I don’t believe in mental illness (or, rewriting the DSM)

I don’t particularly believe in DID, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, or post traumatic stress disorder. I don’t believe in mental illnesses as parallels of physical diseases – cholera is caused by a bacteria – schizophrenia is caused by faulty genes. I believe in people’s experiences. I believe that the pain, confusion, suffering, terror, and risks of what we have called mental illness are real. I believe that people experience multiplicity, mania, hallucinations, tics. But the way we understand them – as symptoms of illness, the process of diagnosis, categorisation, research, and treatment – I’m unimpressed.

I recently read a dark and brilliant review of the DSM by Sam Kriss – written as if the manual was in fact a dystopian novel. It is brilliant, sad, and moving.

The DSM is the ‘psychiatrists Bible’, a massive reference of all the diagnoses we hear about; depression, bipolar, schizophrenia. In my opinion it is a massive project started for very legitimate reasons that has become a horrifying millstone around the necks of many of us.

Every few years it is re-written, updated, with much argument. A diagnosis is removed, or several collapsed together. A dozen or a hundred are added. A few jump categories. A few thousand people are startled to wake up one morning and find their condition doesn’t exist any more. A considerable number of the conditions are very rarely diagnosed, particularly in poorer areas (at least locally) where Depression and Anxiety are the diagnoses favoured by doctors who are not even aware of most of the rest of the options.

The idea behind a manual isn’t a bad one, to my mind. Language is important. Having words for experiences can be profound, the difference between mute suffering and solidarity and strength in the face of adversity. Our diagnostic manuals (the DSM and the ICD) were developed initially as a way of communicating between shrinks. A shorthand for what a patient was struggling with. It was important to define the terms because shrinks working independently, separated by continents, were starting to use the same words to describe vastly different experiences. We were beginning to explore the idea of madness, to break it down and tease it apart and discover that it was not all the one thing but instead many different things. We built new words for these new ideas and then needed to secure their meanings so that the language was useful.

We modelled the language upon the medical language of disease, with the expectation that the same cause and effect approach would be helpful. This causes that. The reality of human psychology is at times, highly predictable. We share certain needs, certain fears are near-universal, certain responses instinctive to most of us. But we are also complex. We have drafted massive tomes about abnormal psychology and have little idea of what, if anything, is left to be understood about normal psychology. We are beginning to grasp the frustrating reality that more than one cause can have the same effect – people develop eating disorders through grief, dissociation, fixation on weight, and chronic digestive diseases. We are beginning to understand that one cause can have different effects – some people with dissociation struggle with eating disorder issues, others with chronic sensory losses, memory issues, or depression. As we attempt to capture these nuances, our manuals get thicker and thicker.

With thicker manuals comes a big issue – more and more human behaviour is gathered into this category of ‘abnormal’. Psychological illness, injury, and normal functioning become tangled. Defining abnormal becomes nearly impossible. For example; if more than 70% of people who suffer three major life stressors in a year will struggle with an episode of depression, is this a normal or abnormal process?

Furthermore, is it an illness? Physically sick people who are fighting infection experience depression during the illness because they should be resting to heal. Are we able anymore to delineate between depression as something that is harming us, sucking the life from us, killing our joy, and the lethargy and pain and inward gaze of grief?

Increasingly mental illness becomes fuzzy, difficult to define. Another marker of ‘abnormal’ has been ‘unusual’. This is why being gay was in the DSM. If more people are straight then gay, doesn’t that make gay abnormal? The dangers of defining human existence by the tastes and appetites of the majority are such that almost certainly all of us are in some way ‘abnormal’, and the cost of this, the rejection of so many people from this hallowed goal of normality, are massive.

