couple of years older than me, but he was very good at organising us all and getting us all together, and we used to socialise and meet up in pubs with his other four friends who I also befriended.  This meant that I was a drinker at an early age, and which later led to an alcohol addiction, but which I am now cured of, thanks to therapy, and to personal strength and will power that has led me into much more moderate drinking. 

Whilst Paul was very friendly and good at organising and getting us all together, I also found him a bit petty, bossy and domineering, and our friendship drifted apart over the years.  I stopped seeing these normal or non-diagnosed friends, and through my friend Steve I was introduced to Bill and Luke, who also have mental health problems, and who have remained close and dear friends of mine. 

I find it hard to find places to socialise and make friends, partly because I am an intellectual and seek mutual intellectual friendships, although I also like ordinary people and ordinary conversation.  I have checked out my local day centre, and whilst the workers there who also had mental health problems, were very nice, warm, and friendly people, there was no actual organised activities going on there, and the people were all sitting around drinking tea or coffee or watching TV. 

I now socialise with my friends Luke and Bill, and with their friends too, but another place I go to now for my socialisation are Internet mental health chat rooms.  These chat rooms are not as good as face-to-face social interaction and friendships, but they have a unique ethereal quality, and are places where I find I can find some solace and friendship with others, and places where I can talk about my problems without being misunderstood or judged for it.  I can talk about my mental health problems there and receive sympathy, understanding, and empathy from others who have similar problems. 

The conversation in mental health chat rooms can sometimes be a bit fragmented, but at the best of times it's like stream-of-consciousness communication, I have got to know people in mental health chat, and there most definitely is a kind of non-material love and friendship between us. Internet chat is much more ethereal and spiritual, because you can't see hear or see the person, and it all goes on in cyberspace, and so it's much more of a mental and in some ways a creative thing.  Also, because the conversation in mental health chat rooms is very disorganised and fragmented, it still can have a comprehensible stream, flow, and exchange of communication, and the nature and spirit of it can help one understand and interact with diagnosed madness. 

In some ways, CB Radio was a lot better because you actually hear the persons voice, and talk to local people who you could meet up with, but mental health chat is also different and better in a way because it's more international, not restricted by distance, and many people can talk at once without interrupting each other or blotting each other out.  Mental health chat is much more of a group experience than CB Radio, because you get more than two or three people talking, and the words are written down and don't overlap like they would do in spoken conversation.  Many people can be in the room and all talking at once with one another, and which is another thing that makes it unique. 

One problem with mental health chat rooms, is that most of the chat - however creative - is small talk, and I don't really get any intellectual or very interesting conversations.  (I found one chat room for intellectuals which was also a conservative chat room, but I found that many of the people there were racist, very nationalistic, and illiberal, and I am not a conservative by nature or by experience, creativity, and learning).  Still mental health chat is creative and unique, and it is paradoxically a part of my privacy with others that I share and socialise with as a safe haven, and a place of ordinary and unusual conversation. 

One thing that occurs to me about mental health chat, is that it helps a person be more attentive and fluid in ordinary mundane everyday conversation, and it can help improve ones sense of humour and mood, because the abbreviation 'lol' (and which means 'laugh out loud') can be used more easily and spontaneously, thus making it easier to share and interact with humourous remarks and realisations.  At first this may manifest just as a written abbreviation and idea, but can after a while lead to smiles, happiness, or laughter.  This doesn't improve wit, but it can improve a sense of an everyday ordinary sense of humour, happiness, and well being.