At the recent American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) conference in New York City, Gerard Fromm, Ph.D. , Senior Consultant to the Erikson Institute for Education and Research of the Austen Riggs Center , gave a stirring presentation on Dignity. This series of blog posts will examine dignity as it relates to the clinical work carried out here at Riggs and beyond.
The “dignity of the individual” is a core element in both the Riggs' Mission Statement and Vision Statement; it is a guiding principle throughout the treatment, the therapeutic community and the open setting as a whole. But what does dignity mean here; how do we demonstrate it?
Dr. Fromm observes that “psychoanalysis as a field of study…stands for the dignity of the individual” and “embeds dignity as a clinical provision” in the listening to the individual. Indeed, there is an acknowledgement of the individual’s dignity in the four times a week psychodynamic psychotherapy that occurs at Riggs; patients are given a space to be heard and understood.
Furthermore, the therapeutic community at Riggs engages patients in a way that allows them to take up their authority and be, as Dr. Fromm states “challenged in the place they most need to develop, that is, toward taking authority in a world of others rather than simply being subject to the authority of others or attempting to dominate them.” In this way, their individual dignity is recognized and they, along with the rest of the therapeutic community, become stewards of its care.
The necessary focus on and deference to individual dignity in the theraputic community “requires a partnership between an authorized patient group and a receptive staff group in order to maintain its functioning and maximize the treatment benefit,” remarks Dr. Fromm. It is this partnership, this community of staff and patients that can reveal, as Dr. Fromm point out, “that patienthood is a role, not an intrinsic aspect of person – a realization basic to the process of taking authority, which itself is critical to sustaining and cultivating one’s own sense of dignity.”
Dignity is a basic human right, and yet its presence is not always easily discernable both in the mental health field and more broadly, in our day-to-day lives. By honoring individual dignity in a treatment setting and beyond, we acknowledge the importance and value of individual lives in their search for meaning and purpose.
Check back next week for Part 2: Engaging Negative Emotion as a Dignifying Action.