Abnormal is often shorthand for extreme. Ah! they say, you simply fail to understand the spectrum! Yes we all experience a little of this and of that, but until you’ve seen mania full blown, an acute psychotic episode, someone so debilitated by anxiety they cannot leave their house, you simply can’t appreciate what real mental illness looks like. This definition seems to work until you look at other examples of ‘extreme behaviours’, at social activists who put their lives at risk for a cause they are passionate about, at kids moving across the country to have a chance to train in the artform they eat and breathe, all the hope and joy and optimism of a couple in love and about to get married. Extreme can be dangerous, can be horrifying and destructive. But its also the place of hope for so many, their centre, their joy.

Abnormal can be shorthand for pain. When I write things like “I don’t believe in mental illnesses” that does NOT mean that I think people are making their experiences up, that they’re weak, lazy, vain, or self indulgent, or that there is not a real, overwhelming experience of profound fear and pain that can destroy people’s lives. The suffering is absolutely, definitely real. I have been there myself, I have been there as others have been broken or battered by it. I don’t actually believe we need a shorthand for pain. People use their own language to describe their experiences. They talk about being broken hearted, or empty, about feeling like their life is on fire, about the void that eats them alive at 3am when all the world is sleeping. A lot of the reason our manuals remain in such use is simply that we have organised our systems of care around this process of diagnosis. It’s a way of discerning those who need help. But I have a massive problem with the kind of help that starts by assuming there is something wrong with the person in pain. Sometimes whatever form the suffering takes does come out of the sky like lightning without warning and seemingly without sense. For others, suffering comes out of loss, trauma, loneliness – things that always cause people pain. There is nothing wrong with someone who hurts when they are harmed. It should be possible to grieve, to suffer, to need time off, to recover, without signing up to the idea that this is wrong and there is something wrong with you. As I’ve said before, if the process of mental health is about not hurting anymore, no matter what, then we’re trying to create psychopaths, not support humans.

‘Abnormal’ is often these days simply a way of referring to anyone who needs time off work or income support. Which again, is heartbreaking. It’s one of the reasons that deeply grieving people are now able to be diagnosed with depressive or adjustment disorders – because without this label of illness doctors are unable to compassionately exempt them from work or support them to access counselling or other treatments. Mental health as an idea starts to become twisted into something hyper-individualistic; someone who experiences none of the extremes of the human experience and never needs help from anyone to navigate life.

The DSM goes beyond a dictionary of terms because it links descriptions of single experiences together into syndromes, collections of symptoms that are given a diagnosis. These clusters shape diagnosis, treatment, and research. For some people, the cluster is a very good fit, describing all of their concerns and neither leaving something out nor adding something in. For many, they are not broad enough, so in order to capture all of the troubling experiences, they wind up with many diagnoses. Because of the medical model framework, this is seen by most as a sign that this person is sicker than someone with only one – or no diagnoses, when it doesn’t indicate anything than not fitting the common clusters! For some, the diagnoses are wildly inappropriate, as they have only one or two markers but wind up being diagnosed with the whole set in a dangerous prediction of their future experiences.

Some of the clusters are so poorly defined that the people group described by them vary so widely meaningful research is nearly impossible. For example, Borderline Personality Disorder requires 5 of 9 symptoms to be significantly present. Some people have all 9, some have one set of 5, others have the remaining four and a single overlapping symptom! To make diagnosis of BPD extra complex, many people who have experienced particularly childhood trauma will have some or all of these experiences for some years, and many people in current life crises will experience them also – yet this disorder describes an enduring pattern that plays out over many years. My experience has been that most young, distressed women in the mental health system will receive this diagnosis at some point. That is NOT to suggest that people don’t struggle with these issues long term, clearly many people do and some are my dear friends! But how the heck are we using one term for two people who potentially share a single experience in common?

Conversely, some diagnoses are defined so tightly that hardly anyone fits. Eating disorders can be like this, where a single symptom such as menstruation can see a woman bounce between one diagnosis and another and back again. In some categories the diagnoses are so narrowly constructed that most people who are struggling with a major issue in that area are given the catch all ‘not otherwise specified’ diagnosis. Which makes me wonder how well we are doing at the initial goal of creating a useful language for people.

