READERS will vary in their response to this narrative of one man’s survival of an appalling childhood, unaccompanied adolescence, and troubled early adulthood, and his zig-zagging path to relative sanity, ultimately becoming an inspiring priest and community worker, appointed MBE for his community work. Much of his story was told recently in a Church Times interview (Features, 27 April).
The structure of the book comprises introductory and concluding chapters that are full of reminiscence and include some memories that are powerful and disturbing. Other chapters are more reflective. These chapters serve as book ends to a long chapter reproducing a series of daily diary entries by “a teenager in a mental hospital” which cover a period from 11 September to 31 October 1980.
The narrative is moving if, at times, repetitive. What shocked me was the total lack of informed empathy in psychiatrists and senior psychiatric nurses at a time when there was already a vast literature about the impact of early emotional damage on later relationships. Particularly appalling was the attitude of the occupational therapist (OT) in the mental hospital, and quite the opposite of the remarkable OTs whom I encountered in my time as a mental-health chaplain.
Of particular relevance for clergy is the example of clergy offering spiritually focused counselling when what was really required was good psychodynamic counselling and the opportunity for useful anger management. There is very little evidence that most of the clergy who tried to help him were aware of the psychodynamic concepts of projections and transference. This made Mark Edwards very vulnerable to any endings or departures. That he had to rely on self-help books in the end says much for his commitment to his recovery but little for the church structures at the time.
There are lessons to be learned here. One of them might be to learn from the Methodist Church’s commitment to providing pastoral supervision for its presbyters. This would need a real change of heart by senior clergy and decision-making bodies, as such supervision would need resourcing.
Overall, this is an inspiring account, and I applaud any thoughtful attempt to challenge the stigma of mental-health issues. Trigger Press is to be commended for entering this field.
The Revd Dr Anne C. Holmes, a former mental-health chaplain, works as a psychotherapist, practical theologian, and SSM priest in the diocese of Oxford.
Life After Care: From lost cause to MBE
Trigger Press £11.99
Church Times Bookshop £10.80