Creative Mental Health: Ireland

    Creative Mental Health Author Roberta McDonnell, information card for proposed network, Creative Mental Health Ireland.

Something of a paradigm shift is underway in the mental health field, as I discussed in a recent post  about new thinking in psychiatry. Though not a psychiatrist, I have many years of experience as a mental health nurse and health researcher, some of which were spent with people suffering in acute wards, at other times alongside those struggling to invoke recovery in a community setting. These experiences, along with many other studies, can be read about in my current publication Creativity and Social Support in Mental Health: Service Users’ Perspectives (Palgrave 2014). Without exception I observed honest, courageous people using many creative means to rebuild their lives and a strengthened sense of self, finding to my amazement and delight that many other researchers and service user activists were describing similar findings and experiences. It was, then, with further excitement, that I came across the work of Professor Ivor Browne in Dublin and beyond.

Professor Ivor Browne

In Music and Madness, we get a tremendous insight and an engaging story of how life experiences, in combination with with a very creative and fearless thinker, brought the somewhat maverick but highly effective psychiatrist to carry out the extensive work of support, reform and community development that he has accomplished in Ireland and beyond, a legacy which is still vibrant and still very much in the making. As a citizen-wide mode of mental health promotion, community development is essential and shifts our thinking away from a culture of individualised pathology and into a sense of the relational nature of humans – we make each other and we make ourselves, it’s a dynamic, two-way process. I am planning future posts that will be based on interviews with people involved in community arts, mental health promotion and recovery support. In the meantime,  enjoy Professor Browne’s work through his books and some interesting programmes from RTE on the history of mental health care and treatment.

 

image of book cover

Music and Madness by Professor Ivor Browne

Creative Mental Health: Soul Spelunker: Thoughts On Heideggers Being And Time

Creative Mental Health: Soul Spelunker: Thoughts On Heideggers Being And Time.

This post from Mark Dotson’s Depth Psychology blog Soul Spelunker was reblogged on my own blogger site a few months ago, as I found it helpful in my attempts to understand existential and phenomenological psychology (I don’t pretend to have totally grasped it even yet, but I think I’m moving in the right direction!).

Lived experience is a concept gaining ground in mental health research. It is, however, not easy to define. In the post linked above, I found some helpful explanations of Hegel and  Heidegger’s vision of ‘being’ in terms of organic and developmental processes. Rather than the dominant approach of subject/object division, the concept of Dasein reflects a more holistic state of being in the world. From this theoretical stance it is then possible to discuss lived experience as an investigable phenomenon and so drive forward a more humanistic approach to research, evaluation, practice and policy.

Other authors whose work on ‘meaning making’ added to this repertoire included Rollo May,

Creative Mental Health: Soul Spelunker: Thoughts On Heideggers Being And Time

Eric Maisel,

Creative Mental Health: Soul Spelunker: Thoughts On Heideggers Being And Time

and Arthur Kleinman.

Creative Mental Health: Soul Spelunker: Thoughts On Heideggers Being And Time

My motivation for this search for understanding comes from my background in qualitative research and mental health. The concepts of ‘lived experience’, ‘ways of being’ and ‘phenomenology’ or ‘worldview’ were already firmly planted in my mind from anthropology and ethnography. The fact that humans ‘make meaning’ and form cultural matrices within which to affirm and manifest our existence had also taken root, mainly during the interpretive analysis of my fieldwork and other research material.

Most recently I have discovered the work of Mick Bramham in existential phenomenological psychotherapy, work which has really cranked up my understanding of these concepts by at least ten gears. I do encourage anyone interested to visit that site and to look as well at the work of Rollo May and Eric Maisel.

For any researchers seeking a theoretical and methodological approach that focuses on lived experience and making meaning, I recommend beginning with anthropology and in particular with Arthur Kleinman’s The Illness Narratives.

Happy Reading 🙂

Meanings of The Matrix

Image

Virtual and computer imagery in the film The Matrix

Much has been written on The Matrix film trilogy, for instance in an intriguing account of the philosophical themes which the film delves into, author Roman Meinhold asserts that we are challenged by the content of the film to think philosophically about our human existence and the nature of reality.

While philosophical and socio-political interpretations are interesting and no doubt valid, I have found myself drawn to an interpretation that favours depth psychology. Watching the full trilogy for about the third or fourth time within a couple of years, a number of ideas struck me about the meanings held within the film. Firstly, it has all the hallmarks of a fairy tale from the perspectives of Bettleheim and von Franz, detailed more fully in a previous post. As such it represents an inner quest and the various realities in the film equate with levels or stages of consciousness and maturation in the human psychological Self.

Alternative Reality

While the majority of humans’ real bodies are anaesthetised in energy farms for the maintenance of the super machines who now rule the scorched earth, their life experience is a simulated virtual reality, a set of complex computer programmes called the Matrix and run by the machines. Some humans in their Matrix identity sense something is wrong with the world and they seek answers. These renegades are detected eventually by special programmes called Agents and usually destroyed.

Real Reality

Some humans have escaped the pod farms however and live as a besieged community in an underground sanctuary called Zion. The hero Neo is contacted by two of these ‘real’ humans, Morpheus and Trinity, who offer him the chance to escape ‘into the real world’. One of the most electrifying dialogues in cinema has to be when Morpheus gives Neo the option of going back to the Matrix, innocent of any of the previous insights, or to continue with the quest and push into the real world, no going back –  the blue pill or the red pill? The Matrix as a film and a philosophical statement challenges our ability to perceive reality. It also suggests that social consensus and popular culture may be deceptions that mask our true nature and divorce us from the vitality of the body.

Image of Morpheus holding a red and blue pill in each hand.

