Power Behind Understanding Perspective

It may be April, but I am still reflecting on our 3rd Annual Research Day last month.

The theme of this year’s event was ‘Recovery’ and it was highlighted by powerful keynote presentations from Dr. Mike Slade and Laura Burke, while attendees were asked to re-evaluate the delivery of mental health care.

Since then, I have been trying to tie together presentations from the point of view of professionals delivering care and patients receiving service.

Laura’s talk was especially poignant to me as I am striving to incorporate the various proverbial hats I wear both at work and home, to be “more than” a mother, psychologist, research planning strategist, and family member of loved ones at different points in their recovery from mental illness, and very recently a ‘survivor’ of depression. Laura talked about the need to address both therapeutically and in research the frustration that ensues from the power imbalance between clinician and consumer.

“Most people wouldn’t notice the rampant assumptions made about what mental illness is like, what it means, and what kind of life a person affected by it can hope to live,” stated Laura at Research Day. “And these assumptions aren’t made by us, the consumers.  They are usually made by those who have power.”

She further discussed how research is changing and moving forward in that “consumers are being consulted these days.  But we are rarely the ones coming up with the research questions.  I would love to see a research paper on power roles in psychiatry and how they impact recovery from mental disorder.”

Laura further discussed how she wasn't sure which role to play at Research Day.

“I am more than a success story, I am more than a survivor, a consumer, I am more than a researcher, than a therapist, than a program coordinator, than an artist.  You are all more than clinicians, and researchers, but we all live and work inside particular roles.”

Laura asked us to start by acknowledging the inherent imbalance of power in these relationships in order to move forward. Moreover, Laura pointed to the need for research on peer support workers who become clinicians. Personally, I would like to see more research on clinicians who are also consumers.

“By loosening the shackles of who we think we are, of who we think others are, we might make some room for these age-old wounds to breathe, and embark upon a process that can finally begin to resemble healing.”
For a full transcript of her presentation, please see Laura’s Blog http://lcburke.wordpress.com/