The Riggs Blog

The Courage to Translate Behaviors into Words.

By Kim Winnegge, L.C.S.W.

Kim Winnegge, L.C.S.W.On our “About Us” page, you’ll notice that the Austen Riggs Center places deep emphasis on “translating the meaning of behaviors into words.” It takes a lot of courage on the part of people, whether or not they are patients at Austen Riggs or elsewhere, to risk translating their behavior into words.

It’s a brave and often solitary journey. Braver, still, when you get up in front of a crowd, like Neil Hilborn did with his poem, aptly entitled, “OCD,” in which he lays out how this diagnosis – which he accepts – has interrupted his pursuit of happiness, his pursuit of love.

Again, I believe this is a narrative to which many people can relate. In fact, since Hilborn has posted this video on YouTube, 



it has received over two million views. 

This is not to say that Hilborn’s obsessive-compulsive disorder has been cured, of course, by his broken heart. There is something magical, however, about the translation of behavior into words. At Riggs, we underscore that psychotherapy is crucial to understanding the underlying troubles in a patient’s life, but we also recommend that patients explore their creative side. In other words, pursue their passions in an environment separate from their therapist’s office. In 1954, the Activities Program was born, and still thrives, right down the road from Austen Riggs.

At The Lavender Door, patients use their voices on the stage in Shakespearean plays. They use their hands to craft intricate woven shawls on the loom. They create beautiful pottery out of lumps of clay, all in the role of student and not of patient. When I watched Hilborn’s performance for the first time, and then for the second, and then the third; I thought, this is it. 

Whether it’s a poetry slam or needles clacking together to form an infinity scarf or a cup being glazed a bright robin’s egg blue, Riggs patients are finding their voices. They are translating behaviors into words. And it is theirs to own, and theirs to share. Thank you, Mr. Hilborn, for your bravery to begin to put pen to paper and then mouth to microphone, and thank you, patients, far and wide, for your courage.