By Maria Mangicaro
Bulletin Editor Andrew Crosby is one of many ISEPP members who describes the ISEPP-ICSPP Annual Conferences as an opportunity to “re-energize by getting together with a group of like-minded people.” One individual who is known for bringing a lot of energy to our past conferences is psychotherapist and film-maker Dan Mackler.
I first met Dan at the 2009 Conference in Syracuse, N.Y. where he showcased his enthusiasm, passion and talent by performing some of his original songs at the after-conference banquet. A few months after the conference I heard from Dan that he decided to end his therapy practice in NYC and travel to Europe to expand his career as a film-maker. Considering Dan’s zest for making a difference in the lives of others, ISEPP members had no doubt we would have something to look forward to in Dan’s next film productions.
Dan has just completed two new documentaries: Healing Homes: An Alternative, Swedish Model for Healing Psychosis and OPEN DIALOGUE: An Alternative, Finnish Approach to Healing Psychosis. Both films have received impressive reviews so far.
Recently I had the opportunity to catch up with Dan regarding his travels to Sweden and the filming of Healing Homes. In this interview Dan shares some personal aspects of his film-making career with ISEPP members:
Q. The film trailer seems like you were in a world that is so peaceful and serene. What was the transition like going from a psychotherapist in NYC to filming in the Swedish countryside?
A. Well, actually I grew up in the countryside (in Western New York State), in and around the woods and near farms, so to me that kind of world is pretty normal. So although I did my work as a therapist in New York City I’m really just a country person at heart. That said, the nerve center of the Family Care Foundation is in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, though the family homes depicted in the movie are in the countryside, sometimes an hour or two outside the city limits.
Q. What was your most memorable experience while filming Healing Homes?
A. I was profoundly touched by hearing the stories of people healing from intense traumas — that always hits me hard, as it overlaps with my own story. But also, I was repeatedly touched by seeing and hearing and experiencing the humanity of the family homes — the people who, for so little money, open their most personal lives to people who would otherwise likely be facing institutionalization. It also really blew me away to see how sophisticated the family homes — farmers with no professional training — were around issues like psychosis, psychiatric drugging, diagnosis, and recovery. But it wasn’t entirely surprising, because they, unlike so many clinicians in the United States who have been brainwashed by training and TV ads and by our whole pill-based mental health culture, just used common sense. Hearing them, and being with them, touched me — and that was memorable.
Q. What is the average age group of participants in the program – do they accept children – elderly?
A. I think the average age group (I think, that is ) is teenager through late-20s, but they see a lot of children too. I don’t know about elderly people. I never met any elderly people coming to them for services. But they also work with whole family units — for instance, if a mother has been diagnosed with some nasty psychiatric label and has been hospitalized for some time, the Family Care Organization will reunite her with her children, and place her and her children, together, inside of a family home. They want to work with family units, not just isolated individuals, whenever reasonable or possible.
A. From what I understand most of the people coming to them these days (in 2011) are on psych drugs — often heavy doses and multi-drug combos. The Family Care Foundation, however, has the philosophy of trying to help everyone taper off the drugs. On the other hand, they told me that when they started their program in 1987 very few people came to them on psych drugs. So they’ve observed the societal shift toward an explosion of drugging. That explosion is happening in Sweden too. Meanwhile, their organization also works with one or more consulting, prescribing psychiatrists who ascribe to their philosophy, and who counsel people on coming off the drugs.
Q. Are only residents of the country allowed into the program? Could a nonresident pay to enter the program?
A. Unfortunately, I think only local residents are allowed into the program, because it’s all paid for by local social services. On the other hand, there may be more flexibility than I realize — I’m not sure. That said, I know they work with people from other countries who are refugees to Sweden — people from war-torn countries, for instance, who have emigrated to Sweden. I met several such people when I was visiting. Although my movie might give an impression that it’s an “all-white” program, it’s certainly not that
Q. What (or who) was your personal inspiration to go into film-making?
A. I did a little playing around with a video camera as a kid — nothing too serious — and what really motivated me to go into filmmaking as an adult was a desire to share the things I had seen and learned with an audience that didn’t necessarily read the technical, academic books. I had co-edited a book with a psychiatrist, called “Beyond Medications,” and it was published by Routledge in 2008, and it had some pretty powerful messages in it, and yet almost no one outside of academic circles read it, as far as I could tell. All that work, for what? Just to look good on my résumé? So I made my first film, “Take These Broken Wings,” using several of the people who contributed to that book (including Cathy Penney, Joanne Greenberg, Daniel Dorman, and Ann-Louise Silver), and I discovered that the movie really reached people, in a big way. That opened my eyes. Although I love to write, I can’t help but face the reality that most people love movies more
Q. What fuels the fire within you to keep you going?
A. My fuel: I want to tell the truth — about lots of things. I want to tell the truth about recovery from these so-called unrecoverable diagnoses, and I want to tell the truth about the potential horrors of psych drugs. I want to tell the truth about the near ubiquity of childhood trauma, and the horrible consequences of that, and I want to tell the truth about healing from trauma. I grew up in a family with a lot of lies, and the lies had a devastating effect on me, and still hurt me. I try to live my life — more each day — being as honest as I can. That’s what drives me. Be honest, and share the truth.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge during filming?