The clusters exist for a reason – because they are commonly observed. But there’s two obvious dangers with grouping experiences like this. The first is that ‘commonly observed’ is going to not fit some people. Maybe even a lot of people. Which would be less of a big deal if we treated these syndromes like syndromes, but we don’t. We treat them as scientifically valid disease entities, which is a huge problem when someone doesn’t fit. Generally we start stacking them, which is similar to the effect on the stigma the person experiences. Two diagnoses is twice as bad as one when you have to prove you’re ‘well’ enough to work. Some people wind up with ten or more, each of which is confusing, depressing, and further alienating them from any sense that they might just be a ‘normal’ human having a tough time.

The second major risk with these clusters is the grouping of cause and effect, the mixing up of correlation and causation. For example, schizophrenia, which links experiences such as hallucinations to others such as dulled emotional expression or withdrawing from relationships. Each of these is seen to be part of this disease and yet one can cause the other, can have nothing to do with the other, or might not even be present for someone. Isolation due to bullying makes children more vulnerable to psychosis, for example, but in this case the trauma is a a key cause of the isolation, and both the trauma and the isolation are triggering the psychosis. People who experience hallucinations often find their close relationships become a mindfield of misunderstanding, miscommunication, and power battles about how to navigate the experience. Dulled emotional responsiveness is a common effect of feeling stuck in a double bind. Some voice hearers have no other symptoms of schizophrenia yet find themselves with that diagnosis for the simple reason that no other ‘hears voices but isn’t harmed or impaired’ category exists. Just because things may occur together does not make them all symptoms of a disease. Even more importantly – we cannot easily even perceive things that fall outside of our categories and language, which is why the idea of hearing voices meaning severe impairment has lingered on for so long – voice hearers who are not distressed or impaired don’t tend to volunteer to go round to their local shrink and talk about it!

I agree that we need a language, but I disagree that the DSM provides a good one. Utterly embedded in a language of deficits and loss, there’s little room for individual experience, for hope, for complexity or nuance. Abnormal becomes nebulous, and normal becomes a flatland of limited emotional range reserved for those to whom little has ever happened. Something terrifying happens when people are seen through this lens.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can structure things differently. Ron Coleman wrote his own DSM Zero, a blank book for people to fill in themselves. Another shrink who’s name I can’t recall said in his mind, the entire DSM could be summed up to three states: “I feel bad, I feel crazy, or I make other people feel bad or crazy.” The rest was merely details. The underlying assumptions of the DSM about sanity and madness, about what is normal, what is human, and where the fault lies when people are suffering, are ones I find toxic. They dislocate people like me from my own self, from my own language and from my sense of being human and part of humanity. We can pull apart the edifice we have created and build something new, the way I have done for myself in understanding my experiences of multiplicity and psychosis. Personally my suggestion is to define terms but not cluster experiences, to make support possible without indicating whether ‘pathology’ is internal or external (ie whether the person is needing extra support because of things happening inside them or to them), and to be willing to use and respect the common terms people find helpful instead of forcing them to learn a new language of complex pseudo scientific terms. I think it’s okay to say broken hearted instead of depressed, or empty and chaotic instead of borderline. I think research becomes more useful when it looks at experiences instead of diseases formed of clusters of experiences, and I think those of us who live outside the bounds of so-called ‘normal’ are more likely to find hope and joy when we aren’t sold a story about ourselves that’s saturated in ideas of mental deficiency and impairment.

Body painting stencils

I’ve been curious about using stencils to paint on skin and decided yesterday to stop over at my favourite face painting shop Kool4Kats and try a couple out. I came home with two mini Bad Ass stencils:

 Using a small sponge and keeping it fairly dry, the stencils come up like this on the skin:

It takes a little practice to get the paint quantity correct – too much and you smudge the design, too little and you don’t transfer any paint. A smaller sponge helps with controlling exactly where the paint goes too. Here’s both stencils used over a solid colour base:

The reptile skin design is very versatile, could be used to add texture to butterfly wings and many animal mask designs.

