On Thursday 16th May, I presented to a group of peer-workers and other clinicians at The Alfred, Melbourne. The conversation and subsequent discussion was focused on what it means to have authenticity and what implications that has for our work in mental health services. The talk focused on an idea from Charles Guignon that in order to work with authenticity we have to ‘discern what is genuinely worth pursuing within the context in which we’re situated’ (Guignon, 2004).
As a group we considered how the services in which we work might make it more challenging to establish what is meaningful through collaboration, primarily because of unhelpful assumptions associated with the medical model of distress. For example, that distress is best understood as an ‘illness’ with ‘treatments’ that can be determined by the clinician and often include medication. We considered how it is important to understand what has happened to the people who access support rather than what is wrong with them. Particularly given the circularity of the diagnostic process and lack of evidence for biomarkers related to functional psychiatric diagnosis
In moving away from this way of understanding distress, there is opportunity to consider people’s experiences in the context of their social, emotional and relational experiences. Dialogical practice, collaborative formulation and co-working with people accessing services all provide an opportunity to work towards authenticity. The Power Threat Meaning Framework (Johnstone & Boyle, 2018) also provides a more nuanced way to consider the experience of people accessing mental health services.
During the presentation, we also considered what might help us as individuals to work towards authenticity in considering our blind spots (using the Johari window), practicing genuine curiosity, irreverence, empathy and self-care. In addition, we spoke about how broader societal factors that can often obscure the social problems which are often at the route of distress and how by cultivating community relationships, advocating for others and avoiding echo chambers both online and in the real world, we can work towards authenticity.
I very much enjoyed my time with the team and was grateful for the opportunity to hear what they made of these ideas. If you have any thoughts on this, please share your comments below…