From the New York Times, Teaching patients writing and hope. The article is about the writing program that is led by clergy at the Creedmore Psychiatric Center in Queen’s, New York.
Read the article here
“We provide a sense of almost refuge,” said the Rev. Jeff C. Williams, an evangelical Protestant minister. “It’s nonjudgmental, nonconfrontational. In all the other parts of their lives, there are limitations based on their diagnoses.” To bring ministry into a setting like Creedmoor is to wrestle with particular challenges as well. It is to hear patients pray to be discharged, knowing that may never happen. It is to discern the difference between the devout and the delusional. One of the Catholic chaplains, the Rev. Augie J. Iantosca, recalled a patient who confided, “I know I got a lot of competition here. But I’m the real Messiah.”
I hate to be so critical, I really do, of the well-intentioned writing program, because, otherwise, it is an excellent idea to bring open ended discussions of God and faith into a psychiatric hospital. People who are considered “delusional,” often in a religious way, are usually those patients who have keen interest in why we are here in the first place. They are closer to God than most of us. It is outrageous then to read that the clergy, too, sits in judgment. There are the “devout” (normal people . . . I guess) and the crazies. This coming from churches that were built by the clearly delusional, er, I mean the excessively devout. Help the patients open up about their concerns, by all means, but please don’t patronize them. I really believe the church is on shaky ground believing that there are those loonies and then there is us. Anyone who reads my past posts probably knows that I am quite critical of churches’ idea of who’s sane and who isn’t. Chris’s so called mental illness has had the effect of distancing me from the church. I know longer feel like going.
It’s not really fair, either, that I feel this way. Our particular church in so many ways has been supportive. I am truly grateful for all the acts of kindness my family received. Chris was regularly called upon, even when he was quite fragile, to stuff envelopes, fix the computer, or set up tables for events. He was in a protective and caring environment. At the same time, I cannot speak to my own minister about Chris without him alluding in some way to Chris’s “mental illness.” He is more sad than hopeful about the diagnosis, despite the clear evidence that Chris is like any other so-called normal person. He wonders if Ian and I would like to join a support group. For what, I’m thinking, supporting the idea that mental illness is a death sentence? The time for wanting the kind of support that I thought I needed at the beginning is long past. To think that people who are “called by God,” don’t see the huge hypocrisy in failing to see a similarity between devout and delusional, has forced me to reconsider my own religous beliefs. I am bowing out of organized religion, while being mindful of the many good things it does for so many people.
For all the good that the clergy is doing in the hospital’s writing program, there also fair chance this may come undone when the inmates suspect that the clergy thinks they, not Jeremiah and the Messiah, are delusional. The clergy should stop humoring psychiatric patients by siding with state psychiatry and learn how they can do their best work. To quote Jung again, “A schizophrenic is no longer schizophrenic when he feels understood by someone else.”