 The floral stencil was trickier to master due to such tiny cut outs, but the effect is superb! I would not want to be whipping this out for very busy parties or markets, it does take time to let the underpaint dry, and hold the stencil still particularly around curves on the body. If I have time however, this makes for excellent lace, wings, and gives a velvet brocade effect if painted over a lighter or darker tone of the same colour (light/dark pink for example).

 I’m looking forward to playing more with them, it’s been a fun day of painting today and I’m feeling inspired and excited!

United States of Tara

I’m often asked what I think of this show, and it’s not an easy question to answer. It’s a highly divisive topic in the multiple community and I’m always mindful of very strong feelings for and against by a lot of people who feel pretty disempowered and marginalised already.

Personally, I’ve watched the whole show. As a television show, I think it works. It’s interesting and funny and thought provoking. It’s entertainment. I laugh through it. As a multiple and mental health activist passionate about multiplicity, I have mixed reactions. I love that everyone in Tara’s family has ‘issues’. She’s not the wreck in a perfect family. I love using humour to talk about big important issues- although I also recognise that for some other people, this feels painful and humiliating. Personally, I’ve plenty of funny stories about the complications of life as a multiple and I’m glad I can navigate things with a sense of humour. I like that they consistently treat the multiplicity as ‘real’ and show the confusion and distress of not having it treated as real. I think it’s good that there’s a clear childhood trauma link established. Raising awareness of the experience of multiplicity is a good thing.

But there are also things that deeply frustrated me about the show. I find Tara’s switching actually painful to watch. It’s hard to communicate how deeply uncomfortable it makes me, the best analogy I’ve been able to come up with, is to try and imagine how it feels to watch a close relative stripping… just… ugh! This representation of switching isn’t inaccurate, although it is misrepresentative. A smaller percentage of multiples switch like Tara, very obviously, to a small, stable set of highly recognisable parts. The majority of multiples switch covertly. The transitions are subtle and hidden from most people, or only occur when they’re alone/in therapy/with their closest friends. Making me feel uncomfortable is not a criticism, but what really bothers me is that Tara’s presentation of multiplicity is not put into a context. It wouldn’t have been difficult to write in brief interactions with some other multiples who have different presentations, whether she met them in person, read about them in biographies, or talked with them online. Presenting Tara as a typical multiple is frustrating for someone like me. I have to contend with the sideways glances as people try to catch me switch. I have been asked by shrinks or support workers to switch on demand. I also have to manage the typical reactions of people who are permitted to observe an obvious switch, which is usually fear and fascinated voyeurism.

This brings me to my next major concern about Tara. The show brings up some of the greatest fears experienced by multiples or by the general community about multiples. ‘Younger’ parts making sexual advances to a young person. Parts being killed off or disappearing. Parts who embody an abuser. A multiple who cannot be trusted to care for an infant. I’m not saying these things never happen, but when the public understanding of multiplicity is based on Tara, Sybil, and numerous serial killer movies, this makes me angry. This is not representative of multiples! I have never ever put a child at risk, been sexually inappropriate with a child, and none of my system are abusers, violent, sociopathic, or sadistic. Multiples watched this series, saw some of our worst fears brought to life, and we’re left without answers, without assurance, and for many of us, without any other resources or supports in our lives. I feel this is shortsighted at best and unethical at worst. So many of us are so alone, so afraid of ourselves, so stigmatised, labouring under books of rigid advice about how we should function, stuck with a medical model that construes multiplicity as a sickness, and treated by the wider community as serial killers and freaks. I think conversations and depictions of multiplicity need to be sensitive to this context, and to maintain hope, honesty, freedom, diversity, and respect. I think Tara starts this conversation but falls a long way short of the hopes I had for it as a resource and tool to advocate on behalf of multiples.

For more information see articles listed on Multiplicity Links, scroll through posts in the category of Multiplicity, or explore my Network The Dissociative Initiative.

