Almost 30 years ago a group of clinicians in Finland decided to treat psychosis differently. Their approach, known as Open Dialogue, has impressive recovery rates—and now Australians are taking an interest, writes Lynne Malcolm and Olivia Willis.
Anna Arabskyj’s story began in October 2012, when her son became unexpectedly ill.
‘[He] was thrust into this world of responding to things that I couldn’t see or hear,’ she says. ‘He did seem, a lot of the time, in quite a bit of distress.’
Her son was experiencing psychosis. He was hospitalised for some time before being put on anti-psychotic medication. After a while, however, the medication stopped working.
Later, a family therapist named Val Jackson introduced Arabskyj to Open Dialogue, a model of crisis care conceived almost 30 years ago in Finland. Jackson inspired Arabskyj to think differently about her son’s experience.
‘She kind of put to me that what was happening to my son was an answer to a very difficult life situation, and when you are faced with that situation it could be possible to begin to hear voices or have unusual beliefs. It can happen to anyone if you are put in that stressful-enough situation.’
Jackson explained to Arabskyj that what her son was experiencing in ‘this other world’ was a metaphor for traumatic life events. Events that her son had not yet found a language to talk about.
Arabskyj and her son began to have sessions to treat his psychosis using the Open Dialogue approach.
‘We loved the meetings. Immediately, my son said it was just so great.’
Open Dialogue, which clinical psychologists have been developing since the 1980s, brings the patient together with their family, friends and health professionals. It’s a meeting of minds, to explore perspectives on the crisis at hand.
The program’s founder, Jaakko Seikkula, says the aim of meetings is not to reach a rapid solution or to immediately change the direction or dynamic of the family.