Katie Mottram on Spirituality and Mental Distress
On the future of mental health
Posted Apr 08, 2016
The following interview is part of a “future of mental health” interview series that will be running for 100+ days. This series presents different points of view about what helps a person in distress. I’ve aimed to be ecumenical and included many points of view different from my own. I hope you enjoy it. As with every service and resource in the mental health field, please do your due diligence. If you’d like to learn more about these philosophies, services, and organizations mentioned, follow the links provided.
Interview with Katie Mottram
EM: You’ve written a book called Mend the Gap: A Transformative Journey from Deep Despair to Spiritual Awakening. Can you tell us about that book and the journey it describes?
KM: Mend the Gap is my personal story of mending the gap within myself; the same gap which now needs mending between psychiatry and spirituality.
We connect through shared stories, and the pain in our stories has the potential to help us heal if we allow it to. Daring to face my pain turned out to be my biggest blessing. Mend the Gap is about my journey to wholeness through crisis.
When I was a child I had various anomalous experiences. I felt weird. I didn’t fit in. I was extremely sensitive and everything felt false to me. My self-confidence plummeted further and further to the ground behind a false mask of happiness as I desperately tried to be someone I wasn’t. I had no idea who I was. In addition to this I deeply buried the intense pain I felt having watched my mother stretchered onto a psychiatric ward after attempting to stab herself in the heart when I was 17. It was then that I discovered she’d experienced psychological problems since my birth, and my whole life felt like a lie.
I joined the mental health profession to try to protect myself from the same consequence as my mother, so that I could hide behind a label of ‘professional’ and distance myself from my own trauma by equipping myself with knowledge. But it didn’t work. And I could sense so many of my colleagues were trying to do the same thing.
I know what it’s like to be too afraid to admit vulnerability, or anything a bit ‘out- of-the-ordinary,’ especially in a system where ironically even those encouraging the exposure of vulnerabilities in their clients, are too afraid to talk about their own natural human experiences and emotions.
I know what it feels like to become so ashamed of your profession that it leads you to want to take your own life.
I know what it feels like to fall victim of my past and allow it to almost destroy me.
Thankfully, I also know how much of a relief it feels to finally surrender. That was when it happened – I gave up the fight to hide, and I discovered that there was nothing to hide from. Hiding had been what had produced my pain. The façade I had tried desperately to maintain had disconnected me from my true nature. I experienced an awakening to myself, and to the fact that the way in which we pathologize mental distress is the real insanity.
During my ‘unity consciousness’ experience I received a very clear message that “mental illness will be redefined in terms of spiritual experience.” I had no idea what that meant at the time.
EM: You’re involved in a mental health pilot study whose goal is to “normalize” mental distress. Can you tell us about that study and what you mean by normalizing mental distress?
KM: At the end of ‘Mend the Gap’ I come to the conclusion that the best way to support someone going through a crisis experience is through the provision of compassionate validation from a peer experiencer, and having a safe space to openly talk about feelings related to those experiences without fear of recrimination.
I was then synchronistically introduced to Dr Russell Razzaque, whom I discovered was planning to launch an innovative pilot research project for mental health clinicians in Peer-supported Open Dialogue. We met and realised that we’d come to exactly the same conclusion about what changes were needed in the mental health system from entirely opposite ends of the spectrum; myself as an experiencer and Russell a Consultant Psychiatrist.
Peer-supported Open Dialogue (POD) is a multi-centre study into the development and an adaptation of Open Dialogue, pioneered in Finland, in the NHS. What is distinctive about this approach is that a crisis response is offered within 24 hours and that this takes the form of a series of ‘network meetings’ – in which the person, their family and friends, and members of the professional team all come together to make sense of what is going on and work out how best to help the person through their crisis. It is a less hierarchical and more holistic approach, where everyone is seen as a partner in the process from day one. The crisis is viewed as needing a journey of discovery, not something that needs to be ‘got rid of’ as quickly as possible.
I now know how it feels to sit with a group of dedicated, brave mental health tutors and peers at the end of a year of POD training and not feel ashamed to cry tears of happiness and gratitude that things are finally starting to change – that common sense is finally starting to prevail in psychiatry. That natural human emotions like grief, intense fear and elation are being normalised again, as opposed to pathologized. Finally, we are able to let down our facades and reconnect to our true nature, and to each other. This shift has profound potential for positive transformation of mental health services.
EM: You’ve also worked within the mental health system in the UK. What are some of your headline thoughts about how that system functions?
KM: The current mental health system creates fear and disconnection. I sensed for many years whilst working within it that psychiatry was actually having the opposite effect to what it was hoping to achieve. I consequently resisted completing any training because my heart told me it wasn’t right. I felt like a naive failure at the time, but what I’ve learned through my own research over the last few years is that the heart has an intelligence; the heart has its own nervous system, which actually sends more information to the brain, than the other way around. Our feelings contain such vital information and psychiatry is numbing us of our feelings; workers and clients alike, hence we become more and more separated from wholeness.