Review of The Flock

I’ve just finished reading a book that was recently donated to the Mifsa library, called The Flock by Joan Francis Casey with Lynn Wilson. I will definitely be adding the book to my own library, it was an excellent read. I was expecting another really dated, sensational, riddled with graphic abuse accounts biography but instead found a really lovely depiction of the challenges and joys of multiplicity and integration. I’ve read so much about this topic now that it is really difficult for me to put myself in the shoes of someone who is new to it all. I’ve been trying to think about the book from that perspective to work out if it is one I would recommend as a place to start reading. At the moment my suggestions are First Person Plural by Cameron West, The DID Sourcebook, Got Parts, and Trauma and Recovery for those who can get something out a fairly dense book that is fantastic but written in more clinical language. These all have good descriptions of multiplicity and dissociation and, aside from the last, are reasonably easy to read. Some of the books out there are painfully technical and difficult to read, some have clearly been written by and for clinicians and are filled with terms like ‘dissociated identity is a failure to achieve crucial developmental goals’ which is a perfectly valid and interesting perspective but worded in a way that makes my teeth ache. I don’t think we need to throw around terms like failure when there’s less painful ways of describing the same process.

The biographies, particularly the early ones, are very interesting to read and I’ve found them very useful to inform and provide background to the current understandings of trauma and dissociation but can be pretty hard going. A couple of them have such graphic accounts of abuse that I nearly vomited reading them. Most are sensational, and rely on the severity of the abuse to try to help a disbelieving public wrap their minds around the idea of multiplicity – I know it sounds way out there but look what I’ve come through, it was so extreme that multiplicity makes sense really. I have a certain sympathy for this approach and it certainly does make sense but it also leaves people with the unfortunate idea that multiplicity is only ever the result of the most extreme and sadistic child abuse imaginable.

When I started reading and gathering information, it was incredibly hard work. Everything had problems. Most of the information was overly simplistic, most of it contradicted everything else I read, some of it contradicted itself, the rest of it was so dense and clinical it was like being beaten to death with a brick. There are squabbles about how to tell ‘real multiples’ from ‘fakers’, horror stories about therapists coercing suggestible people into becoming multiples, things that say hypnosis is useful, things that say hypnosis is incredibly dangerous and totally contraindicated, books that list the ‘types’ of parts every multiple must have (the protector, the inner self-helper, the abused child), sensational descriptions of multiples that seemed to reduce them to circus freaks (not that I have anything against circus freaks!) and ego-massaging depictions of therapists intelligent, courageous, dedicated, and gifted enough to save them. It was a minefield, very difficult to work my through and start to piece together my own framework. Often the books and research left me really drained and depleted, it would take a few days to process them and start to get my head back to (my version of) normal. Fortunately, I’m persistent, and I’m good at working out the underlying principles and themes of books, and linking together information from different books or even different areas of life to build theories and develop frameworks. There’s nothing quite like living a highly dissociative life to make you good at linking up disconnected concepts people don’t usually put together. 🙂

I think I would recommend The Flock, with a couple of caveats. There are some descriptions of abuse – not many, but they are there. They tend to be very contained, you can skip the paragraph and jump past them without too much trouble. The same thing goes for First Person Plural. It is very interesting in that the book is composed of Renee’s memories (one member of the Flock) and the journal entries of her therapist Lynn. It’s great to get an insight into both processes. The most obvious concern I can see that people might have is that the type of therapy that is depicted in it, called re-parenting, is extremely time intensive and not very common. Considering that most of the literature out there subscribes to the idea that multiplicity is always an extremely dysfunctional state and requires many years of intensive therapy, most multiples and their families are already very anxious about their prospects when they can’t find a therapist or afford one. I’ll write more about the role – and limitations – of therapy in my experience shortly, (edit: What’s the point of therapy?) but the short version is that the therapy depicted in The Flock is certainly helpful for them but that doesn’t make it the only way forwards. 🙂

