“Michael White worked in state psychiatric hospitals, child and adolescent psychiatric services and was consultant for many years to a large state psychiatric hospital in Adelaide. Throughout his life Michael maintained an enduring commitment to questioning practices that were pathologising of people’s lives, and to developing collaborative ways of working. His work in relation to psychotic experience and, in particular, assisting people to revise their relationship with voices was a significant part of the interactions Michael had with people who had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Michael taught in Family Therapy forums within Australia and internationally, and in these forums he often referenced the understandings and knowledge of life gained by members of the Power to Our Journeys group in response to their experiences of hearing voices.”
Power To Our Journeys: Re-membering Michael by Members of the Power To Our Journeys Group, Jussey Verco and Shona Russell
“The Community Mental Health Project” began in 1992 at the Dulwich Centre in Adelaide as a collaborative initiative to link people with psychiatric diagnoses with therapists, community workers and carers, all of whom held onto hope that lives could be different for people diagnosed with chronic mental illness. Michael met with community members beginning in 1994, and they continued to meet frequently to provide support for all members and to discuss the knowledge’s that were evolving from this work. While the “Community Mental Health Project” formally finished in 1999, some members of the Power to Our Journeys group continue to meet, support and encourage each other.
In 1987, Michael first wrote about his approach to schizophrenia, emphasizing the social history, self-descriptions and externalizing conversations to map the participation of family members around the problem. First published in the Dulwich Centre Newsletter, the article “Family Therapy & Schizophrenia: Addressing the ‘in-the-corner’ lifestyle” was reprinted in Selected Papers, 1989, Dulwich Centre Publications,
“Psychotic experience and discourse” draws from two interviews with Ken Stewart (Re-authoring Lives: Interviews & Essays, 1995, Dulwich Centre Publications). The chapter begins by quoting Michael’s 1990 response to being asked about his theory of pathology,“The word (pathology) makes me wince! When I hear it, I think about the spectacular success of clinical medicine in the objectification of persons and of their bodies, and the extent to which the pathologizing of persons is the most common and taken-for-granted practice in the mental health/welfare disciplines, and the central and most major achievement of the psychologies.”
In 1995, Michael further responded (p 112-113),
“I wouldn’t take back what I said in that interview of a few years ago. There now exists a simply fantastic number of opportunities that are available to mental health professionals for the pathologising of people’s lives. Due to an extraordinary investment in the development of the discourses of pathology, we not have at our disposal a vast array of ways of speaking with and interacting with people that reproduce the subject/object dualism that is so pervasive in the structuring of relations in our culture.
These ways of speaking and interacting with people puts them on the other side of knowledge, on the outside These ways of speaking and acting makes it possible for mental health professionals to construct people as the objects of psychiatric knowledge, to contribute to a sense of identity which as “otherness” as its central feature. Thee success of these discourses is beyond question, and I believe that this achievement represents one of the truly great marginalisations of contemporary culture.”