I want to emphasize here that although I have been extremely angry about the way the system has treated, and in many ways continues to treat, vulnerable people, I know that anger is futile. As Socrates said; “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” Nobody goes to work in the mental health system because they want to cause harm; it is an unfortunate consequence of the scientific–dominant paradigm. Something is currently happening within psychiatry in order to bridge the gap between the old and new paradigms. The emerging paradigm accepts that ALL experiences are valid, even the anomalous ones. It’s a world in which we can all be accepted in our uniqueness ‘humanness’. There is no differentiation, no need for labels or boxes.
EM: What are your thoughts on this emerging paradigm?
KM: This is hugely significant in our time of global crisis, because it is the first time that psychiatry promises to support the human race to journey through our individual spiritual crises in order to evolve, rather than repressing symptoms as signs of something being wrong. In the same way as crisis provides an opportunity for growth for the individual, the same can be said on a macro level; historically there have been cultural shifts in perception initiated by crisis, and we are on the brink of another.
Dropping labels of ALL kinds, not just the pathological ones, but also Ego-identity labels encapsulated in the ‘professional’ is necessary for this shift to happen. It’s time to down defences and surrender if we are to survive through reconnection and accepting that there is no set road map to being human; reality is subjective.
A growing body of research shows us that having a non-pathological framework within which to understand anomalous experiences reduces the chance of a person going into crisis.
An exciting new bridging project that also supports this concept is the International Spiritual Emergence Network (ISEN). ISEN aims to provide a central hub where all networks around the world which offer support to people going through spiritual crisis, can connect, collaborate, educate and innovate in order to normalize the phenomenon within mainstream psychiatry. ISEN holds the vision of:
"A world where all peoples of all cultures can embrace spiritual emergence to manifest a positive shift to higher consciousness for all humanity"
ISEN is working in a very close collaboration with the Grof Foundation, continuing Stan and Christina Grof’s legacy. We have united through shared intuitive guidance in our mission from spirit, and our passions to alleviate the suffering of those in spiritual crisis.
These shifts in approach towards mental distress support the notion that ALL crises are potentially transformative. They are all part of a spectrum of an expression of the journey towards wholeness. It looks like mental illness really is starting to be redefined in terms of spiritual experience.
EM: If you had a loved one in emotional or mental distress, what would you suggest that he or she do or try?
KM: I do–my mother continues to try to hide from her emotional distress; sometimes she can function with her pretence that everything is fine, and sometimes the pressure of hiding becomes too much to bear, as it did for me. The difference between us is that I stopped hiding and my mother can’t; the damage she has endured by psychiatry is too ingrained. The effects of being told that she has a ‘severe and enduring mental illness’, being given damaging electro-convulsive treatment and toxic pharmaceuticals for years on end have disempowered her beyond believing that she has the ability to recover.
For years I made ‘suggestions’ as to what she might do to help herself heal, but the louder voices of the ‘professionals’ who told her they knew what was best for her drowned out mine. It has been part of my own painful journey to accept that we cannot ‘suggest’ anyone try anything if they are not ready to stop hiding. It takes strength to do that – ironically it is this strength that the bio-medical model psychiatric system strips a person of.
The only things I do suggest now, to anyone I know who is in emotional distress and may ask, is that what they are feeling makes them human – to look for what their distress might be trying to tell them, because there is always a message in our pain. I encourage them to dare to allow those feelings, to talk and reach out for support rather than hiding away. I try to empower them, validate them and let them know that if they dare to go through the painful journey there is not only hope on the other side, but so much growth and liberation to be gained.
Katie Mottram graduated from the University of Bradford, UK with a degree in Interdisciplinary Human Studies in 1997 and has 15 years’ experience working in the Mental Health field.
In early 2012 she experienced a spiritual awakening and has since worked tirelessly raising awareness of the phenomenon of spiritual crisis.
Katie published her first book: “Mend the gap, a transformative journey from deep despair to spiritual awakening”, in 2014.
Since its birth in Jan 2015, Katie has worked with Dr. Russell Razzaque, Consultant Psychiatrist, on his revolutionary mental health pilot project, Peer-supported Open Dialogue (POD).
She currently offers training seminars based on an element of this POD training with Dr. Natalie Tobert, Medical Anthropologist, in ‘Culture, Spiritual Awakening and Mental Well Being’ (http://www.aethos.org.uk)
Katie’s focus is networking to encourage collaboration between projects at the leading edge of raising awareness and supporting people going through the spiritual emergence process, and she is one of the founding Directors of the International Spiritual Emergence Network.
Follow Katie’s blog on her website: http://synchronicityworldwide.com
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of 40+ books, among them The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Mastering Creative Anxiety, Life Purpose Boot Camp and The Van Gogh Blues. Write Dr. Maisel at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit him at http://www.ericmaisel.com, and learn more about the future of mental health movement at http://www.thefutureofmentalhealth.com
To learn more about and/or to purchase The Future of Mental Health visit here
To see the complete roster of 100 interview guests, please visit here: