Mar 7, 2013

Mentalizing, mental health and the restoration of community

People have talked through problems since time immemorial. At about the turn of the 20th Century we documented and formalized this communication process, turning human-to-human dialogue into modern psychotherapy. The practice became professionalized, expert-focused, with the expert more empowered than the patient.

The century we spent professionalizing psychotherapy did not deprive ordinary people of their capacity to talk through tough problems and help each other through tough circumstances.  Communication still helps. Dialogue helps. At the heart of any therapy session is a person who knows that he is being heard.

In recent years I have come to realize that simple human-to-human communication process is an overlooked item in the American problem-solving toolkit. There is something about dialogue and "mentalizing" - the process of interpreting how another person is reacting to your communication - that solves problems better than an email or text.

Think about the processes that incorporate sitting in the presence of each other and talking through an issue. Not a lecture. Not a demonstration. Not receiving an order. Not a slideshow or a pageant. A person-to-person, full-body exposure to emotion-laden, meaningful, content.

What helps people work through the hardest situations?

An example I want to start with is Restorative Circles. I have been writing about this on my new blog project, Grassroots Educator. Here's a video featuring Dominic Barter, who developed the process in Brazil. Barter's work proves that ordinary people can take hold of a justice process, and work through pain and violence using simple dialogue.

What capacity do each of us have to communicate with our relatives, friends and neighbors, to detect problems and offer comfort? Is it possible to restore mental health as a validated competency of ordinary people in families and communities?

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