The Flock is essentially focused on the ‘recovery journey’ which is refreshing, and also depicts integration very sensitively. There’s a number of books out there that describe integration as getting rid of all the parts except one. The Flock has an approach I feel is far more ethical – the description of integration as all the dissociative barriers coming down so that all the parts are united – “from that moment on, all of the personalities had all the time, all of the time.” The other biography I’ve read that depicts this understanding of integration is Leah Peah’s Not otherwise specified. Lynn describes herself as “surprised at how comfortable I am with seeing ‘only’ Joan. I don’t miss the separate personalities. Joan’s right. In some miraculous way, they are all there.” Having said that, many multiples feel under a lot of pressure to integrate, often from overzealous therapists who make integration rather than improved quality of life the goal. It’s perfectly possible to create (or at least, simulate) integration without improving quality of life at all. I see no value whatsoever in swapping the diagnosis of multiplicity for diagnoses of bipolar, depression, borderline personality disorder, and so on.

When talking to folks who come for the first time to Sound Minds, the voice hearers group I help facilitate, I often talk about how individual and unique recovery is. Not only is what helps unique to each individual, but what ‘well’ looks like is different too. Some people have no voices when they are well. Some people’s wellness looks like voices with whom they have a positive relationship. Some people still have dreadfully abusive voices even on their best days, but they have learned excellent strategies and coping skills and are not limited by them. There’s not one road out, or one end goal in mind. Sometimes working towards a specific end goal isn’t even all that helpful, just putting one foot in front of the next working to reduce suffering, improve your functioning, find hope, and create a life you can love will take you to goals you could never have imagined or anticipated that are truly wonderful. That’s certainly how I feel about my peer work. 🙂 The same lack of obsessed focus is probably useful when it comes to thinking about ideas like integration.

The last thing I noticed that I’d disagree with or feel concerned about leaving unchallenged is an assertion in the book that DID is always and only ever caused by abuse. Abuse is highly implicated in the formation of DID, but so is neglect, chronic pain, and all kinds of trauma. There’s a lot of people who are afraid that what they went through wasn’t bad enough for them to be DID, or that a diagnosis of DID means some other terrible things must have happened that they are going to remember later. These fears add a lot of unnecessary stress to the situation.

Caveats aside, I’d recommend this book. I found it a beautiful depiction of the Flock’s experience of multiplicity and Lynn’s love and exasperation throughout a challenging but profoundly healing relationship.

My personal library

is quite extensive, but these are some of the books that I’ve found helpful in dealing with a dissociative disorder and recovering from trauma. I make these available to anyone for a refundable deposit. I am constantly adding to this collection, and donations from my wishlist are gratefully received!

If you’re looking for information about multiplicity, I recommend starting with:

  • First Person Plural, Cameron West
  • The Dissociative Identity Disorder Sourcebook, Deborah Haddock
  • Got Parts?, by ATW
  • The Flock, Joan Francis Casey, Lynn Wilson (my review)
More books about multiplicity or dissociation:

  • Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder, Sarah Y. Krakauer
  • A Fractured Mind, Robert B. Oxnam
  • Breaking Free, Herschel Walker
  • Today I’m Alice, Alice Jamieson
  • Fractured, Ruth Dee
  • Rebuilding Shattered Lives, James A. Chu
  • When Rabbit Howls, The Troops for Truddi Chase
  • Little Girl Fly Away, Gene Stone
  • Katherine, It’s Time, Kit Castle and Stefan Bechtel
  • A Life in Pieces, Richerd K. Baer
  • All of Me, Kim Noble
  • Five Farewells, Liz Elliot
  • The Sum of My Parts, Olga R. Trujillo

Books about PTSD, trauma, or abuse recovery:

  • Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman
  • Treating Attachment Disorders, Karl Heinz Brisch
  • Victims No Longer, Mike Lew
  • Facing the Wolf, Theresa Sheppard Alexander
  • Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E Frankl
  • Sickened, Julie Gregory
  • Stalking the Soul, Marie-France Hirigoyen
  • Stepping out of the shadows, published by Yarrow Place
  • Trauma Model Therapy, Colin A Ross
  • New Shoes, Rebecca Mitchell
  • Understanding Trauma, Roger Baker
  • The PTSD Workbook, Mary Beth Williams, Soili Poijula
  • The Courage to Heal, Ellen Bass & Laura Davis
  • Beginning to Heal, Ellen Bass & Laura Davis
  • The Sexual Healing Journey, Wendy Maltz 
  • Re-Authoring Lives: Interviews and Essays, Michael White
Books about voice hearing, psychosis, or schizophrenia:

  • Unshrinking Psychosis, John Watkins
  • The Voice Inside; A practical guide for and about people who hear voices, Paul Baker
  • Working with Voices II; Victim to victor, Ron Coleman & Mike Smith
  • Living with Voices; 50 stories of recovery, Prof Marius Romme, Escher, Dillon, Corstens, Morris
  • Children Hearing Voices; What you need to know and what you can do, Dr Sandra Escher & Prof. Dr. Marius Romme
  • DVD Knowing you, knowing you, Working to Recovery ltd “Eleanor Logden’s personal story of recovery, her journey through the psychiatric system, to becoming an award winning psychologist working in mental health. Eleanor talks candidly about her experience of abuse, self-harm and voice hearing. This DVD is challenging, inspirational and full of hope.”
  • DVD 1st and 2nd World Hearing Voices Congress 2009-2010, Working to Recovery ltd “Voice hearers, mental health workers and family embers from across the world met to share messages of hope and positive action. Presentations focused on important aspects of the recovery process and discussed difficult issues such as the disease concept and the use of medication.”
  • DVD How to Start and Run a Hearing Voices Group, Working to Recovery ltd “Produced to help anyone interested in setting up or running a hearing voices group. The DVD covers a number of issues that will help facilitators and those who wish to become facilitators.”
  • DVD SET Recovery from Psychosis Conference, Perth November 2008
  1. “Hearing Voices and the Complexity of Mental Health Issues from an Aboriginal Perspective” Dr. Helen Milroy (Australia)
  2. “The Personal is Political” Jaqui Dillion (England)
  3. “Hearing Voices with Children” Dr. Sandra Escher (Holland)
  4. “Voice Dialogue” Dr. Dirk Corstens (The Netherlands)
  5. “Understanding Psychosis” John Watkins (Australia)
  6. “Making Recovery Happen: From Rhetoric to Reality” Ron Coleman & Karen Taylor (Scotland)
  7. “Recovery with Voices: A Report on a Study with 50 Recovered Voice Hearers” Prof. Dr. Marius Romme (Holland)
  8. “Recovery from Psychosis: What Helps and What Hinders?” Lyn Mahboub & Mariene Janssen (Australia)
  9. “Working with Voice Hearers in Social Psychiatry” Trevor Eyles (Denmark)
Books more broadly about mental health or life:
  • Love and Survival, Dean Ornish
  • 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder, Carolyn Costin & Gwen Schubert Grabb
  • The Yipping Tiger, Perminder Sachdev
  • The Broken Mirror, Katharine A Phillips
  • Follow Your Heart, Andrew Matthews
  • Panic Free, Lynne Freeman
  • Women and Anxiety, Helen DeRosis
  • Journeys with the Black Dog, ed. Tessa Wigney, Kerrie Eyers & Gordon Parker
  • The Art of Being, Constance Rhodes
  • The Brain that Changes Itself, Norman Doidge
  • There’s Something I have to Tell You, Charles Foster
  • Understanding Panic Attacks and Overcoming Fear, Roger Baker
  • Overcoming Borderline Personality Disorder, Valerie Porr
  • The Dance of Intimacy, Harriet Lerner
  • The Dance of Deception, Harriet Lerner
  • Safe People, Cloud and Townsend
  • Who’s Pushing Your Buttons, Dr John Townsend
  • The Magic of Make Believe, Lee Pascoe
  • I just want you to be Happy, Rowe Bennett Tonge
  • Exuberance, Kay Redfield Jamison
  • Women who run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes
  • The Soul’s Code, James Hillman
  • Raising Real People, creating a resilient family, Andrew Fuller
Children’s picture-books:
  • A colour of his own, Leo Lionni
  • My Many Coloured Days, by Dr Seuss

I’ve found something useful in all of these books as I’ve worked on my own recovery journey, but that doesn’t mean I agree with all or even most of the content of some of them. Some of them are useful to me in that they document the older development of certain perspectives in psychology. Some of the older biographies about DID have graphic abuse histories recounted, some books are from a religious perspective, some promote a particular type of therapy, some are quite clinical in their language, others have only the most tangential connection to mental health, so please exercise judgement in choosing what you wish to read, and avoid those that don’t suit you. I’ve been doing pretty widespread research into dissociation, trauma recovery, mental health, abuse, relationships, group dynamics and all sorts for a number of years, and this collection is only the tip of the iceberg. I draw upon ideas, strategies, and interesting theories from many different places to inform my own opinions or cobble together my personal recovery approach. This works well for me, but may not be quite what you had in mind!

It’s been brought to my attention that my wishlist link isn’t always working. Here’s a list of the books in it, I thought may be a useful addition to my library for the group to borrow (in no particular order) if the link isn’t working for you. Most of these books are available at Book Depository.

  • Standing in the Spaces, Philip M Bromberg
  • Depersonalization, Mauricio Sierra
  • Trauma, Dissociation and Multiplicity, Valerie Sinason
  • Attachment, Trauma and Multiplicity, Valerie Sinason
  • Creativity and the Dissociative Patient, Lani Gerity
  • The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris
  • First Person Plural, Stephen E Braude
  • The Haunted Self, Otton Van Der Hart
  • Trauma and Dissociation in a Cross Cultural Perspective, Vedet Sar
  • Awakening the Dreamer, Philip M Bromberg
  • The Minds of Billy Milligan, Daniel Keyes
  • Living with Intensity, Susan Daniels
  • The Trauma Recovery Group, Michaela Mendelsohn
  • Stop Walking on Eggshells, Paul T Mason
  • Cutting, Steven Levenkron
  • Compassion and Self Hate, I Rubin Theodore
  • Parts Psychology, Jay Noricks
  • The Selfish Pigs Guide to Caring, Hugh Marriott
  • Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making, Viki Kind
  • Feeling Unreal, Daphne Simeon
  • Overcoming Depersonalization Disorder, Fugen Nerizoglu
  • Somatoform Dissocation, Ellert R S Nijernaus
  • Betrayal Trauma, Jennifer J Freyd
  • The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown
  • 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery, Babette Rothschild
  • Creating Resilient Families, Andrew Fuller
  • Finding Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Dialogues with Forgotten Voices, Harvey L Schwartz
  • The Dissociative Mind, Elizabeth F Howell
  • Understanding and Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder, Elizabeth F Howell
  • Healing the Divided Self, Maggie Phillips
  • The Sum of My Parts, Olga Trujillo
  • Coming Present, Caroline Lighthouse
  • The Plural Self, John Rowan
  • Trauma and the Avoidant Client, Robert T Muller
  • Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder, Marsha M Linehan
  • Sexual Orientation and Mental Health, Allen M Omoto
  • Identity, Erik H Erikson
  • The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker
  • Internal Family Systems Therapy, Richard C Schwartz
  • Trauma and Dreams, Deidre Barrett
  • The Complete Facilitator’s Handbook, John Heron
  • Unformulated Experience, Stern
  • The Body Remembers, Babette Rothschild
  • The Body Remembers Casebook, Babette Rosthchild
  • Feeling Unreal (Depersonalisation) My Cure!, Steven Batt
  • Beyond Integration, Doris Bryant
  • The Family Inside, Doris Bryant
  • Non-Violent Communication, A Language of Life, Marshall B Rosenberg
  • The Courage to Heal, Ellen Bass
  • Not Otherwise Specified, Leah Peah

If you have any other suggestions, please let me know!