so, well... these wards aren't the worst places in the world these days. they are just like slightly roomier and cleaner halls of residences. there was a greenhouse with december-wizened tomato plants in the courtyard - (i really truly believe in plants&soil as a potential lifeline of mental health, so that was good). the managers and consultants seemed genuinely to be trying to take an empowering approach. only one worker at the meeting, out of about eight of us, was acting like this woman was the biggest pain in the arse ever (i really don't understand professionals who get exasperated with clients who are not actually abusing them or causing them to have to work overtime - we get paid the same either way, right? what does it matter if this woman returns to her partner "after all our hard work"? it's not like you actually care about her, evidently), and who was saying things like (repeatedly) "she needs to be boundaried". no one challenged her on it, but at least the ward manager and the consultant had the decency to wince a bit. all the rest of the staff got it when i pushed the focus of the meeting towards giving the woman as much control as possible, regardless if she ends up returning to her partner. i guess the new labour years really did do some good in funding awareness-raising around domestic violence - and less coercive practice in mental health.
that said... the woman had said how shit she felt going through christmas in the hospital while she waits for a refuge place and dealing with grieving for her relationship and harassment threats and mind games from her ex. and the worker said "at least you're not going through this in the community." which i guess is mental health service -speak for any where outside the hospital ward.
the worker who said it was the most focussed and engaged with the woman we were actually there for, and had known her the longest. and it just seemed so amazing to me that even this worker who was doing relatively awesome holistic woman-centered work couldn't imagine a better way, a better community, or a better place for this woman to be than on a locked ward.
and there was more that was wrong with the meeting. so much subtle coercion glazed with the right, 'patient-centred' words. like the consultant (who was the most patient-centred consultant i've dealt with) told her that she was "giving him [her ex partner] mixed messages by replying to his manipulative texts when the relationship is over". later the consultant gave her totally mixed messages by saying she wasn't to pick up his calls but "texting is understandable" and then implying that she wasn't to have any contact with him at all. just loads of stuff like that, subtle erasures of her equal personhood to the professionals around her who are holding all the power.
i fantasised about recording the meeting and being able to use it in some kind of training session where everyone had to identify the parts of the transcript where the woman was being silenced, put in a catch 22, pathologised and/or subject to the same framework of abuse that occurred within her relationship. highlighter pens at the ready! but the trouble is, these people (with the exception of the pain in the arse woman) are already highly trained and as right-on as it's possible for those of us working within such a coercive system to be. this was the nicest one of these meetings i've ever been to. i could continue to attend these things and fight little battles and try to defend one woman at a time in one meeting at a time, to the inadequate best of my ability. but is that not 'giving them an aspirin to lick', when the system putting these women in these situations needs to end. and the communities to replace these hierarchical institutions need to be built.
"They [many doctors within concentration camps] would hide them [sick inmates] from the selection officers who were going to kill them. They would do this to protect the inmate for that day. They would put them to bed, you know. They would actually do everything—if they were in pain, they would give them aspirin to lick. They would do what they could to help, except for the most important thing of all, which is they wouldn’t question the existence of the entire death camp itself. So they would find themselves working within the rules, however they could, to try to improve conditions marginally. And in retrospect, of course, that’s just not sufficient."