“Mental Health” Liberation For Everybody

A Step-by-Step Guide To Teaching A Class

— Janet Foner


Before beginning your plans for the class, think about your own resources.

Is this a scary topic for you? If so, line up two or three support people whom you feel safe with and who can give you good counseling.

Think aloud with one or more of them before the class.

Get their agreement to smile at you, think about you, and counsel you before, during, and after the class, or whatever you need.

Think about the resources of the class or community you are teaching. Is this a new topic for them? Are most people familiar with Recovery and Re-emergence #4, or the pamphlet,    What’s Wrong With The “Mental Health” System? (The “Mental Health” System Survivors Draft Policy Statement), or have they ever heard of these items? Are they “loose” or “uptight”? Are there many “Mental Health” System Survivors who are “out” or are there none, at least none you know of? Use the answers from these questions to plan how to multiply resources before the class or gather-in. For example, ask people to read the “Mental Health” Liberation Policy before the class. Decide to go with more of “‘Mental Health’ Liberation 101" (see below) and less of advanced topics. Give people lots of discharge time and/or games, skits, jokes, etc. Meet with “Mental Health” System Survivors beforehand to plan for the class and/or a panel of “Mental Health” System Survivors. 

Think about what to call this in order to attract people. For example, “‘Mental Health’ Liberation For Everyone,” “Liberation From Conformity,” ”‘Mental Health’ Liberation For RC Teachers and Leaders,” “Why not be Different?”, etc. 

TRUST YOUR OWN THINKING. YOU are the best person to teach this if you teach it your way, and you know the class or Community well or you wouldn’t be doing this. Your thinking is needed. 

The following ideas are ideas I have used which you can feel free to use, modify, change, add to, or subtract from. 


Think of things to put people at ease. Make the tone light and fun, loosen things up. Introductory questions can be, “What makes you feel safe here?”, ”When have you been spontaneous, creative or different?”, favorite non-oppressive jokes, news and goods, the most fun you have had with “Mental Health” System Survivors or doing “mental health” liberation work, famous or not-so-famous “Mental Health” System Survivors you admire, “What would your life be like without “‘mental health’ oppression?”, “Your connection to the “mental health” system in twenty-five words or less?” (otherwise people tend to tell their whole life stories), “What is your next step for ‘mental health’ liberation?”

Either before or after introductions, I often have people play a lively game that gets everyone moving and discharging, or sing songs, particularly light and lively songs, or play rousing music as people are gathering. I usually state that “mental health” liberation is fun and why I have found it fun. I also welcome people from whatever viewpoint they are coming from (from hating their “mental health” experience to having a wonderful “mental health” experience; being a relative, an ex-inmate, having had therapy; being a shock survivor, a “mental health” worker; having lots of questions, not knowing anything about it, knowing lots about it, etc.). Think of all the ways you can welcome people and do some of these. Many people will arrive with a few scared feelings; welcoming them will contradict that. 


Option A—“Mental health” Liberation 101. Basic theory from the policy statement

Definition: “Mental Health” oppression is the denial of the human abilities to perceive, think, decide, act, and feel—a big “Go to your room until you can behave” sign.

My favorite key points: 

•What would life be like without “mental health” oppression? Paint your vision for people. My vision includes support systems for everyone so that everyone could discharge whenever they needed to.

•“Mental health” oppression affects everyone directly. It begins with young children and is reinforced in the school system. It curbs spontaneity, creativity, discharge, and play. It enforces conformity. Makes it hard to spread RC. Reinforces all oppression. Known as the “stop sign” on all liberation movements. It makes people fear “going crazy” and have chronically “normal” and/or “acting cool” patterns.

•There is no such thing as “mental illness.” What is so-called ”mental illness?” What are hallucinations and delusions? Biological-genetic theories. Drugs are not useful and why. We can fully recover from hurts through the discharge and re-evaluation process unless we have damage to our forebrain.

•Economic basis of “mental health” oppression; “mental patients” are made use of by society so that society can avoid looking at the effects of classism and other oppressions  (“permanent defect” theory). Exploitation of “mental patients” and other survivors by the drug companies. “Mental patients” are used as an example of what will happen to you if you don’t produce for the capitalist society. 

•RC is not “therapy,” but the opposite. “Therapy” tries to fit people into the society. RC tries to re-arrange the society to be useful to people.

How to Counsel On “Mental Health” Issues

1) Closeness, safety, lightness, and focus on reality are key.

