Radical Psychiatry theory begins with the simplest of premises: people are good.
We do the best we can under the conditions we are given. Those conditions are social in nature, and because severely stressed for most of us, they stress and distort the human experience. The first step, therefore, is to name the material conditions in which emotional and interpersonal life is lived.
Operationally, that set of ideas runs counter to embedded assumptions of more conventional therapies. We resist explanatory notions of pathology, of addictive or self-destructive behavior, or of biochemical flaws, believing that, in their cultural and professional popularity, they overshadow a view from a more political and material angle. If people act peculiarly, if they are hostile or depressed or anxious, we postulate that there are describable reasons for those behaviors.
Starting with an understanding of alienation, we study the ways social dynamics become deeply embedded in individual psyches and lead to feelings, ideas, and behaviors that limit a sense of what is possible, sometimes causing people to act against their own best interests in a manner that may seem irrational but, seen in a larger context, is not. Instead, such behaviors, and the feelings that intertwine them, are products of oppression and their internalization. It is in the interrelationship of material facts and internalized oppression that the work of "therapy" lies.
For us, therapy takes two primary forms:
PROBLEM SOLVING GROUP: Led by a trained facilitator, groups of six to eight people meet weekly to support each other in making important life changes. We teach cooperative process, helping group members keep relationships clear and providing an experience of being with people in positive and effective ways. By identifying internalized oppression and realistically understanding adverse realities, people strategize ways to challenge limitations and grow steadily toward their goals.
MEDIATION: As an alternative to couples or family therapy, one long session guides people in conflict through a process of clearing the air, analyzing core problems, negotiating differences, and making plans for implementing agreed-upon changes.
In addition to our on-going practices, we train newcomers through apprenticeship. A group of trainees meets regularly for experiential and didactic learning, all based on participation in the groups and mediations as assistants.
To access "Radical Therapy: The Second Decade" and other writings about Radical Therapy, go to radicaltherapy.org/resources
Treated well, conflict can constitute a moment of creative change. Unfortunately, all too often in our society, we bring too little skill, too little help, and too much despair to the conflicts we experience.
I work from a theory that assumes that all conflict is based in something real and important. The emotions we feel -- anger, hurt, hopelessness, fear -- are all manifestations of something that calls out for attention and change. To "resolve" conflict is thus often to set foot on journeys of discovery, leading to important re-negotiations of relationships and challenges to limiting conditions of life. I pay close attention to dynamics of power, making sense of the interplay of emotional and material issues.
My work in this regard takes three forms:
- FAMILY AND FRIENDS: Working through conflicts between couples, among parents and children, between friends and in friendship circles. Although I am not a lawyer, I do work with divorcing couples who want help dealing with barriers to negotiating financial settlements and arrangements for cooperative co-parenting
- ORGANIZATIONS: Generally in partnership with colleagues, mediating conflicts in community organizations and small workplaces.
- COMMUNITIES: As part of a team, helping communities to advance multicultural relationships in the process of dealing with compelling current issues.
Since the process is sometimes (often? always?) more important than the final result, I want to let you know how much we appreciate all the time and skill you brought to this mediation.
Issues of race and class exist in any community, and to let them be aired in all their discomfort and honesty in order to come to a greater understanding of each other and ourselves is a remarkable achievement.
– Joseph Smooke, Executive Director
Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center
I take pleasure in training the full gamut of learners:
ordinary folks who wish to learn better ways of handling conflict in their own lives
professional mediators and facilitators who seek deeper paths to lasting change
people working in a variety of settings, ranging from social services to non-profit and business organizations
Combining these various domains of interest in one workshop lends depth and richness to the work. Training is highly interactive, with demonstrations and practice opportunities leading to the teaching of tools for Emotional Literacy through theoretical presentations.
To inquire about details or to request that a workshop be planned for your group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.