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"Mental Illness" has meaningThat is the point of the Power Threat Meaning Framework introduced by the British Psychological Society in February 2018, https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/introducing-power-threat-meaning-framework. The framework highlights the links between wider social factors - like poverty, discrimination, abuse and violence and distressed or distressing emotional and behavioral responses. It describes the diverse strategies that human beings use to cope with overwhelming emotions in order to survive and protect themselves and meet their core needs. It argues that meaning and distress must be understood and addressed at social, community and cultural levels, not just individual ones. It joins the United Nations in recommending that a shift of focus towards 'power imbalance' rather than 'chemical imbalance' in mental health awareness and practice. In a word, 'the less access you have to conventional or approved forms of power, the more likely you are to adopt socially disturbing or disruptive strategies in the face of adversity.' PTM Launch Slideshow, slide 28, https://www1.bps.org.uk/system/files/user-files/Division%20of%20Clinical%20Psychology/public/PTM%20COMPOSITE%20VERSION%2025.1.18.pdf
The framework is non-pathologizing and suggests a unifying, overarching model of human psychosocial functioning that applies to all of human beings, including those without mental health labels. Equally encouraging, the PTM framework recognizes that power operates positively (not just negatively!). The framework encourages both personal agency and social action to create meaningful personal and societal outcomes.
Power Threat Meaning (PTM) in a Nutshell
Mental 'illness' has meaning. The meaning comes from this:
1. Lack of power
For a variety of personal, social and cultural reasons, we come to feel under-powered, over-powered, powerless or accountable to be powerful in some way that seems important to us.
Here are some common examples of ways that lack of power can touch our lives:
- Body power – society values preferences, attributes and abilities that you don’t have or identify with
- Coercive power – you are subjected to violence, aggression, threats
- Legal power – systemic rules or sanctions limit your choices
- Economic power – you can’t afford needed goods, services, activities or opportunities on a par with others
- Interpersonal power – you can’t meet basic relational needs for intimacy, care and human protection
- Social/cultural power – limited access to knowledge, connections and qualifications that make life easier
- Ideological power – values, language and meaning are defined by powerful others
2. This feels threatening
Needing power and not having it is uncomfortable and often highly distressing. Some common feelings ('meanings') that arise from lack of power include:
|How lack of power affects us|
PTM Framework Overview, page 37, https://www1.bps.org.uk/system/files/user-files/Division%20of%20Clinical%20Psychology/public/INF299%20PTM%20overview%20web.pdf
3. Survival (coping) responses get labelled 'symptoms' of 'mental illness'
We respond to threat in ways that see to overcome, escape or re-balance our perceived power deficits. Our responses can be physical, mental, social, spiritual. They can affect every aspect of our lives. Here are some examples:
|Ways we try to cope with threat|
PTM Framework Overview, page 40, https://www1.bps.org.uk/system/files/user-files/Division%20of%20Clinical%20Psychology/public/INF299%20PTM%20overview%20web.pdf
Threat responses often have appear strange to others - and sometimes even ourselves. Their meanings may be intuitive and unspoken - even to us. We may not understand or appreciate that gravity of what we are up against. This is especially true if we live in a group or culture that marginalizes our core experiences.
This is critically important to get if we want to make sense of 'mental illness'. In effect, it is these very threat responses - essentially our attempts to cope with overwhelming personal, social and existential odds - that are currently being diagnosed and treated as 'symptoms of mental illness' by conventional healthcare.
The workshop tonight will introduce the PTM paradigm and offer a facilitated discussion. The discussion will focus on 6 core questions posed by the PTM model:
- ‘What has happened to you?’ (How is Power operating in your life?)
- ‘How did it affect you?’ (What kind of Threats does this pose?)
- ‘What sense did you make of it?’ (What is the Meaning of these situations and experiences to you?)
- ‘What did you have to do to survive?’ (What kinds of Threat Response are you using?)
- ‘What are your strengths?’ (What access to Power resources do you have?)
- ‘What is your story?’ (How does all this fit together?)
The Power Threat Meaning Framework: Guided Discussion,
For more info:
- Email Sarah at: email@example.com
- Visit our conversation on Facebook at the Wellness and Recovery Human Rights Campaign, facebook.com/groups/WellnessRecoveryRights/