Combat arts for recovery

Several people I have corresponded with through this blog have positive things to say about becoming a disciple of martial arts. One such person is Jane Alexander, who studied internal martial arts — ba gua, tai chi chuan and chi kung healing under Master Bruce Francis.

Another such person is Skyblue Cure. In one of his blogs (below) he explains why movement therapies are more important than “talk” therapies, although he believes that his emotional cure came first, allowing him later to benefit from martial arts. He cautions against martial arts for someone likely to suffer a psychotic break. I’m not judging the validity of martial arts for someone who has been diagnosed with e.g., schizophrenia, but it’s good to be aware that there are people who think MA has been helpful in their own particular case.

“Nowadays, I see psychotherapy is regarded as a “support system” and referred to as “talk therapy”. I see this in all the public information distributed by governmental mental health organizations in North America. It is obvious that the definition of the term itself has been modified and co-opted by the pharmaceutical companies in the selling of their drugs as the only solution for the human condition. “Psychotherapy” has become a support system to ensure “compliance” for patients to take their drugs.

There is the tendency to think of it as a means to protect the sensitive rather that to transform the sensitive into the tough.

Psychotherapy is more than “Talk”. Eclectic, confrontative, Gestalt, bio-energetic psychotherapy involves emotional expression and doing things with the body that changes the nature of emotional expression. This affects both the body and the emotions, is permanent in effect and is far more than the verbal “talk” function of the voice box.

Changing the nature of emotional expression can be done in many ways, martial arts being one of these ways. In my blog I have spoken about the benefits of taking the body/mind approach through other activities such as sound therapy, the Alexander Technique, Family Constellation Therapy. Another of my blog reader wrote of the benefits of Direct Confrontation Therapy. Then there is Low Expressed Emotion, another excellent approach to lowering the emotional tone in our everyday interactions. Martial arts are also an excellent way to work with issues of unresolved anger that create energy blockages.

So I was intrigued to learn through MindFreedom, that Corinna West, a former Olympic athlete, has created a program called Combat Arts for Recovery. Her program is one of 12 semi-finalists out of 55 entries to the Team USA grants competition. If chosen as the winner, her program stands to earn $12,000 to promote combat sports for mental health issues.

Please read what she says about the program, and consider voting for this worthwhile endeavor. 

Local sports clubs are providing scholarships to people with emotional difficulties. Mental health service providers can use advocacy skills to encourage their doctors to prescribe exercise instead of medication. This is a first step in my business’ goal of providing a mental health system so cheap that people in recovery can pay for it themselves. This will include almost all peer provided services and no medications. I plan for outcomes that should rival the Open Dialogue model in Finland where most people completely recover without even getting labeled.

Please vote for our program at You can vote once per day per email address until September 18. Right now we are a little behind and we need as many votes as possible. Once you’ve voted for Combat Arts for Recovery the first day it should just be three clicks the other six days.

For more information about the program or for more detailed voting instructions, check my website at:

Corinna West, MS, CPS
Creative Director, Wellness Wordworks
PO Box 172351, Kansas City, KS 66117

Ramped up

In his latest book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, Robert Whitaker looks at the Open Dialogue program in Western Lapland (Finland) and can’t quite put his finger on why these group meetings generally in the person’s home are so effective. (The number of new cases annually in this region show an astonishing 90% drop from the 1980s.)

Without knowing this program either, but having spent two years in another program in Europe which thought it was cutting edge, I will offer some thoughts. First of all, the initial Open Dialogue meeting takes place usually in the person’s home within twenty-four hours of reported psychotic behavior. If the psychotic person jumps up and leaves the room, he is encouraged to listen in to the conversation even if not physically present in the room. (The open door policy.) Medication is not usually discussed in the first few meetings and often is not recommended at all.

Whitaker claims that the Open Dialogue concept of psychosis doesn’t fit into either the biological or psychological category. It is familiar to me because it is very much like the Family Constellation Therapy that Bert Hellinger and others espouse. “Psychosis does not live in the head. It lives in the in-between of family members, and the in-between of people,” Salo explained. “It is in the relationship and the one who is psychotic makes the bad situation visible. He or she ‘wears the symptoms’ and has the burden to carry them.”

As a parent, would this concept of the origin of psychosis make me feel better or worse about the situation compared to the group meetings that I went to with the family in the psychiatrist’s offices? There, psychosis was considered something foreign to everybody, family and patient included. It was something that just “happened,” like becoming diabetic or discovering that your house was burgled. Medications were part of the deal, and were insisted on. I’ll put my money on better outcomes in Lapland.

The program we were involved with made me feel anxious. I am sure that the families are anxious in Lapland, too, but it seems like the situation is diffused rather quickly within the privacy of the home. We suffered through the horror of thinking that my son’s brain was inexplicably damaged, we were led to believe that the doctors held the key and that there was nothing that we could have done to prevent this or to get over this. (There’s no cure, right?) We were also encouraged to attend meetings with other parents who, naturally, were worried about their children – and it showed. It was a climate of fear. Then the side effects of the drugs quickly became apparent – leading to more fear and a sense of doom.

The “problem” had been escalated by dragging it under a bigger spotlight instead of containing it and working through it where it arose – in the home. A massive case of over-reaction to a problem of living.

Robert Whitaker and alternative mental health

Robert Whitaker’s new book, Anatomy of an Epidemic is not intended to be about alternative health care, although he does write about the Open Dialogue program in Western Lapland and cites studies on exercise for depression. His Mad in America blog also references these two areas.  Whitaker’s book is a stunning public policy critique, a self-help book only in the sense that it may galvanize people who are on way too many psychiatric drugs to taper or get off them completely.

Many people who read Whitaker’s book may be left with the impression that outside of what’s happening in Lapland and doing laps for depression, that’s about it for alternative help.

Fear not. Most people who recover do it their way. They do whatever it takes. My blog lists the best that my own research has uncovered. Vitamins and mineral supplements in high doses act like drugs – with side benefits, not side effects. Then there are various kinds of psychotherapies – one reader insists that cathartic psychotherapies are the best (and I agree). There is cognitive behavioral therapy that many people say has benefited them. Then there is energy medicine in its many forms. I am a particular fan of the Assemblage Point Shift. It’s cheap, non-invasive, shamanic in origin, fun to participate in, and it corrects your energy imbalance in ways that you can see almost instantly. Sound therapy – totally new and exciting. The particular kind of sound therapy that Chris undergoes is very similar to taking LSD under controlled conditions. The medical profession is only beginning to look into LSD as a useful treatment for mental illnesses. You can control your consciousness now by undergoing sound therapy without having to get the blessing of the medical community.

No doubt Robert Whitaker will be writing another book on mental health in America. It would be simply fabulous if his next book is on the subject of how the mental health “industry” has discouraged recovery for those in need by demonizing alternative mental health treatments, practitioners, and out-of-the-box thinkers who challenge the status quo.