2) Tell stories. Create slack 
by convening groups—“Mental Health” System Survivors/“Mental Health” Workers/Ex-inmates/Relatives—whatever “people with similar backgrounds” groups you need for telling your story. Tell it whether or not you feel like telling it. Make a commitment to tell it. Tell it like it should have been. Make up a wild story about it. Talk about what you would have rather done than have that happen. Talk about how it would have been with allies. Say that you don’t want to talk about it and why, and say that you aren’t even interested in the topic. As counselor you can agree with someone that you wouldn’t want to tell it either. Or wildly encourage telling it. 

3) Focus on present time. We have survived. It is no longer happening. 

4) Ask for all the details, including pleasant memories. Remember that some MHSS have been helped by therapists and need to discharge about that also. 

5) To be an excellent counselor for “Mental Health” System Survivors, as client, tell your own story about your feelings and connections with the “mental health” system. In sessions, start with your earliest memory of the “mental health” system, “mental patients,” etc.

Option B—Panel of “Mental Health” System Survivors

Short basic theory of “mental health” liberation, followed by the panel. It is possible to have various categories of ex-inmates on the panel—such as a shock survivor, seclusion survivor, suicide survivor; or have an ex-inmate, a person who had therapy, a relative, a “mental health” worker, or any combination thereof. Sample questions: 

What was your earliest experience related to your “mental health” experience?

What happened just before your “mental health”  experience? or, for ex-inmates, what events precipitated your institutionalization?

What was your entry into the system like?

How did your family and friends react to your involvement in the “mental health” system?

A pleasant memory of your “mental health” experience?

A difficult memory from your “mental health” experience?

Did you have allies during that time?

How did you end your “mental health” experience?

How were you discriminated against afterward?

What are you proud of, having survived the experience?

What did you learn and/or gain from these experiences?

What do you want allies to know?

What do you never want to hear again about MHSS?

What expertise do you have as a MHSS to teach others?

Option C—For people who have had “Mental Health” Liberation 101. 

How “mental health” oppression intertwines with other oppressions. Choose one or more other oppressions to talk about. See policy and articles in Recovery and Re-emergence #4 & 5. Panel of representatives of various oppressed groups.

Possible questions: 

As a child, how were you supposed to behave as a —— (member of group)? 

Examples of oppression growing up related to that group.

How did “mental health” oppression reinforce the oppression of your group? 

What are you proud of about having survived that? 

Option D—For people who have had “Mental Health” Liberation 101. Deciding to end “Mental Health” oppression. 

Successes in wide-world change around “mental health” liberation. See Recovery and Re-emergence #4 and #5. Overall picture of what needs to happen for “mental health” liberation: 

•How to encourage discharge and re-evaluation for everyone. The spread of RC. Ways that might be done.

•Leadership. Encouraging leadership of various aspects of “mental health” liberation. 

•Ending all other oppressions. 

•Wide-world change. Bringing RC to the wide world as a major part of wide-world change. 


It is often useful to counsel both a MHSS and someone who has little or no connection to the system. Possible directions: 

•I decide to end “mental health” oppression, and this means . . .

•From now on, I am completely in charge of “mental health” liberation, and this means . . .

•I decide to end “mental health” oppression in the school system, in the court system, where I work, etc. (choose one of the above, wherever you plan to end it).

•Help! I think I’m going “crazy!” (“Losing it,” “losing my mind,” whatever variation). 

•From now on I will remember that I am completely in charge of my mind, and there was never anything wrong with me/”weird” about me. 

•I made it out, I’m here, I survived (one of those variations).

•I am an ex-”mental patient” (said proudly).

•Commitment for MHSS. 


Option A—Minis and Open Questions 

Option B—Support Groups meet around topics such as ex-inmates, people who have had therapy, relatives . . .

Option C—General Discharge Groups 

Option D—Divide into topic or general groups and use part of the time to discharge and part of the time to plan a skit or other entertainment on “mental health” liberation which is then performed in the whole group. Or use the whole time to plan skits. This usually involves lots of discharge from a light perspective during the planning and performing time. 


Announce “mental health” liberation workshops coming up. 

Ask people to sign up for “mental health” system survivors support groups, either leading or being in one.

Close with a highlight, appreciation of your leadership, everyone’s next step in “mental health” liberation, etc.


Last modified: 2015-07-21 17:29:28+00