A Conceptual Revolution

The creative side of culture change

How Does Your Therapist Perform?

How shall we become? An intriguing, alternative approach to mental well being

Three weeks ago I was in Washington, DC for the First Summit on Diagnostic Alternatives. The event was sponsored by the Global Summit on Diagnostic Alternatives, a joint initiative of the American Psychological Association’s Society for Humanistic Psychology and the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology. Both associations have been leaders in challenging the monopoly of biologically-based diagnostic manuals such as the DSM and ICD to insure that people have more choices than a biological approach to emotional distress.

The August Summit may have marked an important turning point for what has been a loud outcry against the DSM-5. It was inspiring to be with serious and creative psychologists and others—discussing, strategizing and planning what hopefully will become a large-scale campaign involving many thousands. At the Summit we came up with our mission: “To develop, evaluate, advocate and disseminate alternatives to current diagnostic systems." We formed working groups, which are already beginning their activities even as summer is not officially over.

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You can read more about the Summit at http://dxsummit.org/. The entire site is a treasure chest of both scholarly and personal narrative essays and commentary that professionals and lay people can learn an enormous amount from and use as the basis for rich conversations with family, colleagues, clients and therapists. See also Eric Maisel’s terrific summary and expansion of his thoughts on the issue at his PT column,  

Six weeks from now, about 450 people will gather in NYC for the 8th Performing the World conference. Diverse in so many ways, what they have in common is a belief in people’s capacity to create and see in new ways—and the fact that they’ve developed many ways to make this possible. They are performance activists, sharing their responses to the conference theme, How Shall We Become?

Why “How Shall We Become?” Because it captures the cutting edge question for our time.

That's what I think every time I see or read the news. With revolution and counterrevolution raging in the Middle East, seemingly endless war laying waste to much of central Africa, economic collapse and stagnation in southern Europe, Eastern Europe fighting over borders, paralyzing political polarization and increased racial tensions in the U.S., increasing poverty combined with growing disparities in opportunity everywhere, and millions of people moving around the globe seeking a better life, “How are we becoming?” is the key to solving our mental health crisis.

This is because “what” we become—in therapy as well as in culture, politics, economics, education, medicine, and in how we live our daily lives and carry out our interpersonal relations —is shaped by the “how.” How we’ve been doing these things hasn’t worked. That’s where performance comes in, as the harnessing of the power of people to create new ways of relating, new ways of feeling, new ways of learning, new kinds of institutions—new possibilities of all sorts.

This sounds like great mental health practice to me! And I know from the previous seven Performing the World conferences that it’s an eye-opening and incredibly inspiring experience for psychologists, social workers, therapists, counselors and all mental health workers, especially those who are unhappy and disillusioned by what their jobs have become under the medicalization of their fields. And yet, they remain the minority at Performing the World.

Performance is a bona fide diagnostic alternative. Good therapists and counselors find ways to support the people they work with to take risks and do something new. If you’re a therapist, I invite you to do the same. And if you are seeing a therapist, you might urge her or him to attend! Performing the World 2014 takes place October 10-12 in New York City. 

Lois Holzman, Ph.D., is the director of the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy.

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