This is a fascinating article that among many things discusses the mainstreaming of mental illness. In my blog post The Language of Hope, I talked about the pervasiveness in our culture of a ‘mental illness vocabulary’. I think this article expands on that idea and explores it fully.
Well, I made it to the end of Course 1. I felt like we were really diving in, especially with the reading. So. Much. Reading. And writing. Lots of writing. But it was interesting. The two Big Ideas – Living Systems Theory and Appreciative Inquiry were totally new to me. Applying them to a methodology of family support is not only fascinating, but I think ground-breaking as well. Working together, both approaches amplify the life and the life-giving qualities in the family system. It has been interesting to watch my own perspective shift from complaining to appreciating, and from a “What’s wrong with my kid?” mindset to a “Is my child’s developmental needs being met?” mindset. The questions we ask, I have learned, set the course for what we find.
My biggest take-away from Living Systems Theory is the simple truth that humans are not machines. I know, DUH. But you’d be surprised by how many problem-solving approaches treat human-beings like machines; expecting them to be ‘fixed’ by one-size-fits-all solutions. When we look at families through the lens of a mechanical system, the questions we ask seek to identify problems. We try to find answers to fix the problems. For example, if my kid is doing something that I find bothersome, I ask, “What’s wrong with her?”.
When we contrast this with a Living Systems approach, the child is not isolated and analyzed in such a way. We recognize that the child – and the child’s bothersome behavior – functions as part of a living system of dynamic relationships. The questions we ask from this approach seek to understand how the system operates. We ask ourselves questions like, “Are developmental needs being met?” “Are supportive relationships established?” “Is the child being appreciated for her uniqueness?” I really like thinking about such questions as the language of hope, versus the language of deficit.
Viewing parenting as a “living system” frees parents from unrealistic expectations and allows each family to express their own unique identity. When we add Appreciative Inquiry to this view, again the family dynamic shifts to a more enlivening framework. We start to notice and value the things that are working in the family and in each individual.
Any social worker, therapist, doctor, etc. is well versed in the vocabularies of human deficit. As a culture, we are all immersed in the terminology of the mental health profession: narcissism, bi-polar, codependent, type-A, manic-depressive, and the list goes on. What is that doing for the patients? For our society at large? Is there increased acceptance or just increased diagnosis? I don’t know. Just interesting to think about. I like that parent coaching is looking critically at that and asking important questions. Maybe we do need a new language. One that doesn’t simply confirm the problem lives and negative needs of our clients.
Either way, the questions we ask are critical: “Words do create worlds” – Cooperrider.