A. My own fear I have so many fears that I will fail, that things won’t work out, or, perhaps worse yet, that if I succeed the traumatizing mommy that lives implanted in my head will find me and destroy me for telling the truth. I was not raised to tell the truth. I was raised to be a good little liar who didn’t even know I was lying. Incidentally, my mother was a nurse practitioner and prescribed a lot of psych meds — and took a lot of psych meds — throughout her career. I have a lot of personal stuff to overcome to do what I do. It’s hard to discover the truth about things and to realize that it is contrary to what you were brought up to believe, and also that it is contrary to the lies upon which your childhood survival depended. For me this is very painful, in fact.
Q. What do you hope your films will accomplish?
A. Well, I hope they get the message out there — and get people thinking and talking. Three films of an hour and fifteen minutes each (my present oeuvre) should not be enough to convince anyone of anything, but I hope to get the message to places where it previously didn’t exist. And if people are so inclined after watching my films, I hope they do some more research on their own — discover for themselves if what I’m saying is true or not. There’s certainly a lot of other information out there, in a lot more detail than I present, that validates the messages of my films.
Q. Do you have other film premieres scheduled for this year?
A. I’m heading to Europe in less than two weeks to do a bunch of screenings in a few different countries over there. I have no idea of the sizes of my audiences, but I hope a lot of people come. Also, since I sell the DVDs for my films online, people often buy copies of my films and do screenings of my films on their own, in all sorts of places. Many times they tell me about it afterwards. Also, though, I think I never hear of many of the screenings that go on. They take on a life of their own.
A. I’m most certainly planning to be there Can’t wait, in fact
Q. Dr. Thomas Szasz will be lecturing at the ISEPP 2011 Conference, have you ever met Dr. Szasz before? What is your opinion of his work?
A. I’ve never met him, but I have a great degree of respect for him. I’ve read some of his books, and I’ve exchanged some emails with him. He was actually very helpful to me at the end of 2009, I think it was, when I was going through an ugly little incident with a particularly nasty psychiatrist. I reached out to Thomas Szasz, and he was incredibly supportive and keen to the dynamics of the situation. His support meant a lot to me. I can’t wait to meet him in person. When I do I’ll thank him again.
Q. What was the funniest, or most unexpected occurrence during filming?
A. Well, during the filming of “Healing Homes” I was interviewing a young woman living in one of the Swedish family homes in the countryside, and she was smoking a cigarette, and while on camera she offered to share it with me. I couldn’t resist, so I took it from her — what the heck — and I offered her the video camera in return. She was game, and took it — and filmed a mini-interview of me on the spot It turned out to be a lovely sequence, and I used it in the film.
Q. Are many of the individuals entering the program dealing with substance abuse issues as well as mental health problem?
A. From what I have learned, the Family Care Foundation (the program represented in “Healing Homes”) works with just about anyone going through serious problems. They work not only with people who have been crushed by psychiatry, but people with all sorts of mental health problems, people with substance abuse, and also people coming out of prison. I like that — they’re not too focused. They stay flexible. That’s also how I worked as a therapist.
Q. Daniel, could you share with us one thing that changed your life?
A. Well, this is a broad answer, but something that changed my life was sitting in thousands and thousands and thousands of therapy sessions listening to wonderful human beings share their life stories with me — sharing their traumas, their tragedies, and their incredible courage to grow in the face of horror and resistance. That changed me — profoundly. It deepened me as a person — and also continually sparked my own inner growth. It was obvious to me that I wasn’t really, at any primal level, any different from all the people I worked with, no matter what their issues or labels. Interestingly, I first heard of ICSPP from a person I worked with in therapy. She was the first psychiatric survivor I ever met. She’s a wonderful person. She says I helped her a lot. I know she helped me
Q. How can our audience purchase your DVDs?
A. Via my website: http://www.iraresoul.com/
Q. What are the forthcoming events you are looking forward to?
A. All of it My whole life is ahead of me I quit being a therapist in March of 2010, and while it was sad to go, it’s been the right move for me. I feel a thousand new vistas have opened up to me, and I love the freedom. For instance, I’m looking forward to heading out to the west coast of the USA this fall (fall, 2011). The ISEPP conference in Los Angeles is one stop that has me excited!
- Thanks Dan!
Our new website is at http://www.psychintegrity.org/