Morpheus asks Neo to choose true reality and freedom or virtual reality and ignorance.

In one sense then it is a treatise on ‘living in our heads’ too much, cut off from the authenticity of the embodied self. The ‘real’ humans live deep in the earth in Zion and thus are connected with the source of life. They scratch a living in their grubbiness and in their make-do environment, yet are authentic and real in their experiences, contrasting with the Matrix selves who have all the trappings of modernity but are trapped and constrained by their fabricated world.

Archetypes

Morpheus is the messenger and a ‘John the Baptist’ figure, totally convinced that Neo is the One, prohesied to save humanity and end the war with the machines. He is also something of a therapist character as he challenges Neo’s reality and lures him ‘down the rabbit hole’.

Neo is the hero, unsure of his path but following his gut, even when he has to challenge both the prophesy and the Oracle.

The Oracle, though a programme, is an entity personified in a female figure of the wise woman. Like a positive anima, she enlightens, guides and creates opportunities for Neo to realise his destiny, or to make his choices as he sees fit – the anomaly is never really resolved except that Neo does break the mould and act on his own principles – eventually going to the machines to broker a mutual collaboration and thus stop the war. It is through an intense personal connection that Neo achieves his ultimate redemption, as he is in love wtih his other rescuer, Trinity.

Both Trinity and the Oracle seem to me to personify two sides of Neo’s own anima – romantic love and maternal love.

The Hero’s Journey

During the course of the story, Neo goes through several stages that could be equated with the hero’s journey. First, he is unsettled and questing in his previous life in the Matrix. This is how he is detected by Morpheus and Trinity as he attempts to hack into the Matrix programmes. As Morpheus tells him, he is trying to ‘wake up’, a wonderful metaphor for the unease that often drives a person into therapy or some sort of self-reflective journey – “you feel something is wrong, it brought you to me” he says. The Matrix, explains Morpheus, is “the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you.” To take the red pill is to embark on the journey from which there is no turning back.

Neo takes the red pill and erupts into his body in the real world, in a pod on an energy farm, plugged into the system of cables that draw the energy from his body and feed the virtual reality of the Matrix into his brain. Rescued by Morpheus and Trinity and taken to Zion, Neo is effectively a newborn and must re-learn who he really is, not unlike the catharsis of therapy and self-discovery. This is, I think, the central message of the Matrix films, encapsulated in the Oracle’s kitchen wall plaque – Know Thyself – a great Jungian theme on which to conclude.

Morpheus Image citation: http://www.casescorner.com/id57.html

Matrix Image citation: http://scipp.ucsc.edu/~haber/ph116A/

Philosophical citation: http://www.roman-meinhold.com/matrix.pdf

Delving Deep: Meanings and Metaphors from Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’

artist's impression of a big marlin leaping from the sea with the old man in the skiff in the distance

The Old Man and the Sea – Santiago hooks a giant marlin

Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea in 1951 to tremendous acclaim. Read as a symbolic novel with overtones of religion, identity, life and death, I feel it has a much richer set of meaning layers and can usefully be read through the lens of depth psychology as an individuation narrative, a Hero Myth.

The Jungian concept of individuation entails a process of gradual and lifelong connecting with the unconscious at ever deeper layers, ultimately with the collective unconscious which is hard to define but in some ways can be understood as nature itself. This process of connecting with and owning all our archetypal aspects, energies or identities leads to greater wholeness and a lesser tendency for unconscious acting out of destructive complexes. In essence it is a maturation journey, full of struggles and epiphanies. It is also an existential task, to come to terms with death as inevitable and therefore to adopt a meaning-based attitude towards life.

Symbolic Meaning in The Old Man and the Sea

Several layers of symbolic meaning are to be noted and Hemingway builds these gradually by setting out the relationship between the old man Santiago and the boy Manolin. Much mutual trust and affection is evident and this may be read as the dependent and intertwined nature of the archetypes of the ‘puer’ full of energy and freshness, and of the ‘wise old man’ full of wisdom and intuition. The boy will become the old man one day and has much to learn from him; at the same time the old man sees himself in the boy and remembers the happiness of his youth – the cyclical regeneration of human life and the transmission of culture. Santiago dreams of lion cubs on the beach, a sight he marvelled at in his youth when working on fishing boats going to Africa. While he knows he has much intelligence and experience, he is also mindful of his poverty and ageing body. This insight is worn with the idea that humility ‘carries no loss of true pride’ however; he is as valid a part of life as anyone else and indeed so is the noble marlin.

The Sea of Unconsciousness

But the greatest symbolism is in the sea itself which I see as the unconscious, and the search for the ‘big fish’ is a delving into the unconscious for its gifts of wisdom and a connection with the wild creativity (and destruction) of life and nature – for the Self. It is a metaphor for the searching life, as Santiago says to himself  ‘My big fish must be somewhere’. He identifies with the fish and the turtles, seeing in them both the dignity and the vulnerability of his own self. During the fight, he feels sorry for the fish, as well as for his own suffering holding the lines with bleeding hands and an aching back. In the end he tows it towards the shore, exhausted and fighting off sharks, and says, ‘I have killed this fish which is my brother and now I must do the slave work’, as he harnesses the trade winds to set sail for home. He has learned all his life how to suffer and to make meaning from it, then to enjoy the rewards when they arrive. Living so close to nature and struggling for every piece of sustenance, there are lessons to be learned and truths to be remembered from the old man Santiago and his apprentice Manolin. I was carried away by it and truelly uplifted.

The Old Man and the Sea

citation for introductory image: creative commons for use with citation: http://www.bluemarlin3.com/tbf/hemmingway.php

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