Psychiatric culture and bodies of resistance
Blackman, L. (2007). Psychiatric culture and bodies of resistance. Body and Society, 13(2), 1-23.
This article examines contemporary psychiatry’s tendency to essentialize and unnecessarily separate culture and physiology, and it critiques the medical model that is the basis of contemporary psychiatry. More specifically, it examines psychiatry’s failed attempts to treat the mental distress of those who hear voices by attempting to locate those voices and treat them like a biological illness. Blackman is interested in seeing the alternatives to the medicalized approach that psychiatry currently takes toward treating patients, which would preferably not treat culture and physiology together rather than separately.
As for her methods, Blackman worked closely with “the Hearing Voices Network (HVN), an international network of alliances between service users, professionals and families, careers and friends” of those who hear voices, and used that network as the case study that underpins her article (9). She relies on HVN because, instead of drugging patients in an attempt to block out the voices, HVN uses psychotherapy and tries to teach patients with mental illness to live with the voices and even to accept and focus on the voices. Members of HVN have group therapy sessions where other members of the network offer specific kinds of guidance and counseling (i.e., informal psychotherapy). Within the meetings, individuals are encouraged to develop their own framework of reference, which includes different ways of understanding and enacting one’s identity as a “voice-hearer.” These groups are intended to create a safe haven for people who hear voices, and to be a place where they can embrace this aspect of their lives—a setting ideal for studying alternatives to the medical model. In her work Blackman analyzes the techniques and practices in HVN, using “critical psychology, cultural studies and cultural phenomenology” (6). Blackman’s study of HVN suggests that talk therapy is a viable alternative to, and often more effective than, medicinal treatments.
This article is relevant to the study of psychotherapy because it directly examines a program that uses talk-therapy instead of medication to help clients. The work suggests that such therapy is often more effective than medicinal treatments. This is because such treatments are often more sensitive to the intersections between culture and physiology. This study suggests that smaller therapeutic communities like the HVN are available and useful for (further) studies that examine how groups resist the biomedical model and replace it with alternative forms of therapy.