Ordinary Life Therapy: Experiences from a Collaborative Systemic Practice
by Carina Håkansson
Taos Institute Publications, 2009
Price: $22.00 US plus shipping and handling
Paperback, 144 pages
Ordinary Life Therapy is anything but ordinary. The work described in this book is relational, collaborative, generative and constructionist. It is also clinically sound and exciting — an extraordinary program. The ideas presented in this book challenge the foundations of mental illness healthcare as practiced in many places around the world. Carina describes an alternative and creative way of thinking and practicing the healing art of therapy. Rejecting diagnostic categories, drugs and institutional care, Carina shares the stories of several therapists in Sweden who work with and help severely troubled individuals by finding them “ordinary” family homes where they can live for a period of time. In these “family homes” they are treated with care and respect and over time they adjust to the life of the family. The “clients” are of all ages; they may be suffering from battering, drug addiction, self-mutilations, abandonment, sex abuse, feelings of terror – often problems of long duration. Some have been institutionalized for much of their lives, with diagnoses of psychoses. The attempt is to treat the client not as “an illness” but as a multi-faceted individual who is capable of becoming healthy. The book describes in intimate detail how people whose lives seemed ruined are helped and can re-enter society as full-fledged participants. The book invites the reader to think about what it would mean to work with challenged people from the perspective of Ordinary Life Therapy.
Carina Håkansson is the founder and leader of Family Care Foundation. She is a social worker and a licensed psychotherapist. Her passion is to create networks with people in various ways and in different contexts to help to make life a bit better. She writes books and articles about the importance of using words and language in a humane and dignified way when meeting people in a professional context.
A review taken from Amazon about Ordinary Life Therapy – a must read…….
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Book–Shows Us a New Way, July 15, 2009
By Daniel Mackler
Ordinary Life Therapy: Experiences from a Collaborative Systemic Practice (Paperback) With its humblest of titles, this book offers us something quite new–a new way of doing therapy with severely disturbed people. As a therapist who works with this type of client myself, I am used to reading all sorts of books offering new ways of doing therapy–new methods, new theories, new ideas. In reality, most, however, offer little that is new, and as such are not that inspiring. This book, translated from Swedish, is different. It shines a light in a quite unexpected direction–and for me personally, offered a whole new perspective on my work.
The system is this. Håkansson’s organization places “troubled” people with whom the regular mental health system has failed–people who would mostly be conventionally diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar or borderline or drug addiction–with a non-professional host family, where they live for several months to several years. Often, if they have children, their children live with the host family too. This “ordinary” family, in its own way, through its normal life routines and day-to-day patterns and individual personalities, then provides the basic structure of the “therapy.” Meanwhile, Håkansson’s organization provides massive, one-on-one therapeutic support not just to the client but also to the family–and also to both the client and the family at the same time. Basically, it’s the exact opposite of the one-size-fits-all treatment available to the lucky few in the United States–the lucky few who get any “treatment” beyond medication.
The magic of this book is that Håkansson shows again and again just how these “ordinary” families provide a wonderfully rich and therapeutic environment for the clients, but at times, even more so, how the clients provide a wonderfully rich therapeutic experience for the families in return. Similarly, the “professional” therapists and supervisors–and Håkansson herself, who founded and runs the organization–also gain richly from the experience.
As I read this touchingly honest book, I could not help but reflect on my own work. I work in a private practice, I get no support, and at most, if I’m lucky, I get to see a client for a few hours a week–in my office. Although the work can be greatly valuable, and some people are able to make amazing strides as the result of it, I often feel like a therapeutic acrobat, twisting myself this way and that to facilitate the seemingly impossible and often exhausting situations that come my way. Compared to my work, something about Håkansson’s seemed so much more tantalizing–and logical.
As such, I can only hope that more organizations like hers find a home in our world. Although she labels this type of therapy as “ordinary,” at present it is truly unusual.