Flick Grey received a rare standing ovation at TheMHS (The Mental Health Services) Conference when she spoke about her experiences with the mental health system, her globe-trotting research trips and the contribution she is making to the flourishing field of Mad Studies. Flick was kind enough to take a break from her hectic schedule to give us an overview on how she‘s doing her part to revolutionise the way we view and treat mental and emotional distress…
FLICK: I believe that a great deal of harm is being done in the mental health system in the name of “helping people”. Our experiences aren’t being listened to, and there isn’t enough value placed on what they mean to us, both individually and collectively. This has led me to embrace three complementary fields: Mad Studies, Intentional Peer Support (IPS), and Open Dialogue.
I have a personal connection to all of this. Since 2005, I’ve been given nine different diagnoses, with three new ones in early 2017 alone. I’ve also been in hospital a few times, but hospitalisation only made me feel more distressed. To be honest, I haven’t found any of my diagnoses useful, even the one that I believe to be the most accurate: Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The problem is that having a diagnosis makes it sound like there’s something wrong with me, whereas I believe that my experiences make sense in the context of the painful things I’ve gone through. Rather than being reduced to a diagnosis, I see my experiences as rich with meaning. I believe that people with a lived experience (or whatever term you prefer) need to be the ones who lead the way forward in mental health.
Before getting caught up in the mental health system I was an academic who studied Linguistics. I also had an interest in Political Sciences and Sociology, and even studied Law for a while. I’ve worked in numerous academic roles such as research assistant, casual lecturer, tutor and even as an Executive Officer for a research unit. While my experiences with the mental health system haven’t changed the fact that I’m an academic, my field has definitely shifted. I’ve been doing my PhD for some time now, and the reason it’s taken such a long time to finish is because the discipline I wanted to be based in is only just coming to exist: Mad Studies. At its core, Mad Studies explores the meaning and context of our experiences, rather than labelling it as mental illness and calling it a day. Mad Studies puts the voices of people who are in distress at the very centre of their treatment, and I hope to be a key part of building Mad Studies in an Australian university context.
I’m also committed to Intentional Peer Support, which I first came across while I was on sickness benefits. I started down the IPS path when Merinda Epstein rang me up in 2008. Merinda told me that someone had dropped out of a training seminar that was due to run in a week, so there was a free place available if I was interested. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I eagerly accepted the offer. The rest is history! I’ve received further training in this field from Shery Mead and Chris Hansen, and over the years I’ve become increasingly involved with IPS. I couldn’t recommend it more highly!
In 2014 I discovered the field of Open Dialogue, and I decided to study it for three years in London. The course had three places designated specifically for peer workers (which was, at the time, highly unusual) and it was being taught by the most experienced Open Dialogue practitioners in the world, including Jaakko Seikkula, Mary Olsen, Kari Valtanen, John Shotter, and Jorma Ahonen. It was the first time this course was being offered in English, and I was excited to learn alongside people from many different countries who all shared a passion for creating a more humane, respectful approach to supporting people in emotional crisis. Open Dialogue involves having a practitioner holding crisis talks where a person’s entire support network can discuss what needs to be discussed. Open Dialogue really inspires me because, for one, it can support the public mental health system to respond more effectively to people, while also offering an alternative outside of the system. I believe these things are desperately needed.
In 2015 I was awarded a SANE Hocking Fellowship to travel across Europe, the UK and the USA to visit places that were bringing Open Dialogue and peer work together. I learned a great deal about the ways people are approaching this work, and some of the challenges they’ve faced. While there were a lot of complex ideas, I found the best way to combine Open Dialogue and peer work is through a culture of respect where you take time to develop trust. I’m currently finishing my Open Dialogue thesis on this topic, and I hope to publish my findings soon.
One of my current projects is organising a one-year training seminar in Open Dialogue in Melbourne and New Zealand. This will be led by peer workers, and everyone who gets involved will also be trained in Intentional Peer Support. If you are interested in understanding more about Open Dialogue, I’ve created a free website full of resources and links here:
I’m still a casual academic, so sometimes I participate in research and give guest lectures. I also work as a consultant, trainer, supervisor, freelance peer support worker and Open Dialogue practitioner. I offer peer support privately, and I also train and supervise peer workers in Victoria as part of a project that supports people after they are discharged from public hospitals.
I hope that what I’ve written resonates with what readers are thinking, or challenges you in useful ways, or encourages you to step up into your passions with more zest.